Arsenal currently sit sixth in the Premier League table, only two points off a Champions League place and the bookies’odds, including betfair, paddy power and sportingbet, suggest the Gunners will once again play in Europe’s pedigree competition next season. However, will that be enough for fans of the club?
An FA Cup win last season brought some silverware back to Emirates Stadium after a long wait and it temporarily awarded some respite to a somewhat beleaguered Arsene Wenger.However, while the FA Cup win was thrilling, coming back from two goals down to beat Hull City, a league title is what most Gunners fans want.
But, despite a win over Southampton on Wednesday night, can anyone seriously see Arsenal catching either Manchester City or Chelsea? And as Wenger’s team do try and plug the gap at the top of the table, what tactics will they use?
- Defeat by Manchester United November’s home defeat at the hands of Manchester United saw Arsenal having most of the possession, dominating their once great rivals, but they failed to make that pay and conceded two breakaway goals, through an own goal from Kieran Gibbs and a Wayne Rooney chip. It has been a story of their performances for too long.
- Beating West Bromwich AlbionIt is finishing which has been the problem for Arsenal this season and which is causing unrest in the stands. On the face of it, the new signings, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez, together with fit-again Olivier Giroud, offer more attacking threat. They combined to a good impact in beating West Bromwich Albion last weekend, with Welbeck scoring the only goal of the game despite being pushed wide to accommodate Giroud. But will this continue?
- Victory over Southampton Back-to-back three points after beating West Brom were achieved with a win over Southampton, whose good start to the season is beginning to fade. And, in the success on Wednesday night, Wenger again showed he is prepared to mix things up. Arsenal had to wait for a late Sanchez winner and the Chile international was again the star of the show as his team were far from their best. They started in a 4-2-3-1 line-up as Welbeck led the attack and Giroud was back on the bench before coming on in the 65th minute.
- Counter-attack susceptibility Sanchez has been excellent all season, a great buy, but, as last season’s capture of Mesut Ozil proved, other areas of the field also appear to need investment. Many of the goals conceded this season have been as a result of counter-attacks by the opposition. In that defeat by United, Arsenal pushed forward and were caught out in this way. Wenger has seen his full-backs pushing up but this leaves his team exposed at the back and too often they have suffered.
- Teams working Arsenal out With this in mind, teams are often set out to frustrate Arsenal, appreciating they will have a lot of the ball, but mindful of the potential they are vulnerable to the counter-attack. Wenger could set the team up to be a little more cautious and, in the January transfer window, may finally address the defensive midfield situation which has been a problem area.Wenger already has Mikel Arteta, who has had injury problems, and Mathieu Flamini in that area but question marks remain about both players. Arsenal desperately miss a Patrick Vieira-type and the issue for Wenger is that he left Arsenal almost a decade ago.
- Lack of leadership As well as missing leadership, the team appears to be in need of technical guidance. This was also the case last season. When going a goal down and chasing the game, there is too great a tendency to push players forward almost in a panic as if getting nearer the opposition goal will lead to an equaliser. Surprisingly for an Arsenal side which has always appeared patient, this current crop sometimes isn’t, with passes going astray against a team they are expected to beat. On a similar point, too often in games, and this has been a feature of Arsenal’s play for a while, the majority of the team appear to be waiting for someone else to make an impression and grab the game by the scruff of its neck. Sanchez has done that on several occasions this season but Arsenal cannot keep relying on one man, however talented, to rescue the rest of the team.
- 4-1-4-1, 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 As for what system Wenger will use for the rest of the season, with the front three of Sanchez, Giroud and Welbeck fit, something resembling a 4-3-3 may continue to be used to try and fit those three key players into the side. That has repercussions through the rest of the side, with Welbeck and Sanchez, presuming they are the wider two of the three, having to assist a potentially-exposed and outnumbered midfield. With players as adaptable as Sanchez and Welbeck, that can become a 4-3-2-1 or the 4-1-4-1 which has already been used this season.
Arsenal’s season and perhaps even Wenger’s future as manager depends on the Frenchman buying well in January and devising a system to suit the players at his disposal.