Arsenal ended the first half of the 13/14 campaign on top of the English League. The last time Arsenal enjoyed this position was December 2002, they ended that season 5 points behind eventual champions United and this was despite going into March (2003) with an 8 point lead.
In that year, Arsenal drew a game too many when it mattered the most (Game-week 32 & 33; vs. Villa and Bolton respectively) and although they maintained a free flowing pass & move game for most of that season, their inability to grind out crucial goals and victories led to their downfall.
This year Arsenal have built their season around a solid core, with consistent performances from the compact duo of Mertesacker & Koscielny, the prolific Ramsey and an ever-threatening Giroud. But their season has seemed to unravel in December when a series of difficult games saw them go without a victory for 4 games.
The second half of Arsenal’s season will be defined by two such sequences of fixtures:
- Feb 8th – 19th: Liverpool, United, FA cup*, Munich
- Mar 8th – 29th: FA cup*, Munich, Spurs, Chelsea, City
Philosophy and potential recruits
Arsenal’s philosophy in this campaign has been a simple one, which is to play flowing attacking football (as always) but with three key differences this year –
- The addition of Ozil has made Arsenal’s play a lot more penetrating (46 key passes, Ramsey’s 2nd with 26).
- Giroud has been holding the ball up a lot better and playing very well with his back to the goal, which has allowed the likes of Ozil and Ramsey to get into truly threatening positions.
- Aaron Ramsey is all over the pitch doing everything (1262 passes, 30+ tackles and 31 shots).
Wenger needs to do more of the same when the weather is fair but how can he be better prepared for the likes of the Club World Champions? It’s clear that Arsenal lack the depth in their squad that competitors like Chelsea and City have, especially up front, but they needn’t spend as much to compete and Wenger can stay true to his transfer policy but he must accept that he still needs to make 2 or 3 smart buys.
Firstly another striker, the ideal buy would be Giuseppe Rossi who is currently top-scorer in the Serie-A, but Arsenal would probably have to shell out €35 million for him which they are unlikely to do. Cheaper but equally improbable options include Alexandre Pato, Burak Yilmaz and Demba Ba.
What Wenger is more likely to do is buy a younger less established second striker/winger type of player, one who is good on the ball, fast and likes to take defenders on. Players in this mould that Arsenal have been linked to include the Jupiler (Belgian) Pro League top scorer Michy Batshuayi and Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata.
Although Arsenal have been defensively sturdy for most of the year, their frailties at the back were exposed against Manchester City when they let in six goals in a single outing, more than half the number of goals they had conceded up until then. They lacked the speed and physical tenacity to deal with the likes of Yaya and Fernandinho bursting through their ranks.
Wenger has been linked to centre-backs Kurt Zouma, Fabian Schar and Andrea Ranocchia. The addition of a fast, young centre back might just inject some life into a defence that is not quite water tight.
But what could prove to be more important than the January transfer window is Wenger’s approach to big games, especially the first leg against FC Bayern. Wenger cannot afford to make the mistakes that he did against City while playing Pep’s men. His first responsibility will be to keep the gap between midfield and defence small and to stop the team that is better on paper from getting in behind the back four. Wenger has to realize that he has to give defensive stability first priority and still find the right balance to attack at speed. For this Wenger has to work on having a concrete plan B, one that involves packing the centre of midfield, defending deep and being clinical on the break.
In the first half of this season Wenger barely ever used wingers with Walcott and Podolski out for most of the time and as a result teams like Everton, United and Dortmund (first leg) were all able to frustrate Arsenal’s attack by shackling the likes of Ramsey and Giroud. Arsenal have to use the relatively easier fixtures to mix up their attacking approach and to rotate players so that they are less one-dimensional when they are faced with a tough run of fixtures like the ones in March.
Arsenal should primarily look to fill in the gaps in their squad; first by adding more support and/or competition for Giroud and then work on keeping a tighter defence against the likes of Bayern, City and Chelsea (away).
Don’t expect much activity from Wenger in January though, he might bring in some young blood but not much more.
- Aashish Mane