I’ve heard it said that Arsenal don’t have enough options up front to become Champions.
Phooey. If you saw the Arsenal – Chelsea game last night you’d have seen evidence of how strong Arsenal are offensively. As is the norm for an Arsene Wenger squad, Arsenal have a surplus number of attacking players within their side. Along the wings there is Andrey Arshavin, Theo Walcott, Carlos Vela, Tomas Rosicky and player of the season thus far Samir Nasri. In the centre forward position there is the talented, if unexceptional loud-mouthed Dane Nicklas Bendtner, permanently crocked Dutch striker Robin Van Persie and one of Arsenal’s best recent signings, Maroaune Chamakh.
The Moroccan joined Arsenal from Bordeaux during the summer on a free transfer. He has since racked up 10 goals in all competitions and is the Gunner’s second highest goalscorer (behind Samir Nasri). Chamakh has great aerial ability, works hard for the team and contributes goals. What more could you ask from a striker? With Van Persie and Bendtner missing for large chunks of the season it was up to Chamakh to pick up the goalscoring burden for the Gunners and he has done so with aplomb.
Of course, the Gunners have lost to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United already this season. The compulsion to deconstruct and categorise these failures has had some pundits scrabbling to blame Arsenal’s faultering offense for these big-game defeats.
Yes Arsenal failed to score against both United and Chelsea, but to blame the attack for their defeat slightly misses the point. The Gunners have scored the second highest number of goals so far this season (behind Manchester United). They remain a free-flowing attacking unit. What they are not, however, is a team with a defensive backbone who can frustrate and disrupt tough and organised teams like United and Chelsea.
Robin Van Persie is slowly working his way back to full fitness. Despite being one of the Premier League’s worst injury magnets, he remains a fighter and will be hoping to make up for lost time. If – and it’s a big if – he can complete the rest of the season without picking up an injury I have every expectation that Van Persie and Chamakh will form a triumphant partnership upfront. Whilst Chamakh is more direct, Van Persie has the ability to open up play and is always capable of a little game-changing moment of magic.
Bendtner is a more interesting case. His goals-to-minutes-played ratio is pretty good, but he also has a tendency to frustrate fans and miss easy opportunities. Still, he’s a presence and can dominate in the air. He’s a useful back-up for Arsenal to have if injury strikes.
Then there’s Theo Walcott. He may play out on the wings at the moment, but it’s clear he’s being groomed for that central striker position. Everybody hopes for big things from Walcott. I really believe that this will be the season he moves from being “an exciting prospect” to a genuinely effective player.
The difficulties Arsenal have had this season come from their lack of defensive stability. If Arsene Wenger were to publish a manual regarding how Arsenal play their football, I’m sure there would not be a chapter included on ‘Defending’. The emphasis is on ‘attack’, ‘attack’ and ‘attack’ and this has seen Arsenal left a little open at the back. Just look at Alex Song – Arsenal’s defensive midfielder – who Wenger has granted licence to roam around the pitch and forgo his defensive duties. Without this defensive spine, Arsenal have had no platform on which to build their attacks against the bigger teams.
Without a doubt the Gunners have enough firepower to compete for the Premier League. Whether they have the defensive nous is another matter entirely.
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