Arsene Wenger

January Improvements Needed at Arsenal

The Unai Emery revolution is six months in at Arsenal, with both positive and negatives to draw from the start he has made. The atmosphere around the club has improved and the team is playing with more intensity this season, however some old questions still linger with this side.

This is not to be unexpected as the squad is largely the same as under Arsene Wenger, and this is certainly not Emery’s fault as he has improved many of the Arsenal team already this season. The Christmas period was a difficult one for Arsenal, with a disappointing 1-1 draw away to Brighton on Boxing Day, and then a 5-1 humiliation at Anfield against title-challenging Liverpool three days later.

The revolution is underway at Arsenal, and compared to last season we currently sit one place higher in fifth with 41 points, three more than at this stage last year. Now this is small progress for the club and this shouldn’t be criticized, however a common issue for Emery this season has been the depth in quality of this squad.

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Rob Holding being stretchered off with a torn ACL in their 2-2 draw with Manchester United last month. Holding has improved under Emery and his absence is keenly felt. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images.

The biggest issue this season has been the defence, we have the joint ninth worst record for conceding goals, shared with Watford and Everton, with 31 goals conceded in 21 games. That’s also only worse than Manchester United and West Ham in the top ten. A massive reason for this has been our wealth of defensive injuries, with Laurent Koscielny, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos all out injured for long periods of the season.

The loss of Bellerin and Holding proved especially tough, with both starting the season in good form anchoring the back four. The recent return of Koscielny is a boost, although he has admitted his return from injury was slightly rushed because of the defensive injury crisis. The good news is that Bellerin and Mavropanos return in the coming weeks, providing greater depth which should help ease the defensive problems of Arsenal.

Now that the January transfer window is open, Arsenal could use this month to improve their squad for a late-season push for a return to the Champions League. By and large the summer signings have proved a success so far, with Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno making instant impacts at the club. All five signings such as Sokratis, Matteo Guendouzi and Stephan Lichtsteiner have made over 15 appearances this season, showing how much they’ve added to the team this season.

The triumvirate transfer committee of Emery, head of recruitment Sven Mislintat and director of football Raul Sanllehi have shown that they can be trusted to find promising talent at affordable prices, but will they pull the trigger on anyone else in January?

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Lucas Torriera has been the midfield pitbull Arsenal have craved for a decade. The club will be hoping to replicate their success in the market in the coming summer. Photo: Getty Images.

The early names linked have been out of-favour Chelsea defender Gary Cahill on a short-term loan, and the ever-present midfielder Ever Banega. The move for Cahill is a more likely one, as the club are already making noises that there will not be much if any money to spend this month. Chelsea could however be unwilling to loan him to a direct rival, and some will have legitimate questions as to whether his quality at this stage of his career is enough to make a big contribution for Arsenal.

From all of the noises being put out by the club and the media closely associated with the club, it appears that Arsenal will be quiet in this window, with a focus instead of spending in the summer to improve key positions such as at winger and defensively.  The team had great attacking options last season, and they have now fixed the defensive midfield and goalkeeper positions.

The first six months of Emery’s reign have been a success so far, with an improvement in results and the performance of previously poor key squad players. The new transfer committee will need to build on they’re early success, and if they can, Arsenal will definitely begin to more seriously rival the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and bitter rivals Tottenham.

Thank you for reading this article if you have any thoughts on it please feel free to leave a comment below. For any interested I’m on Twitter @JWjournalism. 

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What’s Wrong At Arsenal Part 1: Arsene Wenger

First of all I would like to say that I understand this will appear to be a poorly timed post. Arsenal battered Bournemouth 3-0 and then played their best game in a long time to contain champions Chelsea 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. This blog post is however not simply a response to the last two games, or even the 4-0 humiliation against Liverpool, this a response to the sustained poor performances which has led to a growing discontent amongst the fans, mostly centered on manager Arsene Wenger.

I would also like to say from the start that the current climate around the club is not the sole responsibility of Wenger and I feel that he shoulders more of the blame for the clubs problems than he should. This however is the downside of being the public face of the football club. Up until several years ago I remained a Wenger in supporter, but the ongoing poor performances when they matter most  are impossible to ignore any more.

They have produced one-off performances in big games such as their 2-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad in January 2015, or the clubs 3-0 hammering of Chelsea at home at the beginning of last season, but this have been few and far between. Just take the 2013/14 season as an example. In one season away from home they managed to lose to Manchester City 6-3, Liverpool 5-1 and Chelsea 6-0. This big game issue extends to the clubs derby with rivals Tottenham. The last time they beat Spurs was March 2014 with a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, and since this game the club have risen above Arsenal for the first time this century.

The club have also struggled to compete in the Champions League. The world’s premier club cup competition has proved the same repetitive cycle for the club. Since the turn of the decade they have been knocked out in the second round of the competition every year, almost exclusively by Bayern Munich and Barcelona it seems. The 10-2 aggregate humiliation by Bayern Munich last season made us the laughing stock of Europe, whilst the recent 4-0 humiliation by Liverpool made us the laughing stock of Britain so at least we are consistent.

With all of these results the players have to shoulder some of the responsibility but ultimately it’s the manager that sets up the team and does the tactics. One-off bad performances can be tolerated, but it’s the consistency of our drubbings which has begun to wear thin on the majority of fans.

To revisit the recent Liverpool game the manager chose to leave starting left back Sead Kolasinac on the bench and put right back Hector Bellerin in his place, even though he’s a natural right back. He then played midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the right back role. Aside from the defence he decided to leave the club record signing Alexandre Lacazette on the bench in place of Danny Welbeck. Welbeck is a good player who works hard however away from home against a top four opponent your best players should be playing, in their correct positions.

These tactical decisions in a key game are baffling to both fans and experts alike, and surely only Wenger could fully explain his reasoning behind the team decisions he made for this game. Many fans have begun to question whether Wenger can still be successful in the modern game, and they would point to his tactical choices in this game as an example proving their point.

Along with the notion of playing players out of position, he also appears to be very one dimensional in his philosophy. Whilst every manager has their favoured system, it appears Wenger is almost always completely unwilling to change his possession based attacking style of play. This style of play produces good results when facing inferior teams and has earned Arsenal a reputation as one of the best teams to watch in the world on their day.

The frustrating thing watching Arsenal is that they will still try and play this attacking style of football when playing against better matched teams with higher quality players. This is where the team are fatally exposed because every team knows how to game plan against Arsenal. Top six sides and even less talented physical sides such as West Brom can have success against Arsenal because of how they play.

This explains why the team are consistently struggling against top six opponents, as the team have failed to address their need for more physical players to help with the defensive work the team struggle with so often. This along with Wenger’s seeming indifference to changing his style of play no matter the opponent has led to the current on pitch problems for the club.

What do you think of Arsene Wenger? If you are a fan of the club or have any views on the Frenchman please leave them in the comments section below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Part two is coming up shortly and will look at the problems of the current board and owner. Stay tuned!