The Depth Crisis

16 Oct

Hi all, long time no see! Yes, I know it’s been a long time since I wrote, but to cut a long story short, I’ve been very busy lately (and everything that can be said about Arsenal has already been said anyway). But it’s now the international break (HOORAY!), so we can all look forward to having a nice relaxing few weeks, safe in the knowledge that we’re top of the league. Getting there is tough, and very few people predicted it after our 3-1 opening day defeat to Aston Villa, but even now, people are doubting our ability to stay there, and staying there is what makes you Champions.

 

Hi all, long time no see! Yes, I know it’s been a long time since I wrote, but to cut a long story short, I’ve been very busy lately (and everything that can be said about Arsenal has already been said anyway). But it’s now the international break (HOORAY!), so we can all look forward to having a nice relaxing few weeks, safe in the knowledge that we’re top of the league. Getting there is tough, and very few people predicted it after our 3-1 opening day defeat to Aston Villa, but even now, people are doubting our ability to stay there, and staying there is what makes you Champions.

 

Despite our current form (fun fact – Arsenal have more points, 57, and more wins, 17, in 2013 than any other Premiership team), very few non-Arsenal fans think we will still be top of the pile in May. There are two main reasons for this, the first of which is our inexperience, or more specifically, people feel that we don’t have the ‘winning mentality’ that became a trait of Manchester United sides during the Fergie era. I for one, don’t buy this for one second.

 

They may not have won them at The Emirates, but our team does know how to win things – Giroud and Sagna both won trophies in France, and Sanogo recently won the U20 World Cup with France too. Vermaelen captained Ajax to glory. Podolski, Mertesacker and Ozil are all key players in Germany’s footballing machine; Ozil himself also helped Real Madrid break the Barcelona supremacy whilst at the Bernabeau. Cazorla’s part of the all-conquering Spanish side, as is Monreal. Wilshere won the F.A. Youth Cup, a highly prestigious trophy at that level. It’s not as though we don’t have winners in our team. Last season, van Persie was undoubtedly the reason why Manchester United won the league – what had he won prior to that? Exactly…

 

So there’s that reason, which doesn’t really hold up. So what else is there that could mean we won’t come 1st this season? Lack of depth in the squad. Of course, the age old problem that apparently only applies to Arsenal. It is perhaps ironic then, that the one season we don’t have much problems depth-wise, is the one season where it gets highlighted the most!

 

(For this piece, I shall be using information from www.physioroom.com, so a big thanks to them!)

 

Excluding Laurent Koscielny’s minor strain, we have 6 players out injured at the moment, which means we’ve got the 2nd highest number of players out in the league (although, when you take into account the extra matches our players will play in, either in Europe or with their countries, then it’s clear that we are being stretched to our limits). Things were looking brighter before the international break, and thankfully it would appear as though we’ve got very few players left who can get injured! With Vermaelen and Arteta back, our squad suddenly looks much stronger than it did a few weeks ago, and it’s only going to get better.

 

In goal, Szczesny faces competition from Fabianski and Viviano – Wenger himself has said that he’d like to rotate the number two position whilst keeping Szczesny as our number 1. Whilst his form of late has been patchy, Szczesny’s goalkeeping has been crucial to our assault on the Premiership. Whilst I haven’t seen much of Viviano, I’m told he’s a safe pair of hands (literally), and the added time constraint added by the loan nature of his deal suggests that Wenger may have to play him ahead of Fabianski, who excelled towards the last few months of the season last year, before injury kept him out until early September. Basically, we’re fine here.

 

Our defensive situation also seems to be fairly solid, despite the sales of Santos and Squillaci, as well as the loaning of Djourou and Miquel. At centreback, Vermaelen’s timely return means he can compete with Koscielny or Mertesacker for a place in the side. Sagna’s versatility has seen him called in as an emergency centreback too, which has worked fairly well – I’ve been thoroughly impressed by him this year, and would love him to sign a new contract. I wasn’t so sure about his commitment last year, but he’s proven me wrong (or he’s just playing well to attract a big money offer…). His understudy, Carl Jenkinson, is developing quickly and could turn into a class young fullback, although he still has a long way to go before he reaches the standards set by Sagna. At left back, Nacho Monreal is providing stiff competition for Kieran Gibbs, in what is one of our strongest positions on the pitch.

 

And here come the big guns! Our midfield, when fully fit, is the stuff of dreams (unless of course you have to pick the team). For now, I’m assuming we’re going to be playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, although there’s more of this to follow. With the style of football Arsenal have favoured since the arrival of Wenger, midfield dominance is paramount, and for me, the two deep lying midfielders in our system are the most important players on the pitch. Last year, we were chopping and changing, largely down to a lack of form of Wilshere, or the injury to Arteta. With Arteta now back and fully fit, we’ve got 4 top quality options for two spaces, plus the potential for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to fill in if he must.

 

Ramsey and Arteta are by and large the chosen two for these positions (certainly this season). They seem to complement each other nicely, with Arteta’s awareness and passing range fitting in well with the drive, pace and new-found goals in Ramsey’s game. However, the signing of Mathieu Flamini (and the timing of Arteta’s injury) has now given Wenger a selection dilemma. Flamini has impressed hugely since he arrived on a free from AC Milan this summer, and despite the inevitable booking each match, his leadership qualities and tenacity in the tackle has filled the void that Arsenal haven’t been able to do since…well, since he left in 2008! The partnership between Ramsey and Flamini has blossomed, and certainly for now, I want to see it continued.

 

The midfield dilemma would have been made worse, had our attacking midfield options not been so depleted, as Wilshere would not have been played out wide (frankly, he wouldn’t have played at all). Whilst his through-ball to Giroud against West Brom was the best thing I’ve seen from him in a long time, it’s clear he’s still struggling to find the form that catapulted him to hero status in 2010/11. He’s been useful as a winger, and to be fair to him, it doesn’t help that on the other side, Gnabry has been cutting inside as well, thus leaving us with very little natural width. Nonetheless, as it stands I wouldn’t have Wilshere starting in the centre.

 

 

Ironically, the one area that we’ve been hit worst by injuries is the area where we’ve got the most depth. Whilst Gervinho and Arshavin left, the emergence of Gnabry and the acquisition of Ozil has meant that those departures have been more than justified in the context of ‘clearing the deadwood’. Gnabry’s performances have been impressive, given the step up from the youth system. However, just because he scored against Swansea, it doesn’t mean he’s as good as some people say he is. His tendency to drift infield can be useful, but in my eyes, he needs to be more aware of what the other wide midfielder is doing, so that we have some width in the team. Defensively, his work rate has been excellent, but even so, he’ll be dropped as soon as some of the other players return.

 

With the possible exception of Chelsea, Arsenal have the best attacking midfield options in the league, if not the world. What’s so nice about the players we have, is that they’re all so versatile, and can fit in the fluid system that we want to play with. Rosicky, Ozil and Cazorla are supposedly central playmakers, although they can all operate on either wing. One can also add Wilshere and Ramsey into that list too, although with the case of Ramsey, he’s much more effective deeper, as a box-to-box midfielder. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry have both been played out wide, although they both prefer to play infield – Chamberlain’s passing range means he has even been played as a central midfielder, but it would appear as though this was a short-term fix.

 

As for Podolski and Walcott, they tie this piece up fairly nicely – last year, they had chances up front, although they primarily operated on the left and right wings respectively. Walcott scored goals up front, but we lacked his pace on the wing, and he went missing against the top defences. Podolski only had a few games towards the end of the season, and even though his finishing has always been up there with the best in the world, he was fairly ineffective. So essentially, they’re better out wide.

 

Anyway, who needs Podolski when we’ve got Giroud? (To be sung to the tune of ‘Chim Chiminy’) Giroud has blossomed in his second season, and whilst his finishing could improve, his performance against Napoli showed his ability to hold play up, and take up impressive positions. The confidence is there, and the team trusts him more than they did. Nonetheless, I still think we need a new striker at some point, because Sanogo’s not ready yet, and Bendtner is…well, he’s Bendtner (that’s a bit unfair really, but I don’t see him being a title winner). It’s always tough bringing in strikers, especially when you play with only one striker, but if Wenger can pull of the signing of Ozil, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t trust him to do the right thing here too.

 

Just in case you haven’t seen it, here’s Giroud’s delightful goal against Australia. Bergkamp-esque?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7a2RcIhTiQ

 

Having said that – should we play with just the one striker? Personally, I’d like to see us adapt our team (and our formation) based on how our opposition is set up to play. A 4-4-2, with either Walcott or Ozil supporting Giroud, and with Ramsey and Flamini in the middle would bring a different type of football to our normal 4-2-3-1. The Invincibles were masters at that, and we should be aiming to emulate them. We’ve been through a tough patch of injuries, but when we get everybody fit, there’s no reason why we can’t win something this year.

 

Thanks for reading, and leave your comments below! Don’t forget to vote in the poll!

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One Response to “The Depth Crisis”

  1. Macky October 16, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Our team is brimmin’ with top stars,if they can all be fired up game after game amid team stability,we can claim the epl title…we need a top striker,for us to really challenge in all fronts,Giroud cannot shoulder it alone,bendtner is good but rusty he is a gamble.

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