“It is a popular myth that you have to be perfect to win the league. You constantly hear how ‘Arsenal can’t win the league without a keeper’, ‘United can’t win the league without Rooney firing’, etc. But that is complete nonsense – no team is even close to perfect at the moment and whoever papers over their deficiencies most effectively will lift the trophy in May.”
I absolutely agree that papering over our deficiencies and the ability to get the most out of what have rather than bitching about what we don’t have is a huge part of our title challenge.
In saying that as well as we are doing this season — and 2nd in the league at this point and still a part of all four competitions is a great outcome — I feel, just in the past month or so, that we are not quite getting the most out of our squad.
Here’s five things Arsenal Wenger could do to change that.
Simplify Alex Song’s role
Alex Song’s position in the Arsenal team has been a hot topic of conversation for Arsenal fans this season. There is no doubt that he is pushing forward more often this season, undoubtedly buoyed by a few early-season goals and the endorsement of a manager who is attempting to play a flexible system that sees Song and (usually) Jack Wilshere take turns to play the holding midfield role. But is it for the good of the team?
Arseblogger wrote an excellent piece about the contrast between Song’s passing in the attacking third and the defensive third — the conclusion being that he is much less successful going forward — but for me that is not the real problem. Players moving into the final third are always going to give the ball away more because the passing becomes riskier. For me the problem is that Song’s role has become overcomplicated and, without sounding overly harsh, I’m not sure he has a footballing brain capable of coping with it.
Song’s defense-first mentality and the simplicity of his role — to protect the back two in a positional sense and distribute the ball to more talented player as quickly as possible — appears to have been eroded. He is trying to do too much, trying to add too many dimensions to his game and just at the minute, it is hurting us. He is now the player who has committed the second most fouls in the Premier League after Kevin Davies and has eight yellow cards, most of them professional fouls committed out of desperation whilst chasing back, rather than a result of a desire to enforce himself physically in the middle of the pitch.
Song’s quality as a player is unquestionable but at the moment his role is too complicated. The sooner Wenger instructs him to get back to basics the more secure our team will become.
Don’t changing the formation to accommodate Robin van Persie
Rather than providing a natural lift to the team the return of Robin van Persie from injury has complicated matters for this team. The use of 4-3-3, the formation that naturally suits this group of players, has been thrown into doubt due to Wenger’s desire to accommodate both van Persie and Chamakh in the same team.
For me the solution is clear: our system should not be changed to accommodate van Persie. Rotate the players if you want — and really, given Chamakh’s physically-demanding start to the season this is a necessity – but playing them together at this crucial time of the season, when van Persie is still to find form and 4-3-3 is working well, is silly.
Wenger admitted that he is excited at the prospect of teaming van Persie up with Chamakh but the time is not right. Indeed, for this season, it may never be.
Communicate with the goalkeepers
It would be unfair to Wenger to suggest that this is not happening already but at this vital moment — where the baton of first-choice could be handed from Lukasz Fabianski to Wojciech Szczesny while Manuel Almunia sits patiently in the corner — he needs to get his communication right. The good news is that Fabianski and Szczesny are such good friends that the situation should be an easy one to handle. Wenger simply needs to sit both of them down, number them one or two and tell Almunia in no uncertain terms that his time at the club is up.
It sounds harsh but surely it is the way forward. Almunia disappointed before his ‘arm injury’, Fabianski has stepped in to solid and often spectacular effect and Szczesny’s limited performances have been genuinely impressive for such a young player. Wenger needs to make some hard decisions now, communicate them to the players, and remove any uncertainty that might still exist in their mind to get the best result for this team.
Play Kieran Gibbs at left-back
In my mind it has been clear for some time that Wenger wants Kieran Gibbs to take the place of Gael Clichy at left-back, but the Englishman’s wretched run of injuries has prevented this from happening.
The Frenchman — never the best 1-on-1 defender in the world — has regressed over the past two seasons, partially as a result of the lack of cover he is provided by Andrey Arshavin and partly because… well, I don’t know exactly. But the fact is he has made too many careless errors this season and is failing to add the required solidarity to our back four.
In contrast Gibbs has looked every bit the part in his limited opportunities this season and — a decent run of fitness prevailing — should end the season as first-choice.
Make Samir Nasri our penalty taker
Cesc Fabregas has great temperament and courage, van Persie great power and confidence but when it comes to taking penalties, surely Samir Nasri is the best of the bunch. He has taken four penalty-kicks in his time at the club — converting each of them and sending the goalkeeper the wrong way in the process — and is in the form of his career at the moment. Surely there is nobody better for Wenger to entrust with the penalty-taking duties?
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