Arsenal: In search of the missing ingredients.

May 28th, 2011

Arsenal football club. A name known around the world by millions of people, it is a name associated with beautiful football and rightly so. While Arsenal’s trophy cabinet may not be half as full as that of Manchester United or Liverpool, there is no doubt that the brand of football played at the Emirates is of a calibre that cannot be matched in many other football grounds. Most lovers of the game put Arsenal as the second most entertaining team to watch currently, behind the record-breaking and all-encompassing Barcelona side of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and co.

While this sense of pride may have kept Arsenal fans relatively content over the last few seasons of Arsène Wenger’s reign, the 2010-2011 season has seen a dramatic tidal wave of supporter anger and frustration. However, it is not the fact that we have ended another campaign trophy-less which has angered supporters so much, but the utter capitulation of a team that only a few months ago was part of 4 winnable competitions.

Now the Champions League exit can be forgiven. We came up against the strongest side in the world at the moment for the second year in a row and undoubtedly performed better than we did last year. The 2-1 comeback at the Emirates has to be one of the most nail-biting, enthralling, captivating games that I have witnessed as an Arsenal fan. Nobody gave us a chance at the outset, and in the first half Barcelona dominated just as they had done the year before. However, this Arsenal team showed that Barcelona are not invincible; that they do have weaknesses that can be exploited by other top sides. The 2nd leg showed a side of Arsenal that I have rarely seen; a team set up to defend a lead and working hard to do that  but committing little to attack. Now while I wouldn’t want us to play that way each week, nobody would have cared in the slightest if we had gone on to win the tie. We didn’t, for many reasons, but we came out of the match with our heads held high.

The same cannot be said for the other competitions however. The League Cup was seen as in-the-bag by everyone and we failed at the final hurdle due to a ridiculous defensive error. The FA Cup saw us predictably lose to United at Old Trafford after struggling to knock-out lower-league opponents in Huddersfield and Leeds. Even these defeats pale in comparison to our end of season league form though, where we self-destructed nearly every week against mediocre opposition. A mix of defensive recklessness and lack of mental strength have been deemed the culprits in a run of games that saw us draw 6 and lose 3 of our last 11 fixtures. Wins over Blackpool and Man Utd were the only high points in a miserable April and May for Arsenal fans. Wenger now has no more excuses to hide behind as it is clear that something went fundamentally wrong in that dressing room.

So, where next for Arsenal F.C.? Well for Arsenal fans, Wenger is thankfully making all the right noises about spending money this summer on recruits. It remains to be seen who these recruits will be, as he will most certainly not break the bank in the same way Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool often do. Defence is the key position this summer. A strong, tall, dominating Centre-Back is a must, but after £6.5m Squillaci bombed so horribly this season I can understand if Wenger takes as long as he possibly can before choosing the right player.

Not too long ago, many fans were adamant that a top-class Keeper was needed. Now, with the emergence of Wojciech Szczesny, I do feel more confident about our man between the posts. That being said, he is only 20 and has plenty of time to develop, so signing an older, reliable Keeper wouldn’t be a bad move because I couldn’t trust Fabianski or Almunia if Szczesny were to get injured.

We could also do with another 15 goal-a-season Striker, as we rely far too heavily on Robin Van Persie. Chamakh had a fantastic start to the season, but looked very jaded and almost lost after January – the pace of the game here had obviously caught up with him. I would like to see Carlos Vela being given more game time next season. He’s a fantastic talent, and scored important goals for West Brom when he went there on loan.

Let’s have a look at a few names that Arsenal have been linked to already:

Chris Samba (Blackburn):

I like Samba a lot. Tall, strong, powerful, commanding and with a few goals to his name, I think this would be a very good signing. It’s rumoured that we’ve placed an £8m bid to test the waters, but it remains to be seen whether Blackburn will want to do business.

Gary Cahill (Bolton):

Strong English Centre-Back, his name seems to come up every time the Transfer Window opens. I don’t know how likely this deal is though, because the ‘English Tax’ will drive his fee up very highly, maybe too highly for Wenger’s short arms.

Scott Parker (West Ham):

Mr. Give-Everything-Every-Game would be a superb addition in my opinion. He’s just the type of player we lack, he gives 100% to the cause and has had a tremendous season despite being part of a poor West Ham side. Motivational character.

Gervinho (Lille):

Not a household name in England, but the Ivorian with the funny hair has just won the French League Title with Lille. He plays as both a Winger and a Striker and has bundles of pace. Wenger seems to have been keen on him for a while, and from what I’ve seen of him he looks like a good player, with 16 goals last term highlighting his goalscoring ability.

Falcao (Porto):

Apparently Falcao’s agent has said that both us and Spurs have already made bids for the Colombian. Whether this is just a ploy to try and raise his price isn’t clear, but he would be a welcome addition to Arsenal. He’s had an astonishing season goal-wise. He has close to a goal-a-game rate at Porto and broke a goal-scoring record held by Jurgen Klinsmann when he netted 17 times in 14 games in this year’s Europa League.

As well as new arrivals, what many Arsenal fans desperately want to see this close-season is the departure of a few familiar faces who we feel don’t make the grade. Top of my list are Bendtner, Denilson, Arshavin, and Almunia. Bendtner for me is an obvious choice. While many could argue that he’s played out of position on the wing (which is very true), he is miles away from being good enough as a Centre-Forward. I believe the reason Wenger decides to play him on the wing is because that’s where he tends to actually go anyway, when all you want him to do is to stand in the box and be a target for crosses! I could see Bendtner being a very useful addition to a middle/lower Premier League side, just not for one chasing titles.

Denilson is also quite self-explanatory. A Brazilian who doesn’t really have any of the skills we associate with Brazilians. He’s not an especially good passer of the ball, isn’t particularly pacy, and can’t list tackling as one of his strong points.

Arshavin had a season to forget, and while most fans may be sad to see a player of his skill leave, he just does not possess any sense of team work and makes fans around the country collectively hold their breath every time he steps into our own penalty area. Despite all this, I would only want Arshavin to leave if we could get close to the same price we payed for him. I could see his former club Zenit being interested.

Finally, Almunia. I do genuinely feel sorry for Manuel, as he seems like a stand-up guy, but even he has to admit that we can’t keep this charade going on any longer. With a tendency to fumble and make unforced errors, it has at times been painful to watch him. However, it has to be said that his best performances at Arsenal have come both this year and last year against Barcelona, where he on many occasions single-handedly kept us in the game.

For me, though, the biggest change that is needed is a change of formation. I just don’t think the current 4-5-1 system gets the best out of the players we have at our disposal, because it forces players like Nasri, Arshavin and Rosicky to play as Wingers, and too often leaves Van Persie isolated upfront. It would be a different story if RVP was your typical target man, à la Kevin Davies at Bolton, who could bring down the ball and hold it up until his teammates arrived, but he’s more of an offensive Attacking Midfielder to be honest. His natural instinct is to drop just outside the penalty area looking for the ball (just like 99% of the team) and this is what contributes to the massive congestion of Arsenal players in the same area of the field, with no-one to cross to in the box.

I know it’s easy to sit here and bash systems and tactics that have, in many cases, worked brilliantly. I’m not saying that we should abandon this 4-5-1, I’m just saying that we need an alternative too, as we are easily figured out by the majority of teams in the Premier League. If I were manager, I think I would try and implement a system more akin to a 4-2-2-2 that they use in Brazil a lot, because I think it suits the players we have. If no new signings are made and nobody leaves, this would be my first 11 next season:

Szczesny

      Sagna                Vermaelen                     Koscielny/Djourou                 Clichy

Song                     Wilshere

     Nasri                   Fabregas (c)

            Van Persie               Chamakh/Vela/Walcott

I think this system would work for a few main reasons:

1) It would allow Van Persie to drop deeper while still leaving a striker in the box to aim crosses at.

2) It gives Nasri and Fabregas the freedom to create without having to worry so much about defending. Nasri is a natural central Attacking Midfield player, as demonstrated by his role at Marseille as the heart of their attacking play. Wenger, however, has tried to mould him into a Winger because he doesn’t play a traditional Attacking Midfielder. While I’m not saying it hasn’t worked  – Nasri is a superb footballer and will naturally have gained from training in a different position – he is not a Winger who beats people with his pace before releasing a cross. Let him play more centrally and run at defences with Cesc alongside him. I think Cesc sacrifices some of his attacking play by playing alongside Song and Wilshere.

3) Song can continue to act as a defensive shield alongside Wilshere, who I think work well together. Wilshere has developed a huge new range of abilities since being deployed deeper by Wenger and I honestly think it was an inspired decision.

3) This system still gives both Sagna and Clichy space to bomb forward if they so choose, but while one advances the other needs to retreat so as the flanks aren’t left open. Song and Wilshere should stay deeper if the fullbacks choose to go forward.

4) We don’t need wingers because playing with wingers is not our strong point. We don’t cross exceptionally well, and it only ever seems to be a last resort. Having attacking fullbacks and wingers seems redundant.

These are just a few of my thoughts on Arsenal. I’m looking forward to both the transfer window and next season with optimism, even if that cannot be said of all Arsenal fans. I do believe in Wenger and the team, we’re just missing a few ingredients that could take us to the next level. Hopefully, by next season, they will be in place.

6 responses to “Arsenal: In search of the missing ingredients.”

  1. Tomo says:

    Although as usual I agree with pretty much everything uv said theres a couple of things I reckon are debateable. If u give it a check Fabianksi has a better clean sheets record per game compared to old Szc’s! I reckon Fabbers is the future of our club next season as he started so amazingly this season he kinda desverves it (although he is usually as blundery as Almunia he did prove himself this season although for the save against Man U alone Szcs deserves his place). Did u hear we signed Jenkinson? I know everyone wants experience but this kid is awesome. Like every good blog I wanna post a question and see ur opinion: do you think Arsene might buy more than we need this season is preparation for the Fifa fair play rules coming in soon? Also, how do you think Kroenke’s takeover will effect things?
    Great blog man.

    • mazkyle says:

      I didn’t know about the stats but it doesn’t surprise me at all, Fabianski isn’t a bad keeper, Wenger wouldn’t have signed him if he was, but he doesn’t exude confidence which is my main worry. Although Szczesny had the error in the League Cup Final game, and a few more if I remember, he’s very confident on that pitch, especially for a 20 year-old, and that’s what I want in a Keeper. I know he’s not going to save everything, but I don’t want to be worrying about my keeper every time I see his name of the team sheet. To be fair to Fabs, most of the time you only notice a goalkeeper when he’s playing badly so it’s hard to be fully objective. My brother suggested loaning him out next season, but I definitely don’t want to sell him. He could be a top keeper he just needs to start giving the defence a rollocking when they mess up!

      I’d heard we’d signed Jenkinson but I haven’t seen any footage of him, does he look like he’d break into the team any time soon?

      I can’t see Arsene buying more than 2 players, like I said to Sam. Regarding the FIFA fair play rules, I think I read that at the moment we are the only big english club that complies to them. That means that he really won’t want to spend hugely and affect this. I don’t see the fair play rules affecting any team too much to be honest, because they will all raise their prices to combat it. Arsenal just raised theirs by 6% and we’re the healthiest of the lot!
      I’m not too enthusiastic about the whole Kroenke takeover. For some fans it might be nice if he pumps money into the club, but if it comes at the same cost as the massive debt that Man Utd and Liverpool have I’m all against it. Atm he hasn’t really made many moves, and it’s unclear whether he has the cash – like Abramovich or the Sheikh – or whether he’s looking to burden the club with huge loans. I’d have Kroenke other Ushmanov anyday, but only time will tell.

  2. Sam says:

    Good article i’ll definately get Ben to read this see what he thinks but his general view seems to be that half your team need to go and that Wenger should leave. Everyone knows you have serious potential if Arsene was to dip into his pocket and if you signed even just a couple of these players it would make such a differnece. Out of the list you gave Cahill and Parker would be quality additions to your team especially. Some proven Premier League English grit would do you good but i cant see Arsene buying either. Cahill because it would take the best part of 20 mill which is fair enough really and Parker because Wenger will be too stubborn to offer 8 mill plus for a player of his age. I think alot of your “fans” who dont know what there talking about would turn there noses up at Samba but i think hes a top quality player and would be a fantastic signing. When i watched him at Upton Park he was a force and didn’t let out forwards get a sniff at goal. It will be interesting to see if this Venkys lot will sell but i think hes a more realistic option than Cahill simply because he should be a fair bit cheaper and you wont have to compete with Man City’s money for him. Im not a massive fan of Song but for you lot getting that new centre back is the most important issue followed by a new keeper and striker. I know everyone rules out Green cause of the world cup but honestly in the grand scheme of things he is quality and should be considered as City wont sell Given to you. The striker is tricky because i think you will be outpriced by rivals so you should all spend the summer praying RVP can go for a while without an injury! Good stuff look forward to your next article. Hopefully you will have Samba in that line up by then!

    • mazkyle says:

      Yeah I really don’t see either Cahill or Parker arriving to be honest, like you said due to the money for the former and age for the latter. Samba’s a viable target, and I think he’d be interested seeing as he had wanted to leave when Venky’s completed the takeover. Who knows maybe they don’t actually have that much money and so would accept a bid between £8-10m for him. I could realistically see Gervinho arriving though.

      If RVP gets injured next season it’ll be the same all over again. Although I do agree about Green, I can’t see signing the Goalkeeper of the team that came last in the league as a signing that the fans are gonna get behind. It would be a risk because, however unfairly, he is still associated with the World Cup fumble with a lot of fans. To be honest I don’t think a Keeper will be signed, I can see Gervinho and 1 other player, hopefully a defender!

  3. jamiekyle says:

    As usual I agree with all your points about Arsenal, I love the idea of Samba and it looks more and more likely. I think the formation 4-2-2-2 is really great too. RVP always plays well with a partner up front tucking behind them as the gap between midfield and attack (miss the days of Henry and RVP up front). Really think Vela could make an impression next season.
    I would swap Wilshere and Fabregas positions personally, I’ve always fancied Cesc as a deep lying playmaker who can play balls out to everywhere but not be afraid to tackle. Wilshere has better pace and agility to take on defenders and push as an attacking midfielder in general. But you do raise a good point on how Wilshere has gained more being deployed in a deeper role. I guess they can always cover eachother if one chooses to push forward?
    Good blog dude.

    • mazkyle says:

      The reason I put Cesc in front of Wilshere is because I remember reading an interview of his not too long ago, might have a been a spanish one not too sure, where he stated that he wasn’t 100% comfortable playing in the deeper role he’s in at the moment because he’s further away from the attack. I want to see him getting back in the goals like he was 2/3 seasons ago because he was deadly when he was on form – especially his long range shooting, something we were desperately lacking this season.

      Either way, the two players are interchangeable because they both have the talent to play in both positions. That’s assuming Cesc is still at the club come September though!

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