Arsenal’s win at Bayern Munich last season was the catalyst for the team’s strong finish in the Premier League, emerging from a final day slug against Tottenham’s effort for the last place in this season’s Champions League.
The win at Bayern and the qualification for Europe which followed gave Arsenal the impetus to sign Mesut Ozil and turn the club’s fortunes and image around. This season, with a higher mountain to climb and greater rewards at stake, Arsene Wenger needs to act in similar fashion to steer Arsenal towards some silverware.
The team are in a difficult place, though far from a dark one. It’s February, and unlike seasons gone by, there hasn’t been any need for serious calls of crisis. The losses to Liverpool and Bayern in recent weeks, coupled with the failure to not only beat but score against Manchester United, helps to tell a story that betrays Arsenal’s true standing at this time. They’re still very much in at least two competitions for silverware.
Last season, Wenger acted to find an attribute in his team that would combat or compensate for the weaknesses elsewhere. Uncharacteristically for the Arsenal manager’s team, it was the defence that offered the strongest foundation to build the late-season surge that saw the club finish fourth in the Premier League.
Wojciech Szczesny was dropped in favour of Lukas Fabianski for the trip to the Allianz Arena this time last year, but it’s often forgotten that Arsenal’s fine defensive display away to Sunderland a month earlier allowed Wenger to identify how Arsenal could achieve what was required of them.
This season, that excellent defensive form has continued. Bar a small handful of poor performances, Arsenal’s centre-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, and of course Szczesny in goal, have been among the very best in English football.
Where Arsenal need something decisive, something different, is in attack, where they’ve become predictable in the midst of a lack of willingness to invest in reinforcements.
Yaya Sanogo has come in during the last two cup games, and against heavyweight opposition in Liverpool and Bayern. Upon Olivier Giroud’s return to the starting XI this weekend against Sunderland, the French striker scored a brace, likely being fuelled by the rest afforded him, but hopefully re-focused by the very real competition provided by Wenger’s potential ace card in Sanogo.
If this is to be the course of action that sees Arsenal to a major trophy this season, then Wenger needs to continue to see it through. In the absence of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, Arsenal have been stripped of consistent, big-game firepower. In their absence, Arsenal have remained in the mix, hanging on to the coat tails of Chelsea in the league and now seeing Manchester City as the only remaining major threat in the FA Cup.
If the attack is to produce something different, Lukas Podolski needs a run in the team from the left. He may not be to Wenger’s liking in the way Santi Cazorla is from the left, but the German is a direct player, one who is Arsenal’s most dangerous in front of goal and who can work well with the holdup play of Giroud and the creative talents of Ozil.
Wojciech Szczesny was allowed the time to regroup and put himself back on the right track. Fabianski, previously one of the many scapegoats and names cast aside as totally worthless to Arsenal’s cause, stepped in and played a large part in taking Arsenal to fourth place in the league.
If this season plays out in a similar way, Sanogo, alongside further help from Podolski, can offer Arsenal and the team’s senior striker that unlikely albeit decisive contribution.