Results oriented thinking is nothing new in football, but the game exists within the framework of razor thin margins. Monday evening’s ill fated match with Swansea City followed an almost identical pattern to Arsenal’s home game with Southampton in December. The Saints were obstinate and organized and the Gunners struggled to break them down. In the second half, they raised the tempo and beat repeatedly at Southampton’s door, Alexis Sanchez was presented with a routine chance in the last ten minutes and Arsenal won 1-0.
On Monday night the pendulum swung the other way. After a defeat, it is tempting to wield the axe of revolution. Doubts that may have been laying little eggs in your head are given license to hatch. For my part, I started to harbor a little anxiety about Arsenal´s unbeaten run during April. I felt the team’s momentum, which reached a crescendo with the 4-1 victory over Liverpool, began to enervate with laboured victories against Burnley and Reading. There again, I thought the performance at Hull was very pleasing and marked a return to form.
As much as I am loathe to suggest we all crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside, I do wonder if Monday’s defeat to Swansea reinforced Arsene Wenger’s summer plans. Anam touched on some of the limitations of Francis Coquelin in such games in his tactics column. After four months in the side, Coquelin’s ´honeymoon period´ is probably over and therefore the temptation to criticise is more pronounced now that he is more familiar to us. But Anam’s analysis needn’t be interpreted as a criticism per se.
Almost all of Coquelin’s attributes are defensive, so when Arsenal aren’t called upon to defend, he effectively becomes a bit of a passenger. Failing to break down a disciplined and heavily manned defence is not exactly a new problem for Arsenal. In the same circumstances, Arteta is never sacrificed because of his qualities with the ball and establishing the rhythm of Arsenal’s play. In some games, you need a ball playing holding midfielder and in others, you need a ´blocker´ like Coquelin. (In some, you need both working in tandem). One wonders whether Wenger will be tempted by another ball player this summer with age wearying his captain.
I have long held the suspicion that the player Wenger really prizes is a playmaker for his front 3. I am certain many will snort derisively of the thought of Arsenal blowing a wedge on another featherweight creator, but they do lack one in the favoured apparatus of a front 3. As I wrote last week, many of Arsenal’s current forward options do not have the creativity that the team possesses in midfield via Cazorla and Ozil. Ramsey, Giroud and Alexis is not the most subtle of forward lines.
In fact, Giroud is probably is probably the cutest of that triumvirate (in more ways than one). He has found that improved form has brought increased scrutiny, having been substituted in his last four Premier League games without a goal or an assist. Teams have doubled and tripled up on him and it’s not solely because of his goal threat. It’s because his clever touches around the penalty area are so often the conduit for Arsenal’s combination play. On Monday, Ramsey and Alexis lacked elan in the final twenty minutes and were guilty of trying to force the play, which showed in their decision making.
Arsenal lack an Eden Hazard type in their front 3. Somebody that can unpick the lock with a drop of the shoulder or a swivel of the hips. In midfield, Chelsea are well served creatively by Fabregas and, in Cazorla and Ozil, Arsenal are probably stocked even more impressively in that sense. Chelsea play with a battering ram forward in Diego Costa, as Arsenal do with Olivier Giroud (albeit their styles are slightly different). Hazard is the attacking player that represents the gap between Arsenal and Chelsea.
Manchester City also do not possess a comparable sorcerer to David Silva in their front line, but in Sergio Aguero, they’ve a striker capable of hunting and killing his own game. Arsene is still searching for his Robert Pires replacement. As it stands, I think Arsenal need one or both of Tomas Rosicky or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against opposing sides that pack their defence to try and pull them out of shape.
The goalkeeper debate has probably bored us all to horrible, horrible tears by now. However, the manner of the concession on Monday has invited further questions. Gomis’ goal was fairly similar to Reading’s recent equaliser at Wembley – hardly the product of a goalkeeping catastrophe, but a genuinely top class custodian probably keeps it out. I think it’s reasonably obvious by now that Arsenal have given up on trying to develop Wojciech Szczesny.
That being the case, it’s difficult to envisage Arsene Wenger not trying to purchase a new goalkeeper. David Ospina has been selected to play for Colombia at Copa America, so he is likely to miss the beginning of next season. If indeed Szczesny has left by then, Arsenal will want a new incumbent inducted and ready in advance of August. Ospina’s leave of absence would give any new arrival the perfect opportunity to get his feet under the table. Though who knows? Perhaps Wojciech Szczesny will view that as his ticket back into the team.
Arsene Wenger has already ruled out the purchase of a centre half and having bought Calum Chambers and Gabriel in the last two transfer windows, one can understand that. Since January, I have wondered whether the emergence of Francis Coquelin and Gabriel might tempt Wenger into adopting a high pressing style. The twin presence of Arteta and Mertesacker encourages more of a stand offish defensive approach. However, Gabriel presents Wenger with further temptation because of his tendency to proactively attack aerial balls.
35% of the goals that Arsenal have conceded in the Premier League this season have been headers (via @Orbinho). Gomis´ winner on Monday night bore a painful resemblance to his goal against Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium in November, where he also beat Nacho Monreal to the punch from a Montero cross. WhoScored lists aerial duels as Gabriel’s principal strength and it´s reasonably easy to see in his nascent Arsenal career that he relishes attacking the ball in the air. Given Arsenal’s propensity to concede from headers, the Brazilian may become an attractive option for the manager.
There are four very important games to play before planning for the summer edges to the top of the Arsenal agenda and I think the squad has been brewing nicely over the last two years. The Swansea defeat was neither a disastrous performance or result in context, but I do wonder if it might have caused Arsene Wenger to ponder on the areas where Arsenal are short of a title winning squad.
Follow me on Twitter @Stillberto