Whilst 2010 hasn’t been a great year in terms of silverware for Arsenal, it has been rather revealing in regards to the nature of their squad. Unfortunately, this year has seen the Gunners susceptible to the same problems that have plagued their Premier League campaigns in the past. They are too offensively-orientated, too brittle at the back and don’t have enough chutzpah in big games. Arguably all these problems have their root in Arsene Wenger’s managerial style and tactics. Given that Arsenal’s style of football has varied very little over the last 3-4 seasons, many of the problems that they faced in the past are the same one’s that still plague them today. Of course 2010 has seen some players take their development to the next level, whilst others have been cast into the wayside. Watching this team develop and struggle through the same problems as the past has been frustrating and exciting in equal measure.
It’s clear that the potential is there. Whether they meet it remains to be seen. Here’s what we’ve learned by watching Arsenal this year:
Jack Wilshere is the future:
Wilshere’s loan move to Bolton last season was the perfect jumpstart to his Premier League career. He came back from the Reebok Stadium a well-rounded player. Despite his small stature, he’s feisty, tough and loves to snap into tackles. By adding a steely side to his game, the 18-year-old has risen rapidly through the Arsenal ranks to become a key part of Arsene Wenger’s first team plans. He’s a fast learner, naturally talented and with a manager like Wenger watching over him, is sure to turn out to be an Arsenal great. With Cesc Fabregas’ future unknown (he’ll ship off to Barcelona at some stage, but who knows when) it’s likely that Wilshere alongside Aaron Ramsey will be the perfect replacement.
Samir Nasri is one of the Premier League’s best:
What is there to say about Samir Nasri that hasn’t already been said? The Frenchmen may not have won any silverware since joining Arsenal in 2008, but he’s playing as though he means to single-handedly put an end to the Gunner’s dry-spell. Nasri has contributed 12 goals in all competitions and is beginning to look like the real deal. He’s great in possession, passes well, gets past players with ease and works hard for the team. With his Zinedine-Zidane-like quick feet he is always capable of game-changing moments of magic. Along with the likes of Carlos Tevez, Rafael van der Vaart and Leighton Baines he has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season.
Arsenal’s only consistency is inconsistency:
It’s been yet another topsy-turvy season for the Gunners who have yet to add consistency to their game. After the high of taking apart a bewildered Chelsea, there was the low of a draw against Wigan – a team that Arsenal should be brushing aside with ease. After demolishing Braga 6-0 in the Champion’s League at home and beating Shaktar Donetsk 5-1, the Gunners would later suffer defeats to both sides in the return legs. These slip ups led to Arsenal finishing second in an easy group, and drawing Barcelona in the knockout stages. Whether Arsenal can match Barcelona remains to be seen, but they wouldn’t have wanted to draw the Spanish champions at such an early stage in the competition. If Arsenal don’t develop consistency soon, it’s likely they’ll suffer through another trophyless season.
Alex Song needs to be shackled:
Yes, I realise that it is Alex Song’s attacking spirit that bought Arsenal one of their most important goals of the season against Chelsea on Monday. Yet that doesn’t change the fact that Song’s runs forward often leave Arsenal caught out at the back. As the Gunner’s defensive midfielder Song should offer the back-four better protection than they currently get. Sébastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny have got a lot of flak from fans and critics alike but they wouldn’t be made to look so inept if they were better shielded by Arsenal’s midfield. In this case the buck has to stop with Arsene. He needs to imbue his midfield with a more defensive mindset. Alex Song must become an anchor in Arsenal’s midfield. Until this happens they will continue to be caught out at the back.
Arsenal still can’t defend from set pieces:
A rather disturbing statistic from @Orbinho: 50% of the goals Arsenal have conceded this season have come from set pieces. That’s the highest in the Premier League. For a side with title aspirations, that’s really not good enough. A statistic like that just highlights the how badly the Gunners need to bolster their defence. This doesn’t just mean adding height to the defence, it also means practising free-kick situations over and over until the players can learn not to switch off and lose their mark.
Niklas Bendtner needs to keep his mouth shut:
Given the rise to prominence of Marouane Chamakh, Arsenal’s big Dane Niklas Bendtner has struggled to work his way into Wenger’s first team plans this season. This proved to be almost too much to take for the young striker who brought to light his dissatisfaction to the Press. “If the situation doesn’t change – if I keep sitting on the bench at Arsenal – I must leave. It’s as simple as that.” Wenger responded in the best possible manner to Bendtner’s provocative remarks. Days later Niklas was left out of Arsenal’s Champion’s League squad for a game that he could easily have been a part of. A month or two on and the 22-year-old seems well and truly humbled by the experience. He’s vowed to stay and work hard to get into the first team. Making demands gets you nowhere but hard work might just see Bendtner make his mark.
Arsenal CAN beat the big teams:
Before the start of this week the Gunners had already met with Chelsea and Manchester United this season and been beaten by both. Back in October a Drogba goal and a spectacular Alex freekick saw Chelsea dispatch Arsenal 2-0. More recently the Gunners visited Old Trafford and came back with a 1-0 defeat. These defeats exacerbated the myth that Arsenal aren’t big game players – that they crack when they meet with opponents of the calibre of United and Chelsea. This all changed when Chelsea visited the Emirates on Monday evening. Alex Song had one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt, Fabregas controlled the midfield, Theo Walcott was electric and the whole team worked hard. The result was a high-tempo Arsenal performance that Chelsea couldn’t keep up with. A 3-1 victory should be enough to put to bed the myth that the Gunners can’t beat the big teams. The next challenge is Barcelona in March. Fingers crossed.
Theo Walcott is well on the way:
If you believe Chris Waddle, Theo Walcott is a youngster with no footballing brain. If you’ve watched him play this season, however, you’ll have seen a player who has finally found his feet in the Premier League. Yes, his pace remains impressive, but he’s added a degree of decisiveness to his game that has taken it to the next level. Too often in the past Walcott would dawdle on the ball and give away possession. His undeveloped decision-making process (or lack of a footballing brain as Mr. Waddle might say) often meant Theo would cross when he should shoot and vice versa. This year has seen a change in the young winger. He takes players on, shoots more and is always looking to move play forward. With 9 goals already this season, despite being troubled for some time by an injury, it’s safe to say that Walcott is now beginning to fulfil his potential.
Without Vermaelen, the Gunners lack defensively:
The state of Arsenal’s defence over the last couple of seasons has left a lot to be desired. Both Sébastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny were drafted in over the summer, but have failed to impress. Individually they don’t look too bad (though Squillaci strikes me as a little too error prone) and they haven’t had much time to blood themselves in the Premier League, but when played together they make for a rather weak defensive partnership. In recent times Arsenal have lacked a tough, tall, dominating presence amongst their back-four. Thomas Vermaelen is a defender with all these qualities, but an Achilles injury has seen him sidelined since August. Vermaelen is scheduled for a January return, but may be out longer if he suffers yet another setback. You can’t help but feel that the sooner he’s back, the better for Arsenal’s title chances.
Marouane Chamakh may just be the clinical striker Arsenal have been waiting for:
Arsenal’s best summer signing by quite some distance has to be Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh. He arrived from Bordeaux on a free transfer and has fast become a fan favourite. With Robin Van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner sidelined by injury, Chamakh was thrust into the spotlight a little sooner than he’d probably have liked. Despite this, the 26-year-old striker has played an extremely important role for the Gunners this season. His impressive fitness levels and eye for goal has meant that he has handled the lone-striker role with aplomb. More impressive still is the manner by which Chamakh drops into the midfield to link up play before bombing forward to provide an option upfront. He’s a smart footballer, provides goals (he’s currently Arsenal’s second top goalscorer this season behind Samir Nasri) and he’s a welcome addition to Arsenal’s squad.
That’s what I’ve learned from watching Arsenal this season. What have YOU learnt? Are Arsenal ready to collect some silverware this season?
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