It’s just been a couple of weeks since the Gunners were outclassed at home by the Germans. We saw their many strengths and their form isn’t going to change that much in a fortnight despite the fact that they’re coming into this fixture on the back of a disappointing defeat in the Bundesliga.
We can again expect excellent technical and tactical qualities from the Royal Blues. Arsenal have to find a way to cut the supply to their competent forwards. In order to do that the Gunners will have to man the flanks with better positional/structural discipline. At the Emirates, the visitors found it rather easy to break forward down the wings, particularly their right.
There have been many calls for replacing Santos with Vermaelen or one of the two right backs. It remains to be seen whether Wenger sees the need for a such a measure, which can be construed as a tad drastic. It’d be difficult to explain to a regular full-back why his place was being given to a central defender who isn’t particularly efficient on the flank or to one of his opposite numbers who’ll be naturally disadvantaged by the move. Not only does this create an inefficient solution at best, there is a good chance that Santos loses confidence leaving Wenger in an even tighter spot from a squad depth point of view.
The return of Gibbs would be the best possible situation for the players and the manager but he shouldn’t be rushed into action. The only other option with some long term value, at least for this season, is to find a way to get the best out of Santos by adapting the team’s style of play. He’s not a player who can bomb up and down the pitch all day long but the Brazilian is competent on the ball and can help circulate it. Wenger could look at giving him a static role on the left, just like he did with Jenkinson earlier in the season on the other flank, while the attacks are built up on the right or through the middle with carefully chosen bursts on the left kept as a surprise option.
That way there will be less space behind the full back and he will have more time to concentrate on his positioning or reading the runs of his winger, possibly Farfan. The Brazilian can also be very effective in attack if he charges forward only when there’s a quick change of flank. Go back to his goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season and this point might make sense.
Even with Vermaelen or one of the right backs in place of Santos, the Gunners will have to sacrifice certain attacking qualities. Why not do the same while helping a squad player get his confidence back. The key point to remember here is that the Brazilian isn’t terrible at everything he does. Indeed, the guy has certain strengths that could help the team.
Wenger also has a choice to make on the right flank in attack. Ramsey, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain seem unavailable due to injuries. Walcott’s fitness could also be a question mark. Arshavin isn’t that effective on that side of the pitch.
One option for Arsene is to move Cazorla to the right while pushing Wilshere up the pitch. Coquelin can come into the midfield to provide extra defensive cover. The youngster hasn’t established himself at this level and will weaken the midfield but Cazorla’s ability to drift in should compensate for that.
In the other two attacking positions, Arsene could go with Podolski and Giroud in a combination that hasn’t really clicked or he could bring Arshavin in on the left with either one of the two strikers taking the central role. I’d prefer Podolski.
Mannone – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos – Coquelin, Wilshere, Arteta – Cazorla, Podolski, Arshavin.
In that starting eleven, both the wide players will show a tendency to drift inside so the two deep-lying midfielders will have many options to pass between the lines. The Russian can also hug the touchline if the need arises or he could swap positions with Podolski to create different angles. This should also give Poldi more chances to get into goalscoring positions while the team has greater creative threat.
Sagna can provide width on the right with Arshavin, Podolski, and Wilshere taking turns on the other side supplemented by an occasional burst by Santos. Arteta would have to provide cover behind the full back.
Of course, if Walcott is fit he should be in the starting line-up. In that case Coquelin could move back to the bench with Wilshere dropping deeper.
Irrespective of the team selection, the Gunners have to raise their game as a unit. The first team has lost three out of the last four and in all the three losses they were rather impotent in attack with hardly any shots on target till the last five minutes or later. They need to move the ball faster but that is directly dependent on the movement off-the-ball and the understanding between individuals. I have a feeling certain vulnerabilities in defence also force the attacking players to take a more conservative approach to protect the ball, which in turn gives the opponents greater confidence.
At the very least the players have to fight for each other and avoid sloppy mistakes. Unfortunately, that’s linked to the confidence of the players and it’s easy to get sucked into a negative cycle. Tactical alterations can make a small difference but it’s tough to create a failsafe against elementary errors in extremely dangerous zones.
That said, there is more quality in the side than we’ve seen in the last few games. With a natural risk taker like Arshavin in the starting line-up, if Arsenal have a strong opening period where the defence looks comfortable, they could grow into this game and get a positive result. But don’t bet your house on that…Follow @goonerdesi