Arsenal had to wait till the 94th minute of the match to get their first shot on target. Moreover, it was a 17-year-old kid, who made his Champions League debut, who achieved it. That statistic alone sums up Arsenal’s performance in their last two matches.
At times it might seem unfair to criticize a team after a defeat, especially when a team has been undefeated in group stages of the Champions League for so long. Surely the record had to break somewhere? But it was more than just the record; it is a matter of two spineless performances in a row.
Forget the inconceivable stat of having just one shot on target in the whole match for a minute. The fact that Arsenal had a total of just five shots should be what concerns Arsene Wenger the most. That makes it a total of just 12 shots in the last two matches against Norwich in the domestic league and Schalke in the Champions League. To put this stat into perspective, one has to go back to Arsenal’s last victory. During the 3-1 win away to West Ham, Arsenal managed to take 21 shots.
Arsenal have always been criticized for not being clinical enough. They have to been known to waste chances in the past as well, finishing a move has never been their forte; creating chances was. But worryingly for Wenger, Arsenal have failed to create enough chances in their last two matches. Arsenal are failing in one thing they have built their reputation around and it certainly provides a cause for concern.
The Gunners do have a lot of important players injured at the moment, but it shouldn’t be an excuse any more. Injuries have exposed the under-belly of Arsenal and how soft it is. There are some tactical question marks hanging over Arsene Wenger at this moment.
Tactics obviously isn’t only about the right formation; it is also about putting the right player at the right position.
Gervinho Is Not A Center Forward
Arsene Wenger has used the Ivorian in the role of a striker in a lot of matches this season. Gervinho has managed to score five goals so far, but five matches are not enough to label an experiment as a success. Center forward is a very specialized position and it should come naturally to a footballer; unfortunately Gervinho isn’t one of them. Instead, he looks a far greater threat when played in the wide areas.
When played upfront, he can’t hold up play for support to arrive like a center forward should do, he has the habit of losing possession far too often. He lacks the instinctive runs that a striker should make – both horizontal and vertical; something which Giroud has displayed in abundance whenever he has started. Clever movement of the striker not only provides options for the midfielders to pass, it also helps in pulling out defenders and creates space for others to run into.
In the match against Schalke, Gervinho strayed wide during most of the attacks. The Ivorian had his best moments in the game when he was out on the wings. The moment that perfectly summed up how wrong it is for Gervinho to play through the center, was when he delivered a wonderful cross from the left, but Ramsey was the only Arsenal player in the box and he was unable to get to it. Ironically Gervinho should have been in the place of Ramsey in the box. He was given the role of finisher not a provider. A center forward would have been in the right place to finish off that cross from the left; not Ramsey or Gervinho. The pertinent question here would be why Giroud is not being given regular starts. The Frenchman will require more game time and experience to settle down in this league, but he will certainly not gain experience by sitting on the bench. Since Arsenal invested so much money on him, they should also show equal amount of faith in his ability.
Walcott’s lack of involvement in the team raises another question. The Englishman has been overlooked by Wenger this season. The winger’s contract rejection has certainly not gone down well with his manager. But the question remains, if he is at all required to experiment with someone other than Giroud in the role of a striker – why not do it with Walcott who is willing to prove himself in that role rather than forcing Gervinho to play there? Walcott has certainly shown to be a better finisher than Gervinho over time.
Santos Is Not A Left-Back
The Brazilian’s reckless streak is certainly not limited to his driving. He certainly can’t be labeled a defender. Santos is exciting while bombing forward but atrocious while defending.
The fact that most of Schalke’s attack came down the right is certainly not a surprise; the fact that man-of-the-match Farfan hasn’t been able to make more of it all night, is. Santos was caught out of position numerous times during the match. He was all at sea trying to track the runs made by Farfan, in fact Mertesacker and Coquelin had to help him out in most of the occasions.
The first goal came after Santos failed to push up with rest of the back four and played Huntelaar onside. The Dutchman is too good a striker to miss two opportunities in the game and he buried the ball into the back of the net with a crisp volley. Schalke’s second goal was created down Arsenal’s left as Farfan was again allowed too much time and space to cross, and he found out former Barcelona man Afellay, who applied the finishing touch from close range.
The other aspect which made the left side of Arsenal so vulnerable was the fact that Gervinho drifted out to the left far too often which meant Podolski shifted to the center. The German international is defensively far sounder than Gervinho. Podolski has tremendous work rate and tracks back to help out his defense, as Gibbs would concur. In Gervinho and Santos, Arsenal had two of their most defensively weak players on the left.
Thomas Vermaelen should have started in the left back role with Koscielny partnering Mertesacker in the middle. What was even more surprising was the fact that Arsenal didn’t make this substitution even after Santos’ first half performance.
Ramsey Is Not A Winger
Arsenal might have been defensively vulnerable down their left, but most of the Gunners’ attack came down that side of the pitch. Ramsey couldn’t provide the attacking impetus that a winger brings to the team. The Welshman can be adaptive to offensive and defensive roles in the center of the midfield, but he is certainly not versatile enough to play on the wings. He drifted infield far too often (which is his natural instinct) as Arsenal failed to penetrate down their right hand side. Gnabry, in his cameo, showed exactly what Arsenal missed throughout the match.
Was Wenger pragmatic in fielding Aaron Ramsey on the right? But then again the inclusion of Santos completely belies that belief.
Arsenal won’t have a long enough break to ponder over their shortcomings as they enter a busy schedule in the next two months. QPR might be at the bottom of the Premier League table, but Mark Hughes might be licking his lips after watching Arsenal’s performances in their last two matches.