I’m going to try and do the impossible today, and that is to try and defend Arsene Wenger and his lack of spending so far this January.
Firstly, I truly hope we do acquire some new signings, and that proven quality arrives in this transfer window. However I do, in some twisted and almost contradictory way, understand Wenger’s reluctance to add to the squad.
The reason is simple: we do have an abundance of quality and skill in the team.
I look through the Arsenal line-up and I see a team of very talented, largely experienced players. I also look at our injury list and find myself amazed at how few crippling injuries we have at the half way stage of the season.
Judging from the team selection so far this season, I’m presuming our first choice eleven is Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla; Podolski, Walcott, Giroud.
I look through that team and find it difficult to fault many of the players, or see how they can actively be improved upon.
With the exceptions of Gibbs and Arteta, all of those players are established or important players for their national sides.
I have question marks over Walcott’s attitude and ability, and I think Giroud is still adjusting to both the English game and the role he’s being asked to play, but aside from that there is no obvious weakness in the playing staff.
Furthermore, with players like Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby, Rosicky and Ramsey as substitutes, the manager does have options from the bench. (when everyone is fit of course)
However, as much as I look at that line-up and see top quality footballers, the quality on paper isn’t transmitting itself onto the pitch.
I’ve watched some genuinely woeful performances this season, as games vs Norwich, Swansea and Southampton, amongst several others, have passed us by, and wondered how this group of players simply can’t click. I’m sure the manager must do the same.
But in defending Wenger for not spending, it’s also necessary to criticise the manager for allowing the sub-standard performances of his players to occur so frequently.
Is he not motivating them correctly?
Is he selecting unbalanced teams?
Are the tactics we’re playing correct?
I’d defend the manager on the first accusation but I think there are reasonable grounds to argue our system is unbalanced and the tactics deployed are flawed.
I find it hard to believe that a group of elite international footballers, playing under a manager as distinguished and successful as Arsene Wenger, aren’t motivated when playing for Arsenal. It’s a lazy accusation to throw around when things aren’t going well. Look at players like Arteta and Vermaelen; they exude professionalism and competitiveness. I see people question Podolski’s attitude - a guy doesn’t get to 100 Germany caps at 27 years old without being supremely motivated on the pitch. If he continues at his current rate hell break Gerd Muller’s record. His Arsenal stats so far are excellent for a player being played out of position, and in a new league. I can’t wait to see what he produces for us with a full season under his belt.
It’s not Wenger’s fault that a midfield trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla- all phenomenally gifted footballers – isn’t working. However it is Wenger’s responsibility to acknowledge that the trio isn’t clicking, and to create a solution that does work. Wednesday night vs Swansea saw Cazorla out wide and Wilshere pressed further forward, and maybe that is the first sign that the manager is thinking of adjusting the system.
I’m no tactical expert, and I’m reluctant to criticise the manager’s squad selection, but I have seen enough football matches in my time to know that playing a centre midfielder (Ramsey) as a right attacking forward does nothing to provide balance to a team.
It’s become commonplace to criticise Wenger for his tactical decisions, yet I also feel there is a responsibility of the players to play with a degree of intelligence. For some self-destructive reason, after watching us draw against Southampton on New Year’s Day, I came home and re-watched the match. I couldn’t believe that for the duration of the first hour, with Walcott playing up front on his own, our entire team persisted in looping crosses into the box as our only form of attack. In that time Theo didn’t win a single header. I’m sure we’ve all got our own opinions on Walcott’s strengths and weaknesses, and I concede I’m more harsh on him than most, but even the most basic of footballers must realise that pumping balls into a small forward whose game is based on speed is totally worthless. Yet Arsenal consistently employed the same wasteful tactic.
As soon as Giroud came on, a player who dreams of crosses into the box to utilise his own physical strengths, we abandoned all of our wide play and tried to play everything through the middle, on the floor. It was utterly nonsensical.
These players are all outstanding footballers, I genuinely look at our first eleven and compare it with United and on paper there really is little difference. In actuality, the difference is that United play a system to compliment and accommodate their players, we play a system that requires our players to fit in, which often involves playing in position unfamiliar to them.
So while I would love for us to sign better players, and I do feel that new additions bring more to a team than just on-field improvement, I believe a change in our system to better utilise the players we currently have could be just as beneficial.------------
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