Our final segment in the four part series on Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager in 2012-13 focuses on the squad. Every fan has a player that they feel will make the team better. Even more people claim they have some piece of insider information on who is coming in. Plus there is the press pushing transfer fees, player names, and suggesting transfer activity merely to get hits on the websites and to sell more papers (all of which is to benefit their advertisers at the end of the day).
I’m not here merely to chime with my views on what player should come in, but to share thoughts on what characteristics we need in incoming players. It is not a mere numbers game, there is a culture and community at Arsenal that people seem to forget.
I’m going to focus on the areas where Arsenal needs immediate help. From part three I gave you a glimpse of what I think Arsenal’s starting lineup possesses, it was a combination of starters and very competent deputies. That formation is listed below. There are two areas where Arsenal is weak, defensive midfield and left back. Arsenal has the personnel to be very competitive in the middle of the pitch depending on the tactics deployed.
Sagna (Jenks, both seem capable), Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs
Arteta (Coquelin, only as a sub)
Wilshere (Rosicky, only as a sub), Cazorla, Diaby (Oxlade-Chamberlain)
Two of Giroud/Podolski/Walcott
Fans on twitter and the press have identified that Arsenal needs to sign a central defensive midfielder to support or replace Arteta, I agree. Mikel Arteta has been a good servant to the club in his first 15 months, but I feel that he does not fill the role he plays as well as we would hope. His passing skill is without question, he makes smart passes and does not give the ball away as much as Alex Song may have, or as much as Aaron Ramsey seems to do right now.
Arteta’s problems lie with his pace and his tackling. Arteta is no spring chicken, he never was, and he is exposed regularly for that. Far too many teams possess even modest speed to get past him, which means that he will have to foul players to interrupt play. If you look at some of his tackles from this season he could have garnered more discipline than he has already. Pace is a useful defensive weapon because you do not need to make a tackle to interrupt an offensive move. A good defender can use pace and agility to help guide an attacking player to less threatening positions which is a great tactic to allow for defensive support to get in to position. So pace becomes a two-fold issue for Arteta; he cannot keep up with players, and is forced to make the tackle identified above. He’s a good player, but his tackling abilities are not to the level of a player who has to support the defensive backline. Moving to a 4-4-2 (or the mock 4-1-3-2 that I have listed) puts less pressure on Arteta to run because he would be supported and have the ability as a pair to force players wide and out of the danger zones. It condenses player into smaller regions that allow players who lack pace to be extremely competitive.
We agree that Arsenal needs a central defensive midfielder with some pace and good tackling. We do not need someone who takes a lot of cards. A player who takes a lot of cards is not a good tackler by definition. It is not a defensive midfielder’s job to take cards. This is in part a direct reference to Fellaini, who while he is having a fantastic season, but remains the same liability with discipline. I am hopeful that the solution for Arsenal will come from within with Coquelin emerging as the cool headed tackler with a good engine and astute passing. Maybe Frimpong will get to that level as well.
Left back has been an issue for a while, Kieran Gibbs is a better overall player than Gael Clichy, but his fragility and health are huge issues. If Gibbs is out for an extended period of time, we do not have cover. Andre Santos lacks the pace, and the defensive mindedness required to excel in the position; Santos has defensive mindlessness to be honest. Playing left back, for me, is not about dazzling people with dribbles; left back is about doing a job, a simple job of fundamentals. I played left back as a youth before switching to keeper, and developed the philosophy that a good day for a full back is when you did not draw attention to yourself. If a fullback does not get burned by a dribble, nutmegged or give the ball away he will have done his defensive duty; that is priority number one for a defender, do not let the other team score. The second duty of a fullback is supporting the flanks on offence, move the ball up the wings and ultimately cross the ball to waiting players in the 18 yard box.
The Gunners, with Kieran Gibbs, are adequately equipped at left back, but without any backup there is a real issue. Not only is there no back-up, but there are not U21s or U18s that are a pure left back. Jernade Meade has played for the first team and shown some promise, but he is a very small lad. Even with the tenacity of a Nigel Winterburn, I am not convinced that he will hack it in the Premier League. So not only does Arsenal need a backup for Gibbs, Arsenal also needs someone to develop in the reserve teams. If there is a player I want for his back-up it is a Carl Jenkinson type, someone who loves Arsenal and will challenge Gibbs daily. This addition should be above average height and with speed to not be burned by the speedsters of the Premier League (Lennon, Young, Long, and other right wing speed demons). For a youth product or reserve product we want someone that has a genuine left foot, but the confidence and self-assuredness to develop a right foot. These are the tools and traits that can be cultivated into a top professional. While Arsenal is developing fullbacks, Martin Angha is for the right side and Ignasi Miquel is not a fullback as much as he is being deployed as one for the U21 squad.
I keep hearing stories of Arsenal linked with strikers. Do we need a starting striker or cover for the people we have? Are we anxious to move Giroud to the bench? Is Walcott ready to lead the pack? If Arsenal retain Theo and have Giroud+Podolski as choices for my 4-1-3-2 formation, then another striker is not needed as a starter. Then Arsenal have Bendtner, Gervinho, Afobe, Chamakh and Campbell as options. Park has been an experiment that failed to get off the ground, though he did help jersey sales which
apparently more than paid for his transfer. Wellington is an experiment that is also not faring well, and will likely run its course in the same fashion as Bischoff. We can see that Arsenal have options.
Arsenal’s options do have their issues as Gervinho has pace, but his control, aerial ability and left foot are huge concerns. Chamakh has good aerial ability, but his link play, decision making, and ball control are concerns. Bendtner, in my opinion, is the most skilled of the strikers not in my top three. His dedication and constant issues off the pitch are issues, but easier issues to fix than if he were lacking talent. Joel Campbell is glittering with promise but a further year before he enters the argument of the first team, plus there are passport/work permit issues still. Last, but not least, is Benik Afobe. If there was one youthful striker in the club that should be around next year it’s him, but that is next year. All I’ve done is illustrate that Arsenal have a lot of players who have qualities, but a lot of downsides. None are ready to start and carry the torch, a couple could be useful subs next season, and maybe two could start in the Premier League.
We are left with one question, does Arsenal need four options up front or is it acceptable to have three starters with some deputies acceptable? I feel that Arsenal do not need to be shoppers for an over-priced Llorente (£20M is too much) or out of range Falcao (he will cost over £30M I think). For the short-term, the attack could use a boost as Gervinho and Chamakh (most likely) will be off for the Africa Cup of Nations (ACN). This will also be to help cover for any injuries that may occur to Walcott, Giroud or Podolski. On that premise Thierry Henry is enticing, but there appear to be a couple of options out there. Demba Ba is appealing as he has no ACN commitments, and there is no tournament in 2014. Wenger will be weary as Ba’s goals dried up last winter when Papiss Cisse caught fire. Klaas Jan Huntelaar is another option, heavily rumoured despite being cup-tied he has the ability and his form is fantastic. There are a few other options out there as well, but that’s for the manager to decide.
Arsene has long maintained a transfer policy of sustainable spending where the incoming players are paid for with departing players transfer fees. As a strategy it is efficient and Wenger has achieved the maximum amount of success he can with this strategy. I am not saying this is the wrong strategy; as a strategy it has allowed Arsenal to maintain the status quo. The downside is that the status quo has not been winning, so the time is right to spend a little bit more (we know the cash is available) and reach the pinnacle of English football. Then Arsenal can focus on spending and saving in equal measure. Personally, I would like to see Arsenal dip into the cash reserves a little as the publicized funds available will not put the club into a poor financial position.
Arsene has been selling players to finance his purchases, but does he have to sell before he buys this January? No, not now; as supporters we see a lack of depth at the club, we all feel that Arsene needs to reinforce the squad. I feel that no player listed in my starting XI should leave Arsenal. I also feel that each player under contract to the club and not away on loan can still play a role at the club. Very few players are purely dead weight, if they are used correctly. Squillaci is the only player under contract and not on loan that is purely dead weight, nothing to offer. Every other player still has value (either to be sold or used sparingly as situations present themselves) to Arsenal. Chamakh is a late game aerial replacement if Giroud needs to be subbed off; I would prefer Bendtner for the role, but he is away on loan and his future with the club is in doubt. Gervinho is a substitution for Walcott. AA is a late game substitution for Cazorla (though he could be used in some other areas of the midfield too). Ramsey, with a lot of practice on ball control, could be a late game sub for Oxlade-Chamberlain. Again, I would love to have better substitutes but it’s a juggling act between who starts, the team’s rhythm, the amount of matches each player can play and of course the cost to acquire the new players. Would Fernando Llorrente come to Arsenal to sit on the bench? Arsene has done an ok job, but there is room for improvement.
Ten years ago we knew who we wanted to sub on to turn a match on its head and who we needed. Now those decisions are not as cut and dry as they used to be. The differing in opinions for on field selection and substitutions has never been as great, in my memory, as they are right now. Arsenal lacks the super-stardom we were once blessed with where we had clear winners to start every match, throughout the first XI. Now we have several players we can insert and none of them are veritable superstars. We have some very skilled players, but not one player that every team wants to have. Go back to 2002, our last double, what clubs didn’t want Bergkamp, Henry, Pires, Seamen, Vieira and Cole? That year Arsenal spent more on player buy than player sales.
Maybe that’s the trick, Arsenal need to spend more on players than they receive in sales. The club can spend some of the other revenue (memorabilia, concessions, advertising, tickets, etc.) on transfers; there is an appearance that the money spent on new player transfers is exclusively financed by the sale of other players. I want to see Arsenal add to the squad, not merely replace departing players, especially when a ready-made replacement is not available on the open market (Read: Walcott, who is ready-made for the Premier League to replace him at less money?). A larger squad, a deeper squad, and a squad that creates tactical substitution options is what we want and ultimately what we deserve as supporters. Remember, backing Arsene and Arsenal now (if we adapt to the new EPL culture), will make all of this taste sweeter when we reach the pinnacle of English league football again soon. Chin up.
Thanks for reading my four part series, if you’d like to continue the conversation or strike up a dialogue message me at the information below.