Monday, 19 May 2014

Arsenal's challenge next season

After a nine year drought in North London that saw the rain clouds hover mainly over Manchester, North London's excruciating dry spell is over. After a hard fought battle, the Gunners tamed the tigers on the weekend, coming back from 2-0 down to finally add silverware to the lonely trophy cabinet in Emirates that lacked a new sparkle.
The question now though on the lips of Arsenal supporters is if they can now challenge for more silverware next season. Last season Arsenal had the pleasure to be on top of the most exciting league on the planet for the longest time of any team last season, and just recently lifted the FA Cup, tasting the fruit from the tree that has for so long been out of their reach. To experience the sensation of being a champion again and to amass a better Premier League challenge, Arsene Wenger needs to look back at where their league challenge went wrong, from the results against the top four to the squad fatigue linking with the failed transfer windows. 

Last season Arsenal spent Spent 128 days atop Mount Olympus, looking down at the rest of the League with Zeus by it's side. Arsene Wenger's side enjoyed the view longer than any other club, but ended up free-falling from the clouds and pulled the parachute to finish fourth. Up until December last year the gunners were proving their doubters wrong by continuing their hike, showing no signs of slowing down, but they soon stopped climbing and hit their peak. The North London side's season changed when they were knocked off the cliff by Manchester City 6-3 at the Etihad. They tried to go toe-to-toe with the Sky Blues, attack vs attack, but their arms were too short to box with the best. The North London outfit's key games against the top four after the humiliation at the Etihad didn't improve and look that of champions; picking up two points out of a possible twelve. The Gunners suffered two more humiliations at the hands of Liverpool and Chelsea, away at Anfield and Stamford Bridge respectively. At Anfield a first time football fan would be forgiven for believing Arsenal was a relegation threatened team, conceding four goals in the first twenty minutes. The reds went marched onto a 5-1 win over the Gunners, one in which that saw Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel bag braces and Daniel Sturridge snag a single. At Stamford Bridge, Arsenal's defence was scrambled all over the park like letters scattered over a knocked over scrabble board. The Blues cruised to a 6-0 humiliation over the visitors, a humiliation that saw Kieran Gibbs wrongly sent off after Alex                Oxlaide-Chamberlain handled in the box. Altogether Arsenal managed five points out of a possible eighteen against the big boys, with a goal difference of -11. The solitary win and two draws against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City respectively at the Emirates reflected how the Gunners manage hold their own against top opposition at home, but retrospectively get blown away when they are the visitors. To improve their fortunes against the top 4, Arsene Wenger needs to change his tactics when visiting. The Frenchman can not set his teams out to outscore opponents away from home and win the midfield battle like last season. This naive thinking failed against the three teams as away to Manchester City Fernandinho and Yaya Toure out muscled the midfield pairing of Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey, to Liverpool the midfield trio of Jordan henderson, Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho out-numbered the pair of Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere, and last to Chelsea where David Luiz and Nemanja Matic manhandled Mikel Arteta and Alex       Oxlaide-Chamberlain. The 4231 set up against these teams fails against these midfield monsters, with arsenal fielding midfield maestros against them. A 433 would be more adept as an extra man in midfield could give the gunners a better chance to hold the midfield against teams with more physical opponents, as Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta are not suited to acting as road blocks to these Monster Trucks.

Last season when Mesut Ozil joined the gunners, he was lighting stadiums up, producing fireworks wherever he went, but towards the new year he started to run out of gun powder, started to look jagged. The German was not alone though, as he was met by the Gunner's striker, Olivier Giroud. The two main pieces to the Arsenal jigsaw started to play with less intensity and at a slower pace. In February, Ozil was taken off at half time after aggravating his hamstring. A more than likely cause of the injury was the German play-maker's fatigue, Arsene Wenger rarely opting to rest the former Real Madrid number ten. Olivier Giroud's the other Arsenal player guilty of looking jagged. The former Montpellier man played a total of 3083 minutes last season in the premier league out of a possible 3420 minutes, starting 36 games. The striker also started seven games in the Champions League, so it was no surprise the striker looked fatigued, but Arsene Wenger persisted in playing the France international. The chance to sign a back-up striker in the January transfer window fell to Arsene Wenger, but he wasted it .The Gunners were in a good position in the table, but he refused to sign another forward and add more depth. instead opting to sign Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom on loan from Spartak Moscow. The Swede in turn made only three appearances, two of them off the bench. If Arsenal look to have a more effective and longer title challenge next season they have to use both transfer windows more wisely, with a world class striker being their main priority. Strikers the gunners are linked with include Karim Benzema, Edinson Cavani and Mario Mandzukic. All three are strikers that on paper would do well for the gunners, but as long as Arsene Wenger signs any world class forward it would be a step in the right direction for the Gunners.The Gunners also need a strong physical presence in the midfield, someone who can make challenges, hold the oppositions attacks when everyone else is pushed forward and have a good workrate. It was the absence of a man of this calibre that allowed Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea to pull the strings in this department against Arsenal. Targets matching these descriptions include Paris Saint Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi and Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira. Both would act as a shield to the back four of the Gunners, protecting the back four from opposing counter attacks, and make challenges to get the ball back. These two are just what Arsenal need, and would add some much needed depth to the Arsenal holding midfield.

After lifting a trophy after a long, dark, solemn nine years, Gunner fans and players alike will only want more. If Arsene Wenger improves on the areas where his side's Premier League challenge ran off the rails, they have a chance of giving their new FA Cup trophy a friend next season.

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