Arsenal: What now?

[1] Lukas Podolski, a recent loanee departing from Arsenal FC to Inter Milan.

Welcome back to Speaking Seb. It has been since summer that I have written a blog article and really wanted to get my hands on writing something aside from academic research. With many months of studying and internships, I am now coming back with an article, one that I wanted to write to vent my frustration of the club I have supported as a boy. With the recent string of performances lately, I wanted to raise some important points right now and the future objectives that Arsenal FC could implement realistically to their set-up. In this article, I will be discussing the current crop of players, the most realistic potential transfer targets, best formations and tactics to employ and the burning question at the moment: Wenger In or Wenger Out? Hope you enjoy your read on my first ever football and match related article.

1) Current Crop 

Here we are with a string of injuries from critical players. Will Arsenal even finish 4th this season? Better question should be: will Southampton hold onto their 4th spot? Our current set of players has a lot of youngsters and not enough experience to fully challenge for the title – the league table really does not lie. In this section, I explore who is the best option in each position with the options that we do have.

1a) Goalkeeper

From goalkeeper to attack, our team lacks Our makeshift goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez is not the best backup just yet as he is still relatively unproven. Sczezsny is a great shot-stopper, but moments of stupidity is ridiculing us to progress and so Ospina should be the ideal candidate to take us onto the next few weeks. A potential goalkeeping option preferably.

Ospina, Sczescny, Martinez/new GK.

1b) Defence

As default, I wouldn’t change the wing-backs, I think the central defenders need to be assessed. Kos+Mert was a reliable combination a few seasons back, but age has caught up with the latter and would probably need to be slowly replaced. Mertesacker has scored some vital goals, but sometimes at Liverpool for example was ducking from Skrtel’s header. Koscielny is playing with a twisted Achilles heel. Surely we can target some defenders to ease the pressure. Varane? Howedes? Reid? Rudiger?

Bellerin of late has really improved as well and showed some toughness on the right – a decent replacement for Debuchy in a few years time.

Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Monreal, Bellerin.

Bellerin vs. Debuchy Stats (Chart 1 and 2) 

[3,4] 

As you may know, Debuchy picked up a shoulder injury from the Stoke game which would probably mean Chambers or Bellerin would need to step in. Before then, Debuchy picked up a few knocks here and here, having young Bellerin to deputise.  I think you would agree here that with Debuchy’s experience, the average tackles and interceptions won as a right-wing back is understandably more than Bellerin. Moreover, I think Bellerin offers something a bit different, and despite his frame, can put in the tackles. Comparatively speaking, Debuchy loves getting the crosses in – and for me, since Sagna left, we haven’t been as using the option of crossing balls into the 6 yards box. According to ESPN, in the 2013-14 season, Sagna contributed to 4 assists in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. Certainly, to accommodate our new main man-of-the-moment Sanchez and key striker Giroud is difficult – who have varying style of scoring as to their height difference – as the former prefers to drive inside or outside to cut a shot into the bottom corner, whilst the latter gets on headers and crosses more. I feel if we can restart this trend on crossing into the box and making the opposition guess, that would make our offensive play more threatening. Currently, the goals have come from the middle or through the brilliant dribbles by the crafty players in our midfield and attack.

1c) Midfielders

Apart from the defence set-up, this is the area of concern that Arsenal have had. Do we play a 4-2-3-1 with one holding midfielder and one more attacking midfielder? Or a 4-3-3 with the penetration from the wings? I don’t think it’s so much of a problem of what we play to accommodate every single – because ultimately, no one will be fully satisfied, but we need to adapt to the team and play to our strengths. Far too often, we have seen a 4-1-4-1 formation at the start of the campaign with Ozil playing on the wings. There seriously needs to be sacrifice – Wenger has to think whether this is a game of loyalty or a matter of getting us to stick to our guns with some big players on the bench, with some rotation around.

Ox, Ozil, Cazorla, Flamini, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Coquelin, Rosicky.

So far in midfield, I feel like Coquelin, the Ox, Rosicky and Cazorla have been performing well of late – particularly as Sanchez has come in and spurred everyone on.

As for the defensive midfielder hunt – I think an extra experienced body is paramount to our success to the cups and even the 4th spot. Southampton have shown what a strong midfield duo of Wanyama and Schneiderlin can do to other top teams, and Koeman’s team is certainly no push-over. Below are some statistics to compare Arteta and Coquelin.

Arteta vs. Coquelin Stats (Chart 3 and 4) 

[5, 6] 

Having called Coquelin back, a lot of fans have been heaping praise on the young Frenchman. Indeed, his defensive record as shown in Chart 4 proves that. On average, Coquelin has 2.6 tackles and 2.2 interceptions – as to the 1.8 tackles and 1.1 interception per match Arteta offers. What Coquelin really offers is a larger and a bit taller frame despite his lack of experience as comapred to the Spaniard. I haven’t watched Coquelin enough to comment, but at 178cm as opposed to 176cm, plus 9 years Arteta’s junior, Coquelin has fresher legs to run after lost balls and redistribute it on the counter-attacking break.Certainly, what Arsenal truly needs is a Carvalho in Coquelin’s position against big teams, as he imposes more of a threat. Whether Wenger gets the Portuguese powerhouse is another matter.

1d) Attackers

Podolski left to Inter. Sanogo potentially to Bordeaux.

That realistically leaves us with Giroud after suspension, Campbell, Walcott, Welbeck and Sanchez. Which isn’t too bad I guess, but not exactly the title winning combination that you’d like to see. Wenger is seriously over-playing Sanchez even though he has defended his decision. On December 5th, Wenger has publicly stated:

“I think he played his 27th game since the start of the season on Wednesday, if you consider the international games and the travelling on top of that. Unfortunately, you never know how far you can push. We are not scientific enough to predict that completely, but he has great recovery potential. He recovers very quickly, and he is always very sharp and ready to play.” [2] 

2) Transfers – striker vs. defensive midfielder/central defender

As an Arsenal fan, we were told that the club had £25 million pounds to spend, probably increasing as the funds increased into the new year. So where should we be spending it? Taking into account that Podolski has recently left the club for Inter Milan, a lot of people have said to spend it on a world-class striker – one of Edison Cavani’s calibre. For me, as much as he is a great striker (others have disagreed), the most important targets that we should be aiming for are central midfielder and defender. As it stands, the goalscoring options are always there – we are never really short of goals, we usually find a new person coming in to bang it into the net from defence, midfield to attack. And with Walcott, Welbeck and Giroud slowly returning to the team, does Wenger want to break his loyalty he has shown? This is a question we will discuss in section 4 of this article.

Everyone has been crying out for a defensive midfielder and central defender – one that could fill in the void Patrick Vieira left since he left over 10 years ago, and one that could replace the aging Mertesacker in defence. So far, we have only been talking about Legia Warsaw’s wonderkid, Loic Perrin and William Carvalho. Are they really the answer? As previous seasons have taught us, Wenger does not really enjoy spending money – and when he does, he usually does not find gems due to his knee-jerk reactions. Squillaci, Arshavin, Park, Chamakh, André Santos. What we need are world-class players, but the problem is do they realistically want to join a club sitting 5th (essentially just in Southampton and Manchester United’s shadow) in the BPL?

Preferable formation and line-up 4-2-3-1:

Ospina, Debuchy/Bellerin, Kos, New CB, Gibbs, Carvalho/Coquelin, Ramsey, Ox, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud/new striker.

4) Wenger In or Wenger Out? 

This is a perpetual question that many Arsenal fans having been asking since the bad string of form had hit us. Mind you though, this was no coincidence that we had drew or lost against Anderlecht, Swansea, Manchester City, Hull City, Southampton… Is it really only down to injuries alone? It seems like every year, come January or the Christmas break, Arsenal always seem to have an Achilles heel. And who is to blame for that – the management skills of Wenger or the board with Kroenke in charge?

Effectively, if Wenger were to leave now, Arsenal fans have to be ready to have a few years of reshuffling before we see our team challenging for the top honours – a sort of two steps forward, three steps back thing that Manchester United had to deal with following David Moyes’ spell at Old Trafford. The problem here would be that a lot of top players would not be as willing to play for the new manager (unless he was a great coach himself) and would leave us with less quality. Some people have raised the point of the management team with Kroenke in charge, and should instead allow Usmanov to implement his ideas into the Arsenal board. As much as I hate to say it, in the near future Wenger In, there needs to be a replacement to come in and gradually bring us back challenging for the top. All I can say is, we will have to wait and see. We are nearly half way through the season and hopefully Wenger brings in two defensive bodies (you know who they are). Till next time.

References 

[1] http://i2.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article833585.ece/alternates/s615b/New%20Arsenal%20signing%20Lukas%20Podolski%20poses%20in%20his%20new%20kit

[2] http://www.espnfc.com/club/arsenal/359/blog/post/2228836/arsenal-arsene-wenger-should-probably-rest-alexis-sanchez-to-prevent-injury

[3] http://www.whoscored.com/Players/125211/Show/Hctor-Bellern

[4] http://www.whoscored.com/Players/11367/Show/Mathieu-Debuchy

[5] http://www.whoscored.com/Players/1443/Show/Mikel-Arteta

[6] http://www.whoscored.com/Players/69738/Show/Francis-Coquelin