Mid Season Analysis: Arsenal Edition

The crisis club. That was what Arsenal was known as after their awful start to the season. Seven points from the first seven games was relegation form, not the form that was expected to contend for the title if not comfortably make a Champions league place come the end of the season. Pundits were predicting that the team would not make the top 8 positions let alone be able to compete or the top four places, but a strong end in 2011 had Arsenal in the top 4 and a degeat to Fulham still has them within touching distance of what many considered to be the primary objective of the team this season.

The transfer policy that was employed by the club was somewhat to blame for the poor start to the season. The right players were brought in, and one has to be impressed with the kind of money that these players came in for. However, one has to wonder what the team could have accomplished had these players been bought earlier in the transfer window, how much better the team chemistry would have been if most of the players that came in the final days of the transfer window had been signed earlier. One wonders how many points Arsenal would have dropped if this team wasn’t learning on the go as they did in the month that followed the closing of the transfer window and how much better off the team would have been going forward.

Looking back at the signings, Arsenal are one of the teams that struck gold in the transfer window, players came in for fees that were favorable to the team and they have delivered immensely once they started ticking as a team. The one player that Arsenal lost and they will always miss has to be Cesc Fabregas: The best final ball merchant in Europe went back to his boyhood club and some of the fluidity that we have become accustomed to seeing Arsenal play with was somewhat lost.
Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy were the two other first team regulars who left, both joining the Citizens and getting big pay hikes while at it, none of the will be severely missed.
This current Arsenal team may have less talent compared to previous teams and they may not have a midfield game comparable to what they were used to playing even last season when they lacked Cesc Fabregas (something that may be attached to the absence of Jack Wilshere).

Talent is one thing that the previous teams had but they lacked depth and more importantly, they lacked restraint. So many were the occasions when Arsenal were leading by two goals yet rather than slow things down they needlessly chased a third goal to kill of a game in the process either losing it or getting a point from a game that they deserved to get all three points.  That Arsenal team was the most exciting team to watch in England, and only paled to Barcelona on the European stage, but it was also an Arsenal team that lacked balance, an Arsenal team that lacked strength in depth.

With the addition of Per Mertasacker, Arsenal finally has a defence that copes better at set plays. Arsene Wenger also had something that Arsenal never had in previous seasons which was a good amount of defensive cover at center half.

In Mikel Arteta they have a midfielder with experience that not only reads the game well, but is able to make the sacrifice that was lacking in previous Arsenal midfields i.e. a midfield player that commits himself going forward when needed and stays back when the team needs him to cover or play deeper. A midfielder that slows the game down when the team is up and a player that offers leadership so sorely missed at the center.
Gervinho, Walcott and Chamberlain now offer this Arsenal team a direct route that they never had with Nasri and Fabregas and it is a reason as to why Arsenal may not be as cutting edge as they were when that has Nasri and Cesc.

Andre Santos will be missed for the mere fact that not only had his defence picked up substantially, he was so good going forward, that he was an option that Arsenal never had with Clichy who whilst extremely solid on his day on the defence rarely had the end product required on the offensive end.

Positives can be taken from the recovery that Arsenal has undergone the past few months, but there is always room for improvement. The January transfer window offers that reprieve to teams that might want to strengthen the team in hopes to better their chances of either winning a trophy or improving on performances by bringing in some players that they think fit their style of play. Arsene Wenger might be one of the best managers out there, and that he does what he does on a budget as small as he has had in previous seasons is enviable, but he has often not bought according to what the team needs when it came to January and that player or two that they have needed to incest in at this critical period has almost always come to be the downfall of the team come seasons end.

This season a top four position may be harder to come by when compared to previous seasons where Arsenal has almost always had a great start such that an end of season collapse has rarely meant that they are in danger of not qualifying for the Champions League.
A left back is somewhat needed for the mere fact that Andre Santos is still going to be out of action for some time and Arsenal cannot rely on having Kieran Gibbs as the only left back on the team with his fitness issues.
A loan move in January is a far better proposition that buying another left back, it is a more logical move. If Arsenal is to go on and buy a defender, it has to be someone that can play multiple roles rather than going for a defender that can only slot at a single position. The team has had the required numbers at the back by having two players at every position, but have been severely unlucky to go on and have all fullbacks out of action at the same time due to some serious long term injuries……………that is something that no one could have foreseen.

The other issue is that Arsenal need a striker that can take some of the load off Robin Van Persie, a player that they can rely on to come in and give the from striker in England an opportunity to sit some games out. Park probably needs a run of games with the team to get some form going, but it is unlikely to happen once everything is put into perspective; Van Persie’s rich form and the added competition for a top four place mean that there is less room for Arsenal to maneuver when it comes to the front line setup. A far bigger issue is the fact that Arsenal have overly relied on the same front three the whole season: Andriy Arshavin is probably the most talented player they can bring in on the wing, but though he has the potential to win any game or come up with something special when people least expect it, he has largely been a pale shadow of what we have come to see or expect. He still loses a lot of balls, and while his work rate at defending is somewhat better compared to his nonchalant attitude of seasons past that made Gael Clichy one of the most targeted leftback’s in the league, he is still somewhat a liability in a team that has a better focus this season when it comes to defending. The other options available to Arsene Wenger are Yossi Benayoun, Rosicky, the latter who looks a far much better player at the centre of the pitch, and a fantastic young talent in Oxlade – Chamberlain who Wenger seems reluctant to use at this moment in time.

Lucas Podolski was linked to Arsenal, but he doesn’t want to make the move because a lack of playing time or time needed to adapt may hamper his chances of making the German team to the European Championships especially in a country where there is so much exciting talent. He would have been an ideal player for Arsenal due to the fact that he can play on the wing and as a central striker, and a player with his qualities when it comes to positional flexibility is what is maybe needed going forward, a player that can not only give the Robin Van Persie some room to rest, but a player that can seamlessly slot it for either Gervinho or Walcott without loss in quality in attack. As far as Podolski is concerned, he is a talented player and maybe Arsenal are/were interested in him, but the question that needs to be asked is whether or not Arsenal can take the risk of waiting for him or any player that comes to mind as regards the frontline. It is folly in my opinion to go with the forward line as is simply due to the fact that this teams injury history is nothing to be smiled at; that Robin Van Persie has had a fantastic calendar year that hasn’t had any injuries should be a bonus, but Arsenal have to plan for one should it come. Thierry Henry is a short term fix over the next two months while Maroune Chamakh is away, and it somewhat gives Arsenal the numbers needed for that period in time, but long term planning is needed as pertains to this position.

In midfield, the team has managed well, but someone has to wonder as to whether fatigue will eventually catch up with this team. Mikel Arteta has been a permanent fixture on the Arsenal team ever since he arrived; only missing the Carling Cup games and a dead rubber tie in the Champions League. Alex Song is another first team player that only misses games when suspensions come about, while Aaron Ramsey has had to play more and more games because Rosicky is in and out of the team with injuries, and the team has had the disadvantage of not having either Jack Wilshere or Abou Diaby available due injuries. While fatigue may be an issue, signing a player at this point and time doesn’t look likely, and it would be suprising if Arsenal made a move. Any moves in this position are likely to be made at the end of the season.

Lastly, I think that the biggest hindrance to Arsenals transfer activity has to be the wages they pay players, some players that do not deliver for the team. The wage system as structured for this team may be good fro the dressing room because a lot of players earn salaries at a similar level and that no team player on the first team earns vastly more compared to his team mates. But it is flawed in the aspect that some players earn way more than what their performances would warrant and this in itself puts the club at a disadvantage when it comes to contract renewals or when the team wants to sell the player and later finds out that there is no one willing to pay the high salaries that they were offered. The sooner Arsenal fixes the salary issue, the better they will be going forward.
Andriy Arshavin, Manuel Almunia, Nicklas Bendtner, Neves Denilson, Sebastian Squillaci, Carlos Vela and Marouane Chamakh are all players at the employ of the club, players that don’t seem to have a future in the team going forward. Most of these players bar Carlos Vela are on big salaries, and the team has to probably take hit on their sales and possibly look at the savings that they can make on salaries as a bigger gain. Almunia has a contract that ends this season, and he is the one player that Arsenal may not be able to get a return on, however small the fee would be, as for all the others, a possible sale this transfer window or the nest will offer the team not only a boost in revenues, better wage bill and better financial state going forward, it will also free up some squad places for players that could be signed to replace them. This has been Arsenal’s Achilles heel.

Next up, Liverpool and the ended saga that was Suarezgate.

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Posted on January 4, 2012, in Football Analysis. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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