I found this little diddy in the Telegraph written by Charlie Eccleshare. Consecutive defeats have left threatened to derail Arsenal’s season, leaving them nine points behind leaders Chelsea and only a point ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham.
Arsene Wenger’s team looked devoid of confidence and drive in Sunday’s loss at Manchester City, and failed to stand up to the physical challenge posed by Everton five days earlier.
So what do Arsenal need to do to turn things around, starting with the home match against West Brom on Monday?
- Rediscover balance in midfield
When it was confirmed at the beginning of December that Arsenal’s midfield fulcrum Santi Cazorla would be out until March, I wrote that Arsenal’s season would implode unless Wenger got creative.
Suffice it to say, the manager has not got creative, and has instead persisted with the same 4-2-3-1 system that functions with Cazorla in the team but often looks disjointed without him.
Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin has been Wenger’s preferred partnership in Cazorla’s absence, but neither player offers the quick, incisive passing of the Spaniard, nor his ability to soak up pressure and launch counter-attacks by dribbling out of defence in tight situations.
As a result Arsenal have struggled to create chances in their last two matches, managing a total of four shots on target in the defeats at Everton and Manchester City.
Wenger seems wedded to the 4-2-3-1 despite the team’s loss of fluidity without Cazorla, but surely the time has come to change or at least tweak it after Sunday’s desperate defeat at the Etihad?
Aaron Ramsey’s return from injury, slated for the Boxing Day visit of West Brom, cannot come soon enough and could precipitate a move to a 4-1-4-1 formation, with the Welshman tasked with providing more of a creative thrust than either Xhaka or Coquelin.
- Stop leaking goals
Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet in their last 12 matches, and will be without centre-back Shkodran Mustafi until January. Gabriel has looked an uneasy deputy in the last couple of matches, while Nacho Monreal is having his shakiest spell since supplanting Kieran Gibbs as the team’s first-choice left-back two years ago.
Assistant manager and former centre-back Steve Bould needs to get his defence at least doing the basics well again, especially in their next match against West Brom, who will mercilessly try and exploit Arsenal’s relative lack of height.
The absence of clean sheets also suggests that the Xhaka-Coquelin axis is not even providing a sufficient defensive shield, adding to the sense that the current system is imbalanced and not functioning properly.
- Sort out the contract situations
Wenger can express his frustration at the media’s obsession over new contracts for Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but Arsenal could end the speculation by acting decisively and resolving both players’ futures.
Years of austerity and financial prudence were supposedly to ensure the long-term future of the club and prevent a situation like between 2005 and 2012 when Arsenal were forced to regularly sell their best players. But here we are with Arsenal on a sound financial footing dithering yet again over holding on to two of their most important players.
It can’t be helping either player having their futures up in the air, and would give the club a huge boost if either or both were to sign new deals.
- Reintegrate Welbeck and keep him fit
A dreadful run of injuries since arriving at the Emirates has made Danny Welbeck something of a forgotten man for much of his time at Arsenal, but the striker is close to a return after suffering a knee injury in May.
Welbeck’s pace and power gave Arsenal a big lift when he came back into the team in February, and Wenger will be hoping his latest comeback can have a similarly galvanising effect.
The key for the manager is not to overburden him too quickly and risk another setback because if Welbeck can be successfully reintegrated he will give the team another attacking dimension. Assuming Welbeck can get up to speed quickly, the left inside forward position currently being shared by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi is his for the taking.
- Rotate the team
Wenger has his biggest squad in 20 years, and it’s time to use it. Arsenal were awful pretty much to a man against City so there are plenty of candidates to be dropped, but a couple stand out. Monreal has been a model of consistency over the last couple of years but has been hopelessly exposed on a number of occasions this season. His deputy Gibbs has impressed when given a chance in the last couple of months, and should start against West Brom.
Lucas Perez meanwhile scored a hat-trick in his most recent start, and could be forgiven for wondering what exactly Oxlade-Chamberlain and Iwobi are doing to stop him from getting a game.
Making less reactive substitutions, and ones earlier than the 70th minute would also be a step in the right direction, and be a better use of the fringe players in the squad who can’t even get game time when the team is losing.
- Use the January transfer window judiciously
Don’t worry I have not totally lost my senses and am about to suggest that Wenger might spend big in January. But in the last two years he has added Gabriel and Mohamed Elneny in the winter windows, so it’s not unreasonable to expect Arsenal to make a similar signing next month.
It would be prudent though to go for someone who is more likely to hit the ground running than players joining from the Spanish and Swiss leagues respectively. It would be unlike Wenger to sign a player from another Premier League club in January, but he doesn’t really have time to wait for a new signing to acclimatise given his team are already nine points off top spot and it’s not even Christmas.
- Don’t panic
Two defeats should not, and will not, make Wenger forget that only eight days before the City defeat Arsenal were top of the table and being praised for their improvements this season.
He should not for instance shunt Alexis to the wing and bring back Giroud to play up front. Changes are needed to rediscover the team’s lost momentum, but it’s important to remember what has worked well this season, as well as addressing what has not.