Health Check 2016

We’re fast approaching the new league season and it’s normally a really exciting time. A time where our new blood will vengefully right the wrongs of the previous season or propel us onto further success. The truth is it hasn’t been an exciting time, REALLY, for quite a few years now, the reason being that we haven’t addressed parts of our squad that needed investment. So for us it’s, in the recent past at least, been a case of “We’ll be ok right?”, “that fella we’ve brought in is the one”, “Theo & Ox will be massive for us this season!” or statements there or there abouts. There still remains some time in the window for us to make the difference for sure, but I’m going to take a look into what we do have as well as where the gaps remain for us. I don’t like ending on a negative so I’ll start with the gloomy stuff so I can at least sign off with us all feeling like this season will be our year.

What we need…

Last season we suffered from an identity crisis of sorts in that from December 2015 onwards we didn’t really look anything like an Arsenal side that we’ve been used to seeing over the tenure of Arsene Wenger. No matter whether we’ve had the likes of Oleg Luzhny, Denilson, Almunia & Eboue amongst our ranks, we’ve always managed to play a beautiful brand of football. It’s a real mystery as to why with arguably considerably better personnel, that Wenger hasn’t been able to produce anything similar. There are a multitude of factors involved with as to why this hasn’t been the case, however there is one main reason and that reason is Oliver Giroud. It’s not his fault by any means, however he is our main man and that is the reason we have had to adapt our style of football. Previous to Giroud we had Van Persie, Adebayor and to a lesser extent Eduardo. Before them was Henry. So we’ve always had mobile, run making forwards that have dictated the way that we’ve played our football. Since the arrival of Olivier Giroud we’ve had to adapt as he isn’t the pacey, fleet of foot man that we’re used to. So even though surrounding him we have an easily better force than we did when Van Persie and Adebayor were around they don’t have the same channels to work with. Swap the RVP of 4 years ago with the Giroud of now and it’s a title winning squad. So it’s pretty clear that, while we have a very good forward in Giroud, we still need a world class front man in order to make the step forward. There have been an obscene amount of games that we have been up by a goal only to squander chances to double our advantage and allow the opposition back into the game. There is an argument that we could defend leads better but I’ll come onto that later.

After the search for that elusive striker has been concluded there is another area of the pitch that has been a weakness for us over the past couple of seasons, but became wholly apparent in 2015/16. The wide right hand side. We’ve tried a number of combinations there raging from Walcott, Campbell, The Ox & Ramsey to name but a few. The best of which has, ironically, been Aaron Ramsey. Though it’s a position that he’s come out to say is not his best and also that he doesn’t quite fancy it there. It’s something that only works if we have the right midfield to compensate for it and requires Cazorla & Coquelin to play together at the base. Not ideal as if and when one of them is not present in the team the house of cards, as it were, falls down. The problem that exists on this side is twofold, it’s either a lack of talent or it’s a lack of application and sometimes a combination of both. Joel Campbell and Aaraon Ramsey were my favourites there, with Campbell being the more versatile. However is someone like Campbell good enough to break down the best defences? I’m not sure. A great plan B, much the same as Olivier Giroud I would say. Can’t fault the player but we can fault the lack of options. Theo Walcott did well here for a period, but it was good enough when challenging for a top 4 position rather than a title tilt. He lacks the fight to do well out wide and requires far too much ‘arm around the shoulder-ing’ when playing up top. The turning point in his career was vs Sp*rs a couple of seasons ago. The game was poised at 1-1 with around 4 minutes of normal time remaining. Walcott had only been on the pitch for 8 minutes when Bentaleb picked up the ball on their left hand side. At this point all Walcott had to do was to close down the space. He walked towards Bentaleb. WALKED! This gave him all the time in the world to pick out a cross for Kane to head in the winner. From that point forward Wenger didn’t trust him in the wide areas and the bench is where he found himself for a lot of last season. The occasional exemplary front man performance aside it looks like he will need replacing this summer if we are truly to be competitive. With regards to The Ox, he’s still young and has been unlucky with injuries. He is also useful in a number of positions and could well be our box-to-box CM for years to come. The conclusion here is that we need a more natural wide man that can play there regardless of the personnel alongside him.

Lastly if we are being a little greedy we could well need a centre back. Mertesacker and Koscielny are my preferred choice, however I think that we can find a better partner for Koscielny (as much as I love the BFG!). I would love us to bring in a commanding presence back there that could almost help up Koscielny’s game a little. There are situations that he finds himself in through a little unconscious complacency I feel and a better more ‘at it’ centre half could be the jolt Koscielny needs to be the best version of himself. However this is a position in which I feel we could still well win trophies without addressing and I’ll tell you why when talking about our strengths.

What we have…

One thing that we need to remember is that from the start of the season through to December last season, we were playing some really good football and were top of the league. Giroud was scoring, Walcott was performing admirably in the lone striker role with Alexis and Ozil quite simply on fire. Ozil especially. Now these are the two players who gained so much credit for us as they were the difference makers in the big games, but as we all know it was Santi Cazorla that was the trigger to our downfall. Not because he’s terrible, because he was a lynchpin in out blueprint for success. His partnership with Coquelin was outstanding and the bedrock on which we created goals from. Coquelin was the ball winner and Cazorla was the transition man. Opposition defences squirmed when he had the ball simply because he could not only deliver a pass into a dangers area for Messrs Alexis & Ozil to latch on to, but he could also beat a man and expose them even further by going direct to Giroud or Ramsey being our modern version of Freddie Ljungberg. The jigsaw was precise but it worked and worked well.

The real plus for this season is that the problem of personnel could well be eradicated. We should no longer have to solely rely upon Cazorla and Coquelin to be playing to function as a team. The arrivals of Elnenny and Xhaka have seen to this. Elneny’s tireless running coupled with the monster pressing and distribution of Xhaka makes for a hugely dynamic range of options for Arsene. No longer will we only have to play one way, we will be able to truly adapt to our opposition by playing a more defensive minded Xhaka, Coquelin & Elneny as a 3 if we are taking on the likes of Barcelona or Bayern in the Champions League or even away from home against a big gun in the Premier League. Options is what we’ve lacked as well as depth in quality, which now seems to have been addressed in the middle of the park. In addition to this we have one of the best goal keepers in the league with Cech having won the golden glove in his first season with us. Granted he made some errors (as did most keepers) but he won us crucial points and that’s something that we will continue to benefit from as his sole focus will be with Arsenal Football Club having announced his international retirement. Added to this we also have the Wilshere conundrum to solve, and believe me it’s a good problem to have. He’s one of the most gifted midfielders we have and given the right role he could prove the game changer we need. He can inject pace into what may transpire to be a tepid performance. He was never played in the correct position or alongside the right personnel when at the Euros, so we didn’t really get a chance to see this. The mass media all jumped on the ‘Wilshere was a mistake’ bandwagon but what they’ve all missed is that he was always out of position and playing in a midfield that contained Wayne Rooney, which doesn’t help anyone.

Finally we really do have two of the most gifted forward players in the league with us in Alexis Snachez and Mesut Ozil. Alexis had to be rushed back last season and our front men stopped taking on Ozil’s chances at the back end of last season so as a squad we didn’t have the both of them firing together often enough last season. If managed well and the right additions made, we could be in for a truly explosive season of Premier League football from The Arsenal.

As I mentioned earlier, with regards to not needing a centre back and still competing, we could take a look at our pressing game. This can be addressed with signing up top rather than at the back. If we pressed as a team (and I say press not foul – again this explanation is coming) with more intensity we could leave a lot less work for our back 5 to contend with. Sp*rs were lauded last season for their defence not having to make many tackles and keeping their shorts clean etc because of great organisation. In fact this was a high press that the manager had clearly instructed the front men to commit fouls high up the pitch in order to deal with teams’ counter attacks. In the top 10 players with the most fouls there were 2 Sp*rs players. Dele Alli (8th) and Eric Lamela (3rd), which corroborates the above. Commit fouls high and ease pressure. Now I’m not suggesting for us to do this as a team or even individuals, I just think that a high press situation works even in a cleaner parallel to that of Sp*rs. We used to do it before Giroud and it has stopped because pressing is not in his game. If we go on and replace the wide man on the right side and bring in the high press centre forward we’ve all been craving we will have the perfect balance in the squad to negate our defensive deficiencies and more importantly go on to win some trophies this season.

What’s clear is that the next ¾ weeks will be crucial in shaping our season and with the right additions I’m really optimistic that not only can we triumph domestically but also finally crack Europe. We’re looking healthy overall but need that injection of adrenalin to propel us onto greatness.

Have a great week folks.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

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