By Biola Kazeem (@biolakazeem)
Good news at Arsenal appears to only come from the club’s activities off the pitch. On it, they have been – to put it mildly – mediocre and every indication points at another underwhelming season full of could-haves.
The Premier League is lost, a top four finish – on present form – is unlikely and they have been thrown out of Wenger’s favorite competition, the FA Cup. Yet, in the midst of the doom and gloom, their recent exploits off the pitch may provide a ray of hope.
At least six out of every ten fans you ask will rightly pin Arsenal’s struggles on its shaky defence. The club has after all conceded 31 goals in the league, the most amongst teams in the top six position and only four less than Swansea City who are in 20th position.
Otherwise reliable players such as Hector Bellerin and Laurent Koscielny are enduring a poor season, and Petr Cech is clearly not the goalkeeper he used to be. All through the season, Arsenal’s defending has been marked by amateur errors with the most notable of them coming in the 2 – 1 defeat to Bournemouth where at least 4 defenders were seen chasing Fraser, leaving the defence open for Calum Wilson to take full advantage.
Nevertheless, the defence is not the sole cause of Arsenal’s problems. They have been just as ineffective upfront. The team’s 45 league goals from 305 created chances (according to Squawka) is by every means a poor return and it is no surprise they are joint-lowest with Chelsea (who are struggling to replace Diego Costa) in the top six.
In comparison, Manchester City who appear to be running away with the league title have score 70 out of 317 chances created.
In the same vein, Mesut Ozil’s renewed importance at the club points out another obvious flaw in Arsenal’s setup; ball retention.With misplaced passes and failure of forwards to take on and beat defenders in one-on-one situations (especially in key games), the club’s (poor) defence has been
put on immense pressure, leading into goals and defeats.
Manchester City presently have one of the healthiest defence records in the league, not because they have the best individual defenders (although an argument can be put up for that), but because the team employs a system that starves its oppositions the ball, thereby preventing any chance of real danger or threat. This is evident in the club’s 64% average possession rate, compared to Arsenal’s 57%.
Thus, the solution to Arsenal’s dilemma may not be to sign another rock in the mould of Saed Kolasinac (although a right back is urgently needed so Hector Bellerin can devote enough time to his Instagram) but in improving its attack and build-up play.
Perhaps, Arsene Wenger has also observed this and it is what informs his moves in the transfer window with the snapping of Henrikh Mkhitaryan (as the costly expense of Alexis Sanchez) and serious pursuit of want-away Dortmund striker, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang.
With system incorporation sorted, an attack quartet of Mesut Ozil, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette is unlikely to suffer a short of goals. And their returns may prove crucial to salvaging the season, especially with a lot to play for in the Europa League and League Cup.
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