After two straight losses where his team has failed to score and barely created any chance of note, Arsene Wenger will have to find some solutions and fast. The conundrum is not helped by the fact that Le Boss seems just as perplexed by Arsenal’s struggles as Bould was when speaking after the loss against Schalke.
Wenger expressed his inability to explain the defeats/performances while speaking at the AGM,
We hit the wall in the last two games in a little bit of an unexplainable way.
Then he reiterated this point while talking about easing Wilshere back in,
We were flat physically a little bit on Wednesday night. It is difficult to explain as Schalke had a harder game than us maybe at Dortmund [at the weekend].
Finding a solution to complex issues is rarely easy but it gets tougher when the problem isn’t clearly understood. Everyone knows Arsenal need to get back on the winning track but first we need to know just what is holding the side back?
You could say half the team is just not good enough but the personnel are not going to change any time soon. Has the injury to Gibbs been such a big factor? Most of the attacks in recent games did come down the left so that could be a possibility. Again though, the full-back won’t be back for this game so there isn’t an answer to be found on that path.
The problem with personnel might be partially solved if players of the calibre of Wilshere and Sagna became available. Infusing some freshness into the starting line-up is not a bad idea but at what risk? I strongly believe players returning from long term injuries need to be eased in at this level and should not come on for more than 15-20 minutes. Wenger might start them and they could put in a solid shift, but the odds of long term complications, those of picking up niggling injuries are much higher if they’re rushed back in desperation.
The other option could be to tweak the system a little. For instance, Wenger could try moving Podolski to the middle. I tend to believe the German was signed with the intention of playing him in a central role. Indeed, he started the first game down the middle, but it didn’t work quite as well and over the next few games he did seem more useful on the left so that’s sort of become his de facto position.
Podolski is probably the only natural goalscorer in this squad. Wenger himself has pointed out his finishing qualities in the past,
He has experience, he has 100 caps for Germany. You see that in a game, he is calm and when he gets a chance you think it will be a goal.
You like to see him in front of goal. He doesn’t get there many times per game, but when he gets there, you always think we have a good opportunity to score because he is a fantastic finisher.
If you look at [each] chance, he looks at the keeper first. He takes care of his control, and after he will not mishit, he will finish.
That’s been one of the problems for Arsenal, Podolski hasn’t found himself in front of goal as often as everyone would like. Playing him down the middle could change that. Of course, that’s not an ideal solution as moving him from the left can break the balance on the side that has been the most productive for the Gunners thus far this season. Furthermore, the German hasn’t really played for the big teams through the middle so it’s not a role he’s entirely familiar with, which automatically implies a degree of inefficiency is likely to be seen in his movement and decision making when playing as a central striker.
Ultimately, it’s Wenger’s job to weigh the pros and cons before taking the decision. I doubt anyone will know for sure until we see Podolski as the main striker for a few games.
Moving the German will vacate a berth on the left. The simpler option is to move Gervinho there or bring Oxlade-Chamberlain in. But I feel it’s time to give Arshavin another go. The Russian has tried hard in the few minutes he’s got as a sub. More importantly though, he’s the best creative brain in the squad at the moment. Cazorla has superior technique and greater industry but hasn’t quite racked up the assists. He’s another player who’ll need a few games but if he can hit the kind of form he had at the start of the 2010-11 season – in the absence of Cesc and RvP, Nasri and Chamakh were the chief beneficiaries of that form if memory serves – he can help Arsenal rediscover their creative mojo.
Arshavin is excellent at cutting inside into space and the right-sided attacker can really benefit from his movement and vision just like Nasri did a couple of years ago. Gervinho’s pace and movement will nicely complement the Russian’s incision if the two can read each other’s game. Walcott’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Gunners but that’s just an inescapable part of life.
In the midfield, Wilshere is a mouth-watering option but I’d like to see Wenger pick Ramsey once again alongside the two Spaniards. Wilshere could get 20 odd minute later in the game if deemed fit but starting him would be just too big a risk. The Welshman has not impressed many with his recent outings but he’s a very hard working player who can perform a role if given clear instructions. He needs to curb his instincts to contribute to the attack and focus more on keeping things simple. Bring Arshavin and Cazorla into play as quickly as possible and keep an eye on supporting the defence. Late runs to the edge of the box can be useful but he shouldn’t drift into the wide areas or venture higher up the pitch than Arshavin and Cazorla on a regular basis.
In defence, some people have suggested the option of picking Vermaelen at left-back. Santos has his share of weaknesses, and the left side could be really vulnerable if Arshavin starts, but the Belgian wasn’t very convincing in that role last season. Let’s not forget Arsenal’s results when the full-backs weren’t available and Vermaelen was filling in at left-back. Santos can do the job, he just needs some help from the midfield.
At times in recent games, the Gunners have crowded the left flank and have run out of space. Moving Podolski into a central attacking role and with Arshavin drifting in, Santos could have greater space to run into. The Russian might also find his runs better than other have done.
In any case, with such a line-up, it would be imperative that Arsenal take good care of the ball. It can’t be given away cheaply through passes that are easy to read and intercept exposing the team to the threat of the counter-attack. Starting Arteta on the left side with instructions to cover the flank would be helpful.
Mannone – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos – Ramsey, Cazorla, Arteta – Gervinho, Podolski, Arshavin.
There is no denying the element of risk inherent in that starting eleven but Wenger needs a calculatd gamble to get his team out of the rut they’re in. If it clicks, this could be a very potent attack.
QPR have a lot of very good players but they’ve not performed as a team yet. They’ll try to follow the blueprints set by Norwich and Schalke, although there was hardly a surprise in either. It will be interesting to see how high they press and whether they go for an extra defensive midfielder or an attacking player like Hoillet. Their organization has made it hard for the Gunners in the past but this season they’ve displayed some weaknesses from set-pieces. Will Arsenal be able to exploit them?
The visitors also have a fair amount of quality in attack. Taarabt could start on the left but take a free role as the game goes on. Arsenal’s defensive players will have to keep an eye on his movement and pick him up when he drifts into their zone. Giving him time and/or space in the final third could be expensive.
The Gunners have to show better discipline at the back. Conceding goals because the back line is all over the place two games in a row is amateurish. Individually and collectively the players have to perform at the level we’ve seen from them before. Without that, any tactical changes will prove fruitless.
I honestly don’t know what to expect from Arsenal. Whatever we get, hopefully it won’t be lacking sharpness!Follow @goonerdesi