Arsenal's season has been "disappointing", something I've laid at Arsene Wenger's feet. (Fixing Arsenal: A primer) Yesterday, I pointed out the players that the team should build around going forward in an effort to be title challengers next year. (Fixing Arsenal: What is right) Today, I look at what isn't working and where Arsenal's biggest weaknesses are and how they should be addressed.
Deep breath everyone.
The Central Midfield
OK, stop me if you heard thi--oh? You have? Yeah, we've been banging this drum pretty hard lately. Like here. And here. Annnd here. And... you get the idea. Last summer, I placed all my chips on adding a DM to compete with and hopefully improve upon Francis Coquelin, a continuing argument over the utilization and style of DM Arsenal needs. But honestly, it is pretty clear that the whole structure of the midfield is flawed. As much as Coquelin has been positionally bad leading to cards and sendings off, we've also watched Matheiu Flamini sit off a center back's shoulder while Aaron Ramsey has been able to have a quiet chat with Olivier Giroud. Cazorla has gotten slower, Arteta doesn't have legs, Chambers apparently ran over Wenger's dog.
Simply put, there has been no consistent combination or strategy to make up for any of these players strengths and weaknesses. When it has worked, it has almost felt more like luck than any properly functioning midfield and it hasn't been that way since (all together now) Arteta-Ramsey in '13/'14. Brief success of Cazorla-Coquelin largely has fallen off as teams found ways to isolate them from Ozil, something neither player could truly make up for. This is the massive hole in the team and while I like these players, if Wenger decided to scrap the whole lot, it's hard to argue he's wrong.
The good news? Well, Arteta (broken), Rosicky (broken) and Flamini (bad) are all headed out the door, the addition of Mohammed Elneny has been a sudden bright spot and every rumour has Arsenal actively persuing new options (welcome Xhaka?). There is every indication that there will be improvement. But it leaves us with the old options to deal with. You don't bring in new players to rely on Coquelin as a 1st team option. What does Cazorla have anything left after a serious knee injury? Does this relegate Ramsey to an occasional starter when tactics favour it? To this I say: Good problem to have. I support relegating all the players to the bench or off the team if they add better. And they should add better. None of them have shown enough that they are a winning midfield.
So sorry, Cazorla, Coquelin and Ramsey fans. This system isn't working.
Had you asked me in the summer, I probably would have raved about the Koscielny-Mertesacker partnership. It hasn't panned out. Koscielny has had a rather poor go this year. His confident movements of years past have been a liability this year. Whatever the reason, his reputation has taken a hit.
Usually his bale out man, Mertesacker hasn't been able to cover all angles. This bizarrely has let to him seemingly getting large amounts of blame. Since his red card vs Chelsea, he's struggled to get any starts, in favour of Gabriel. While culpable, he hasn't made the type of mistakes (nor smoked in the shower, as far as we know) to be relegated to the bench. His height would be a benefit against players like, I don't know pick a guy a random, Andy Carroll. That's not to say he's been great, but Per seems like the most solid CB on the team and he's not starting.
Which brings us to Gabriel, who has been a nightmare. His partnership with Koscienly hasn't improved with games and nothing suggests there is more than CB cover in his inclusion. For his athleticism, a much cited strength, his positioning is poor, his decisions are poor and he isn't supporting others. The team has not looked a defensive stalwart with Kos-Gab and hard to imaging they will soon.
And then there's Chambers who... OK, what is Chambers to Wenger these days? Fullback? Centerback? Defensive mid? Frankly, it's hard to care. Let's see Holster Cal get a shot. It's hard to argue he'd be worse.
What does this mean? Well, as much as the center midfield needs a fix, Wenger will have to address the center of defense too. A team can greatly control a game working from the back. Currently, this is a major weakness for the team.
In my first post, I noted that Arsenal are headed towards their lowest goals scored in ten years. While this is not the sole fault of the strikers (Alexis having an off season for one), it has not been a banner year for Arsenal strikers. Giroud currently holds the team lead with 12 league goals which is probably going to end up close to his average, but not a step foward we might like. Welbeck coming back from injury has offered glimpses of promise but his record doesn't suggest he's due to break out with a glut of goals. Both do good work as the sole target man in supporting the midfield but seem to leave goals on the pitch.
And then there's Theo Walcott. Winger or striker, he has been bad. For all the talk and trust Wenger has given him, his paltry 5 goals do not warrant the raise he was given and a completely useless aside from narrative calculation puts his goal as the worst value in the league. For a 27-year-old striker, this is distressing. Does he have anything left? It's hard to see him taking the mantle of center forward from the options on the team and his defensive work is sorely lacking on the wing. With the emergence of Iwobi and Campbell, Theo's days appear to be numbered. I would advocate an upgrade at striker (or at the very least try Alexis) and when push comes to shove, Walcott is the odd man out.
So there you go. Upgrades needed at defense, midfield and forward. No biggy. Right? Do I think all of these players get binned? Absolutely not. In fact, as down as I am on Walcott, Coquelin and Gabriel, I would be shocked to see any of them leave or be completely ignored next season. Which means despite a few new adds, there's probably going to have to be some major additions from within the squad. So that's where we'll head next.
Tomorrow: Fixing Arsenal - Squad Hopes and Doubts