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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Why Arsenal's Late Season Resurgence Should Not Paper Over The Cracks

Sports fans are emotional, recklessly irrational and notoriously fickle. One day, on the back of three losses on the trot, it is "Arsene Wenger out." A few wins on the trot and suddenly Arsenal are favorites to win the premier league next season. So after our best run of form to end this season, let us settle down and look at the big picture. 

While I may come across as pessimistic and a bit of a downer in this article, I fear that the good end of season form is glossing over the lingering problems the team faced earlier in the season. It is no coincidence that our best patch of the season has come with a fully fit back four. Personally, I love the combination of Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen. They seem to have great chemistry together and most of all, they are strong, physical, have great positional sense and carry a certain swagger about them. I don't know about you, but I like my center back's to be tough, physical and have a no nonsense attitude. Having said that, how many of you can honestly say that when a high ball is played into the Arsenal box, you feel completely confident that the defense will clear it out with authority? I know I do not. Every time a high ball is played into the box, it is bingo time for the opposing center forwards. Also, considering Vermaelen's recent injury history, does anybody feel confident in Johan Djourou, Per Mertesacker or Sebastien Squillaci (By the way, where the hell has he been all season. Does he still play for Arsenal?) to fill in for him. That thought has me shaking in fear already. 

One take away from the run of form is how crucial our full backs, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna are. When the two were out through injury, as well as back up left back Andre Santos, Koscielny or Alex Song were forced to play out of position at the right back, and usually Vermaelen filled in at left back. And just as you would expect, when you put players in positions they are not accustomed to playing in, bad things happen. Our defense predictably leaked goals.

Surprisingly, the offense was hurt too. Ever since Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg left, wing play has not been one of Arsenal's strength's. Whatever productivity they got from the wings was a bonus. With Vermaelen and Koscielny playing as full backs, they were never involved on offense, making overlapping runs, or putting in crosses. As a result, opposing teams packed the middle of the field, therefore stopping Arsenal's biggest strength, the creativity in midfield. So that begs the question, what happens when Gibbs or Sagna goes down? Pray to the gods I guess. Gibbs especially has been injury prone, playing only 22 games this season, when the starting position was all his after Gael Clichy left. Also, is it just me, or does Andre Santos look fat and out of shape? It might be my overly critical eyes, so I will withhold judgment until next season. Same with Carl Jenkinson, who my only impression of this season, was the embarrassing 8-2 defeat at Manchester United. 

Scoring goals has never been a problem for Arsenal. It was nice to see in the last few games players like Theo Walcott, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, and even Thomas Vermaelen step up and score. If you are relying on one player to score a goal or more every game for you to even have a chance, then you are probably in trouble, even if that player is Robin Van Persie. It is clear we need reinforcements in the striking department. Ju-Young Park, Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho seem incapable of finding an ocean, let alone the back of the net. Their inability is the reason alone Arsene Wenger brought Thierry Henry back. Other strikers such as Carlos Vela, Nicklas Bendtner and Andrey Arshavin are out on loan and unlikely to return. Good thing too, because they were extremely poor. Lukas Podolski is a step in the right direction, but not nearly enough. One more established, experienced center forward would give us a great boost.

Our midfield looks good. Tomas Rosicky's revival has been pleasantly shocking to say the least. His revival seems symbolic of Arsenal's revival. His partnership with Van Persie, Arteta, Song, and Walcott looks promising. But hang on, theme alert here! Can we rely on Rosicky to give us a full season? Going by his past history, counting on Rosicky to give you a full season is like expecting Mitt Romney to find an issue that he does not flip flop about. It is just not going to happen. My humble diagnosis: another creative midfielder would do us a world of good. Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby would be like new signings for us, but I would not count on them being available for an entire season, especially Diaby. 

So there you have it. My two cents. In light of this run, I hope my fellow gooners do not unnecessarily inflate expectations and place added pressure on the team by saying things like "The premier league next season is ours to lose." No it will be Manchester City’s to lose, because only one of them will be defending champions. It is pretty clear too that Arsenal is still a mentally weak and fragile team. A mentally strong team would not lose to Wigan and QPR on the back of strong results. They build on results.

Having said all this, I still expect Arsenal to win the league next season! But for now, let us hope Arsene Wenger recognizes the cracks and fills them. I hope Arsene knows.

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