Last night’s Champions League’s fixture contested between Ludogorets and Arsenal saw the North London club clinch all three points in the dying minutes of the game to earn their spot in the knockout stages of the competition. The Eagles started off the fixture in dominant fashion, putting two past a poor Arsenal defence, but the commanding start was unfortunately not enough for the Bulgarian team to steal the victory. Granit Xhaka, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil all played an important role in the fixture as their goals clinched the victory for the club. Here are three things we learned from the fixture…
1) Arsenal face a selection dilemma ahead of the North London Derby
For the last few years, Arsenal fans have remained overjoyed about their outstanding amount of depth in a variety of positions. With crucial first team players potentially out for the fixture as well as other positions overcrowded with quality players, it will be intriguing to see how Arsenal decide to lineup for the derby on Sunday. Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla all missed the trip to Bulgaria as a result of minor injuries, and whether or not the quadruple will be ready for the derby is still unsure.
Should all four be back in training and ready for Sunday’s fixture, Arsene Wenger will undoubtedly have a difficult job choosing his strongest lineup. After a woeful performance last night, Kieran Gibbs’ run in the first team could come to an end with Nacho Monreal taking back his rightful spot, yet the Spanish international has also struggled since the start of the season so it remains unsure who will start in the left back position.
Considering the Arsenal manager will deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation for the fixture, who starts in the middle of the pitch remains uncertain. With Aaron Ramsey back from injury, there are now a considerable amount of players who could feature in the pivot for the game. Along with the Welsh midfielder, Santi Cazorla, Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny are all names that have been thrown into the mix to start for the derby on Sunday.2) Arsenal MUST strengthen their fullbacks.
Whilst a majority of the Arsenal lineup contains large amounts of squad depth, full of brilliant players, the current fullback situation regrettably failed to live up to the same status. On the right flank, fan-favourite Hector Bellerin continues to prove why he is the club’s first choice right-back with many good performances to his name. However, should the Spaniard get injured or need a well-earned rest, the backup situation is nowhere near up to par in comparison to other positions around the pitch.
Following his recent return from injury, Carl Jenkinson appears to have earned his place as the club’s current backup right back in comparison to Mathieu Debuchy. Nevertheless, as a result of injuries and overall ability, neither player appears to be good enough to play for a club as big as Arsenal. Whilst Mathieu Debuchy was a fantastic purchase in 2014, ongoing injuries have left him in a state where he is now the club’s third choice right back. As for Carl Jenkinson, many have gone on to say that the fullback will never be good enough for the club, and his performance last night is more than reflective on that. Within the next year, the club must dip into the transfer market on the hunt for an experienced backup right back to put some much needed strong depth on the right back position should Hector Bellerin ever get injured.
Despite the fact that the left back position is far stronger in comparison to the right, it’s evident that a quality left back is needed to boost the overall defensive line for the Gunners. For the last two years, Nacho Monreal has been used as the club’s first-choice left back, putting in brilliant performances week in, week out whilst preventing rival Kieran Gibbs to ever get a consistent run in the first team.
Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, Monreal has consistently struggled this season and has looked nothing more than below average. As for Kieran Gibbs, the English fullback was, in fact, one of the better players on the pitch in the 4-1 win against Sunderland. Nevertheless, this contrasts his performance last night as he was arguably one of the worse players on the pitch, even giving away a goal that should never have happened. Whilst on their day either left back is brilliant, it’s evident that the time is right to bring in a younger, but better, left back to take control in the starting lineup.
3) The curse of November starts off well, but the players must remain focused.
For years, Arsenal have been plagued with poor form the second the month of November hits. When the fixtures were announced that Arsenal would play the likes of Tottenham, Paris St Germain and also Manchester United in quick succession, many jumped to the conclusion that the Gunners would face any year of poor form the second November hit. Whilst the month has only just started, the win against a strong side in Ludogorets is certainly a step in the right direction for the club to finally put the curse to bed.
Undefeated since the embarrassing loss to Liverpool on the opening day of the season, the Gunners are carrying more than enough momentum and morale to hopefully get some good results this month. Despite this, it is crucial that all players remain focused as a result of the three big games they play this month. Although Arsenal have secured their spot in the next round of the Champions League and are in a comfortable position in the league table, it’s important that heads do not drop as it is crucial the club do not drop any points going forward across the month.