Every season the Arsenal defence is barracked for being diabolical and costing the club every trophy under the sun. Regular comments that come from the terraces at the Emirates single out the need for a world class goalkeeper and central defender to replace the so-called imbeciles currently taking the shirts.
And in some cases it is true. The 2011 League Cup is the most glaring example, when an embarrassing mix-up between Szczesny and Koscielny gifted Birmingham the win and this can be seen as the point that ruined a season where Arsene Wenger’s side were fighting on four different fronts.
But it could also be argued that Arsenal are losing just as many games because of problems much higher up the pitch. Take the same game for instance. In the League Cup final, they had umpteen chances to close out that match, with Ben Foster making some top drawer saves to keep out Bendtner and Arshavin, as well as denying Nasri on three separate occasions. If a third of the chances Arsenal had in the game had gone in then that blunder would have meant nothing to the result.
The same thing has shown itself this season. They wasted far too many goalscoring opportunities on the opening day against Newcastle and failed to score again when Liverpool visited the Emirates, while only scoring one against Swansea who were still finding their Premier League feet at that point and it is just as problematic as the back line for the Gunners.
Yes, Robin van Persie is fit and on fire recently which means that goals are almost guaranteed. If it wasn’t for him, the win against Stoke on Sunday would have been a draw, the victory over Sunderland a defeat and many more of Arsenal’s 13 points would be relinquished without him. But where do they go when he can’t play? And what can the Dutchman and his fellow strikers do if things start to go wrong? The answer, it seems, is nothing.
When Emmanuel Adebayor left for moneybags Manchester City in 2009, Arsenal lost their plan B attacking style. Not to say that the Togolese striker was only good for an alternative style of play because he had great feet but his height and strength meant that if things weren’t going well there was a target man to aim a long ball to.
Since then there has been no plan B at the Emirates and if Arsenal are going to seriously challenge for titles they need to be able to switch systems when their backs are against the walls in big games.
Take the humiliation they suffered at Old Trafford (the home of hammerings this season) and Arsenal were still trying to play passing, attacking football when they were being torn apart. There was no long ball tactic or striker that could hold the ball up so the waves of red shirts kept coming back at them relentlessly.
The team has been crying out for a no-nonsense centre-forward to come in and make that position their own. Van Persie is a brilliant forward but he is better suited to collecting the ball, having it at his feet and doing something special rather than being confined to an aerial battle and that is the predicament Wenger has with all of his striking options.
Marouane Chamakh is the person closest to filling that gap but his heading ability is poor. Like Van Persie, deliver the ball into the Moroccan along the floor and his quick feet and pace will cause defenders problems. However, he hasn’t hit the height expected of him when he brought his fantastic Ligue 1 scoring record across the Channel. With players around him showing similar skills but scoring goals while he struggles to adapt he cannot be given a role of leading the line and the rumours of a move back to France may well spell the end of his time at the Emirates.
Another French import is summer signing Gervinho, who has fared better since his move. Although only scoring two goals so far he has fitted into the side quickly and had his best game for the Gunners on Sunday, scoring one and setting up both Van Persie goals in the 3-1 win. He is also a more physical prospect than Chamakh as was proven by him slapping Joey Barton on his Premier League debut. But again he is still a player best suited to football on the ground and has been wasteful of chances which at the highest level can be very expensive.
Fellow new signing Chu Young Park will not be able to fill the glaring hole at Arsenal either. Signed for £3.4 million, the 26-year-old has been dubbed ‘not ready’ for the first team by Arsene Wenger, a worrying admission by a man usually so frugal with money. He averaged one goal every four games for Monaco which is not a bad record, but like many of Wenger’s French imports the pace and brutality of English football see them fall from grace. The player has all the attributes for a top striker but is once again in this mould of player that wants the ball to his feet and will struggle to fight for it.
And finally there’s the talisman, Robin Van Persie. A prolific goalscorer but all too often injured. He has scored 24 goals in 26 appearances in 2011 and the only player that impressed for the Gunners after the League Cup final debacle. But his injury record speaks for itself. In 2007 Van Persie broke his metatarsal celebrating a goal against Man United, meaning he missed the Carling Cup final which his side subsequently lost 2-1, the following year he was top scorer at the club despite missing most of the season with a knee injury as Arsenal finished just four points off the lead and again last season, missing the first half of the campaign then getting injured again in the infamous final.
While he is on the pitch he is a star, but when he’s injured the cupboard is bare for Arsene Wenger and he needs to change it soon. He has Theo Walcott asking to play up front but his goalscoring record is hardly a shining CV and again he brings nothing to the table that the club doesn’t already have. So who outside the club could they take?
Although not a likely option, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba fits the bill perfectly. Physical, good in the air and a fantastic finisher, he would be the saviour if he were to arrive at the Emirates. But more realistically, a man such as Roque Santa Cruz, currently not wanted by Manchester City and on loan at Real Betis would be a good addition to lead the line alongside van Persie, or even consistent defender breaker and goal finder Kevin Davies to give Arsenal a dimension so dramatically lacking from their play.
Now for any Gunners fans tearing their hair out at the mention of big bruiser Kevin Davies being the man to save their stylish, sophisticated football club, think of this.
Apart from Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team, many of the best clubs in the world have had defensive troubles. The famous treble winning Manchester United team weren’t the strongest at the back. They were held together by Peter Schmeichel and maintained the philosophy of scoring one more than their opponents. It is the same with the successful Real Madrid sides at the turn of the century and the Barcelona team of now, there weaknesses are their defence but they score so freely that no-one cares. Even the Newcastle team that nearly made it big had that theory. It’s time Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans stopped bemoaning their defence and asked the strikers around Robin van Persie to do their job.
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