Following Arsenal’s exits from the Champions League, the FA cup, and defeat in the Carling Cup Final there has been a large amount of discussion about where Arsene Wenger’s team fall short. A lot of the debate has centered around the need for a new goalkeeper, more experience, a commanding center back etc, and although some these points are valid, I think there is another issue that has been overlooked.
Arsenal have fantastic creative players, the best in the league, however as a result of wanting to play Nasri, Fabregas and Arshavin all at the same time they are forced to play Nasri and Arshavin wide. Both Nasri and Arshavin are players who like to get on to the ball and move into central positions. They are not players who often look to get behind teams or hug the touchline. As a result, teams can play a high line against Arsenal without fear of players getting in behind them. Arshavin and Nasri’s tendency to come inside also means opposing sides can play quite narrow. As a result there is less space for Arsenal’s creative players in the middle of the pitch.
Arsenal are often said to imitate Barcelona in their style of play. However, there is a crucial difference between Barcelona and Arsenal’s attacks. Barcelona have pacey wing strikers in the form of David Villa, Pedro and Lionel Messi. Teams know they can not play a high line against Barcelona which creates lots more space for Xavi and Iniesta. Barcelona have two playmakers, Xavi and Iniesta, feeding Villa and Pedro who make forward runs, Messi of course does a bit of everything!. Sometimes watching Arsenal it seems like there are too many playmakers and not enough people to pass to. Nasri, Arshavin, Fabregas and Wilshire all like to get on the ball in the middle of the pitch and make passes, however, often there are not enough people making penetrating runs.
Although it is partly by design, Arsenal’s approach often results in over elaborate football on the edge of their opposition’s box. Having attacking outlets in the mould of David Villa and Pedro, would allow Arsenal to occasionally play more direct, making Arsenal less predictable, dangerous on the counter attack and harder to defend against. Even when playing elaborately on the edge of an opponents box, like Barcelona also often do, having players of a Villa/Pedro type who can make clever runs, find space, and have predatory instincts is invaluable. Talented although they are, Arshavin and Nasri are both different kinds of players more suited to playing between the lines in the hole.
Theo Walcott, although not perfect, makes a difference for Arsenal because his pace makes him a threat in behind the opposition’s defence. This makes the opposition fearful of playing a high line against Arsenal. However Theo is not the finished article and I think Arsenal would greatly benefit from signing a top class winger/striker in the Pedro/Villa mould.
Of course the question would then turn to how do you fit Fabregas, Nasri and Arshavin all in the same team? My answer would be to cash in on Cesc Farbegas. Samier Nasri has shown that he can do an excellent job in a central role this season, and the £40 milion, or so, that Arsenal would get for him could be well spent on a wing striker, and a commanding center back to partner either Vermaelen or Kosceilny. What’s more, with Wilshire quickly maturing in to a top player, and Ramsey back from injury, Arsenal have enough creative talent in the pipeline to ensure that they could easily survive losing Fabregas.
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