5 quick fixes that could stop the rot at Arsenal
So it has happened. Again! The losses which should have been victories, the glaring defensive loopholes and the inability to break down opposition defences, followed by the dissection of Arsenal‘s mistakes by pundits and fans alike; For an Arsenal fan, all these have an eerie sense of deja vu – a common theme in every season. And the problem each season gets worser than it was in the previous one.
This season however, the routine Arsenal tale has had a twist. The new-look Arsenal side after a surprisingly strong beginning, lost its element of surprise. With its vulnerabilities exposed and attacking options limited, the foundations of the side crumbled into humiliating losses and occasional unconvincing wins – emphatic victories that once were a weekly feature have become as rare as kangaroos at the Emirates.
At one end of the pitch, there is the defense, which – for all the tributes paid to Steve Bould’s work – has turned out to be quite vulnerable to counter attacks and set-pieces. Then, of course there is the usual full-back crisis. Wingers have a feast when they visit the Emirates. The ease with which the wide men have been successful in getting balls into the box has made it difficult to keep the opposition out, making a clean sheet a rare commodity.
The situation at the other end of the pitch is no better. The usual free flowing passes and clever build-up that have defined Arsenal’s game over the years have been found lacking this season. Teams this season have successfully restricted Arsenal just by playing deep into their own half and attacking on the counter. There has been none of what we are so used to seeing at Arsenal – the one-touch passes of Fabregas, the Song through balls and the Van Persie volleys.
The defense looks porous and the attack toothless. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. Injuries that have caused the end of many a Gunner title challenge have stopped them from even mounting one this season. Sagna, Gibbs, Diaby, Rosicky, Szczesny and Fabianski are just a few of those who have found themselves on the treatment table this season. Naturally, having to field a third-choice keeper in an already weakened side doesn’t help things.
So far, so very good. The problem is recognized and admitted, and action is called for. But nothing ever happens because the solution seems to have eluded everyone. There are quite a few, including some former Arsenal players who hold the view that Arsenal should break the bank to compete for the title. Of course, it would be great to have Falcao or Neymar at the Emirates, but knowing Arsenal as we do, that is highly unlikely. Whether or not the board can spend is not the point – it is that they are unwilling to spend. So keeping that in mind, here’s a quick fix but short term solution to Arsenal’s compounding woes:
1. Extend Walcott’s contract. NOW!
Year after year, Arsenal has lost its best players, intensifying the problems. It cannot continue and if there has to be a recovery, this drain of talent has to stop immediately. Six months after playing two of the most deadliest forwards in Thierry Henry and Van Persie, you have every reason to be worried if Theo Walcott is your best attacking option. And then if you end up letting him leave as well, you have no one to blame but yourself.
2. Play Giroud as a target-man
Perhaps one positive of the rather disappointing draw against Fulham was the opening up of Olivier Giroud in attack. Naturally, the best use of his aerial threat is to play him as a target man and get the long balls into him. This would differ from the deep-lying role Van Persie played in for Arsenal, but the change would also help Podolski to cut in behind him as well as give Cazorla the space to pick out the passes into the opposition penalty area.
3. Ease pressure off Cazorla
Such has been the contribution of the Arsenal number 19 to the attack that there is a feeling in most opposition camps that stopping Arsenal is all about restricting Santi Cazorla. It is very important to find that second attacking route to allow for an alternative path to goal for Arsenal. I could list names for Arsenal to sign like Mario Gotze or Christian Eriksen as I have done before in my ramblings on the inconsistent displays by Arsenal, but that is not going to happen, so a little more realistic target would be Crystal Palace winger Wilfred Zaha, who is known for his creativity.
4. Start Oxlade Chamberlain over Gervinho
Walcott (read point 1) and Oxlade Chamberlain also add pace to the Arsenal side in addition to their skill, so it’s important they start for Arsenal as often as they can to add the threat from the wings and greatly increase the possibility of counter attacks.
5. Rotate the squad
The only solution I can see to the injury crisis at Arsenal is to rotate the squad. Maybe giving players more rest between matches will help reduce the number of injuries – at least the less serious ones. Of course, this requires that there be a strong bench, which in turn requires some spending on Arsenal’s behalf but something needs to be done with the injuries and not everything can be done for free.