After a truly disastrous start to the season which saw Wenger’s men take only 7 out of 21 points available, the media and a section of Arsenal supporters were starting to question the reign of the master Frenchman. Were they correct to do so? Possibly not, as the Gunners shot up the table placing them into contention for a top four spot. However, the cracks have started to appear once more. 3 consecutive Premier League defeats have thrust Wenger back into the critical limelight and many are starting to question once more.
Where exactly has it gone wrong for Arsenal as of late? Or have the problems been there all season, just for the cracks to be papered over by Robin van Persie’s sensational goal-scoring form. It would be fair to say for the first time in a few years that the goalkeeper is not a vocal point in Arsenal’s failures. After being thrust into the limelight after one too many mistakes by Manuel Almunia and Wenger seemingly unsure over Lukas Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny has provided a much-needed pair of steady hands.
One area that can be pinpointed as a problem, as I’m sure many Arsenal supporters would agree is the centre-back position. If Thomas Vermaelen, arguably the best centre-back in the league, could stay fit, perhaps there wouldn’t be a problem as the Frenchman, Laurent Koscielny, is fast improving. However, due to the injury problems, Wenger needed to buy a centre-back in the summer. He opted with Per Mertesacker, the German international with over 70 caps. It would be harsh to blame Wenger for making this signing, as Mertesacker’s stats at previous club Werder Bremen were impressive. He averaged less than one foul per game and had an 82% pass success rate over the course of his final two seasons. Not to mention his experience, as the Arsenal defence looked short of a leader, due to Vermaelen’s injury setbacks. Despite this, Mertesacker looks unable to cope with the pace of the Premier League. This might change as Mertesacker continues to adapt, and there has been plenty of defenders who have succeeded in the Premier League without bundles of pace, but if the opposition can run at Mertesacker and get him twisting and turning, it spells trouble for the Gunners. After all, this is a back four who have conceded more goals than the likes of West Brom and Fulham. If Wenger, a known admirer of Gary Cahill, would have offered more than £6 million for the new Chelsea man in the summer, then perhaps their defensive woes wouldn’t have been as bad. Of course, Arsenal have had injuries in the full back positions, which hasn’t helped matters.
The midfield two in front of the back four perhaps hasn’t been as much as a problem for Wenger. Alex Song seems to be getting better with each game he plays in the vital holding role. Who plays alongside him is more of a dilemna for the Gunners boss. If it was based on pure football ability then I’m sure Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere would take up the two positions. However, in today’s game a holding player is key so the midfield doesn’t end up being overrun leaving the back four exposed. An example of this recently would be Liverpool’s recent visit to Bolton in which Charlie Adam and Steven Gerrard left Liverpool’s back four exposed and costing them two goals on the way to a 3-1 defeat. Although Ramsey has done fairly well this season and has the statistics to prove this, for me, Jack Wilshere is a step ahead in his development. His maturity and discipline as a footballer was there for the world to see, especially over the two legs against Barcelona in the Champions League last season. His return to first-team action will be a massive boost in Arsenal’s top four challenge.
The three attacking players behind Robin van Persie in Wenger’s preferred, interchangeable 4-2-3-1, from an outside perspective, is becoming an increasing problem for Arsenal. Wenger needs to realise that Theo Walcott isn’t a winger. He might have pace that is suited for that position, but his delivery just isn’t consistent enough. I would expect someone playing for Arsenal, in that position, to have more than four assists in the league this season. There’s no doubt that Walcott is a talent but Wenger needs to remember he come up through the ranks at Southampton as a striker and if he is not to be wasted, there is where he must be restored. He has often been compared to Theirry Henry- I genuinely see potential for him to be more like Michael Owen. Before people think I’m insane, I’m not suggesting dropping Robin van Persie, I’m suggesting that Van Persie could play in the centre of the attacking three in a position where he can still be as effective in front of goal and perhaps create even more.
This leaves the wide positions to consider. Wenger could use loan signing Yossi Benayoun much more effectively. Throughout his time at Liverpool, he popped up frequently with important goals and when inserted into the starting line-up on a more regular basis, this only continued. He is a very intelligent player who understands the game. I’m surprised Wenger hasn’t played him more. Gervinho has looked threatening so far in his Arsenal career but seems to struggle with finishing. Oxlade-Chamberlain has showed signs of great potential, none more so than in the recent clash with Manchester United, in which he set up van Persie’s equaliser. It’s ironic don’t you think that on the rare occasion Wenger doesn’t persist with youth, (substituting Oxlade-Chamberlain for Andrey Arshavin) they go on to lose the game. He has other options with the aforementioned Arshavin and the likes of Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky, but perhaps Benayoun, Oxlade- Chamberlain and Gervinho should be considered for the majority of game time for them two positions.
Since the first 7 games of the season, although it might not have been difficult, Arsenal have certainly improved. However, results in the past month have caused concern once more. There’s no doubt that Arsenal could be sitting in fourth spot at this very moment due to the constant inconsistency shown by both Chelsea and Liverpool. This begs the question; is it time for a change? Does Wenger still know what he’s doing? A section of the crowd this past Sunday voiced that they don’t think he does. Their league position at the end of the season will go someway to answering these questions.
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