A few weeks ago, the notion of 2015 seemed like a rather magical, mystical one. But a few boozy celebrations, countless chocolates and cheese-cracker combos later, and it’s disappointingly similar to the year before.
The turn of the year does, however, give us the opportunity to reflect on the last twelve months and in regards to Premier League clubs, what they can improve upon. After all, to improve is to change, but to change often is perfection.
And with that House-of-Cards-inspired fable in mind, we’re running the rule over the latter portion of Arsenal’s 2014, earmarking what they can improve upon in the second half of their Premier League campaign.
Arsenal’s seemingly eternal blind spot in terms of recruitment, the Gunners will never consistently compete at the Premier League’s summit without a top-class enforcer anchoring their midfield.
Manchester City and Chelsea boast incredible physicality and defensive awareness in the middle of the park through the likes of Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Fernando, Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel to name a few, but Arsenal are so lightweight that even rank and file Premier League sides are capable of dominating them in midfield.
There’s been talk of Sporting Lisbon star William Carvalho joining them in January and the Portugal international, measuring at 6 foot 2 and weighing around 14 stone, fits the bill perfectly. It may not be ‘the Wenger way’ in terms of playing philosophy, but the absence of such a monolithic presence in midfield is continually holding the north Londoners back.
We can play the ‘what if’ game until the cows come home, but if Arsenal hadn’t squandered their eleven points from winning positions in the Premier League this season, they’d currently be just two points behind table toppers Chelsea, instead of a monolithic 13.
That’s not to suggest the Gunners should be expected to hold onto wins the moment they go 1-0 up, but clearly it’s a trend which is beginning to spiral out of control – perhaps the best example coming in Arsenal’s 3-3 Champions League draw with Anderlecht.
The ultimate cause of Arsenal’s capitulations remains open to debate; a weak mentality amongst the squad, an imbalanced starting Xi, a poor defence and tactically poor decisions from Arsene Wenger are amongst the most popular theories.
No matter which you personally subscribe to however, the end of Arsenal’s 2014 has been riddled with such episodes of lead squandering and Wenger needs to find a solution sooner rather than later.
Hardly a problem exclusive to 2014 but one Arsenal certainly need to overcome – the fact of the matter is, the Gunners only know how to win games in one way.
When in top form, their definitive band of lucid attacking football is overwhelming for virtually any defence in world football, but on a bad day that philosophy becomes dangerously dogmatic and too predictable to play against.
Sir Alex Ferguson devoted two chapters in his latest book on the subject of beating Arsenal, whilst Jose Mourinho came up with a consistent formula way back in 2004 that the rest of the Premier League have been replicating with varying degrees of success ever since.
Until the Gunners add a new string to their bow – a positive plan B in attack or a way of shutting up shop – they’ll continue to squander unnecessary points. Doing so however, will likely take a reconstruction of the squad to include a wider variety of player.
Of course, what’s the point in splashing out £35million on a world-class forward if you’re going to moan about dependency on him for results?
Yet, one can only dread to think what position Arsenal would be in right now if Alexis Sanchez hadn’t exploded onto the Premier League scene with ten goals and six assists in the first half of the season. Judging on their current league standing of sixth, they might even be struggling to make it into the top ten.
Olivier Giroud’s begun to pull his weight since returning from injury, Danny Welbeck’s contribution has remained solid since the summer and Santi Cazorla’s hit some decent mid-season form. But we’re still waiting for that convincing Arsenal display where all departments put in performances of equal measure against quality opposition.
Rather than key individuals, or specifically, Sanchez, making the difference, we need to see some more team performances from the Gunners in 2015.
Once again, a problem by no means exclusive to the last twelve months but now one so long-term that a solution desperately needs to be found.
Arsenal’s seemingly eternal injury crises have become a bit of a running joke in English football, and despite hiring German national team fitness guru Shad Forsythe during the summer, it’s become another predominant feature of the current season.
Currently, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Flamini, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all sidelined with either long-term or short-term injuries, which is far a too large and talented cohort.
It seems to be a never-ending problem for the Gunners and Wenger needs to take further action. Some have questioned the impact of his training methods but in my opinion the solution lies in recruitment; to put it simply, and taking a leaf out of Jose Mourinho’s book, Arsenal need more natural athletes that aren’t susceptible to regular injuries.