Every season the Arsenal defence is barracked for being diabolical and costing the club every trophy under the sun. Regular comments that come from the terraces at the Emirates single out the need for a world class goalkeeper and central defender to replace the so-called imbeciles currently taking the shirts.
And in some cases it is true. The 2011 League Cup is the most glaring example, when an embarrassing mix-up between Szczesny and Koscielny gifted Birmingham the win and this can be seen as the point that ruined a season where Arsene Wenger’s side were fighting on four different fronts.
But it could also be argued that Arsenal are losing just as many games because of problems much higher up the pitch. Take the same game for instance. In the League Cup final, they had umpteen chances to close out that match, with Ben Foster making some top drawer saves to keep out Bendtner and Arshavin, as well as denying Nasri on three separate occasions. If a third of the chances Arsenal had in the game had gone in then that blunder would have meant nothing to the result.
The same thing has shown itself this season. They wasted far too many goalscoring opportunities on the opening day against Newcastle and failed to score again when Liverpool visited the Emirates, while only scoring one against Swansea who were still finding their Premier League feet at that point and it is just as problematic as the back line for the Gunners.
Yes, Robin van Persie is fit and on fire recently which means that goals are almost guaranteed. If it wasn’t for him, the win against Stoke on Sunday would have been a draw, the victory overSunderland a defeat and many more of Arsenal’s 13 points would be relinquished without him. But where do they go when he can’t play? And what can the Dutchman and his fellow strikers do if things start to go wrong? The answer, it seems, is nothing.
When Emmanuel Adebayor left for moneybagsManchester City in 2009, Arsenal lost their plan B attacking style. Not to say that the Togolese striker was only good for an alternative style of play because he had great feet but his height and strength meant that if things weren’t going well there was a target man to aim a long ball to.
Since then there has been no plan B at the Emirates and if Arsenal are going to seriously challenge for titles they need to be able to switch systems when their backs are against the walls in big games.
Take the humiliation they suffered at Old Trafford (the home of hammerings this season) and Arsenal were still trying to play passing, attacking football when they were being torn apart. There was no long ball tactic or striker that could hold the ball up so the waves of red shirts kept coming back at them relentlessly.
The team has been crying out for a no-nonsense centre-forward to come in and make that position their own. Van Persie is a brilliant forward but he is better suited to collecting the ball, having it at his feet and doing something special rather than being confined to an aerial battle and that is the predicament Wenger has with all of his striking options.
Marouane Chamakh is the person closest to filling that gap but his heading ability is poor. Like Van Persie, deliver the ball into the Moroccan along the floor and his quick feet and pace will cause defenders problems. However, he hasn’t hit the height expected of him when he brought his fantastic Ligue 1 scoring record across the Channel. With players around him showing similar skills but scoring goals while he struggles to adapt he cannot be given a role of leading the line and the rumours of a move back to France may well spell the end of his time at the Emirates.