Arsenal’s draw against Everton has exposed various frailties in the team. Sportzwiki’s Rishabh takes a look at the areas where the Gunners’ must improve to save themselves the embarrassment of getting knocked out.
The final round of the Champions League qualifiers are upon us and Arsene Wenger’s men would like to make it 17 consecutive seasons without losing out on a Champions League spot. To do this, however, they must get past a tricky Besiktas side. Having played the first leg last week, Wenger’s men take to the second leg with an aggregate score of 0-0. A stiff competition was provided by Besiktas during the first leg in Turkey as Arsenal always looked second favorites to emerge out on top. This could well be Arsenal’s closest qualifying encounter after the nightmarish one against Udinese which almost saw Udinese going through on the night.
Wenger must be wary of his side’s performances so far, which has included a lackluster win against Crystal Palace and involved a great escape where Arsenal came form 2-0 down to level the scores against Everton to take home a point. Plenty of talking points emerge which the Frenchman must cater to if he needs to see his side qualify for the Europe’s elite competition.
The biggest area of concern for the Gunners is the striking department. With fresh news stating that Arsenal lead striker Olivier Giroud could be out for a minimum of 3 months following an ankle injury he picked up during the match against Everton, Arsenal look desperately short of firepower upfront. Although Lukas Podolski has been called up to join the squad, his performances down the middle have been far from convincing. Another option which the North London side could try is to use their new star man Alexis Sanchez upfront. However, with Sanchez still adapting to the ‘Arsenal way’, it looks unlikely that he will be all that effective. Credit must be given for his off-shoulder runs he makes to get beyond the defenders but when it comes to involving the team’s midfield and inviting them to drive forward, Sanchez lacks what Giroud usually provides- hold up play. Another area where the Chilean lacks is his aerial threat.
Although his work ethics must be commendable, Sanchez is not a finished product when it comes to being a centre forward. Gunners could rely on Joel Campbell, the Costa Rican starlet, to produce a moment of magic or two. He played as a centre forward in Costa Rica’s amazing run in the World Cup and could be called upon to serve his club. Despite his reputation, Campbell lacks the pace to get behind the defences and also, this, being the first season for him in an Arsenal shirt, Campbell hasn’t adapted to the club’s philosophies as of yet. Arsenal have been linked with several names in the wake of Giroud’s injury, however, with no reinforcements to arrive before this game, Arsenal look to be struggling in this area.
A second weakness to this seemingly strong Arsenal side is the formation they have played with. Changing from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 , Arsene Wenger has tried to incorporate the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey, Ozil and Cazorla in one team. Using Ozil wide on the left defeats the very purpose for which he was purchased. Ozil, known for his creative flair, would do wonders if played centrally and having runners like Sanchez in the team. However, playing from the left he is found wanting to deliver a final ball and is also handed over the responsibility of tracking back to help out his team. As good as he is in attack, his defensive capabilities are not much known.
Unlike the 4-2-3-1, where 2 midfielders provide the shield to the backline, a 4-1-4-1 sees only one player doing this. In doing this, Wenger has left a massive gap in the Arsenal midfield. Where all these attack minded midfielders bomb forward, the 1 midfielder who sits back to protect the defence (Arteta or Flamini) is left exposed to opposition counter attacks. With the likes of Wilshere and Ozil reluctant track back quickly, this DM needs to slot back into the empty position usually left back by the marauding full backs and thus exposes the central area of the pitch. This factor was greatly exploited by the Besiktas side as their route one approach saw Demba Ba holding up play in order for the creative likes of the former Arsenal player Oğuzhan Özyakup and Olcay Sahan linking up to trouble the Arsenal defence.
Even in the game against Everton, Gareth Barry was given a huge amount of space in the middle to maneuver his passes and control the game. This allowed him space to put delicious ball in for Coleman to head from close range. Moreover, with Arteta out injured, Flamini would be sure to start in his place. Flamini’s reckless challenges are always a worry and his passing is not as sharp as that of Arteta’s. Arsenal are in dire need of a new DM who could not only break the play but also go forward when required. But even if they get such a midfielder the 4-1-4-1 formation would put huge pressure on him and the Arsenal backline could star leaking in goals more often.
Another cause for concern is the suspension of Aaron Ramsey from the match. Although Arsenal have plenty of players to fill the creative void left by him, Ramsey’s box to box runs will surely be missed. A key to work the 4-1-4-1 formation is to have a player who is ready to track back along with the DM and Ramsey has done that well for the Gunners. With him missing, Arsene Wenger needs to address this problem as well.
One big flaw which has been a part of an Arsenal side is their defending from set pieces. Although they have improved quite a bit in defence, their zonal marking invites trouble from the corners and set pieces. Allowing their opponents to take a free run and a leap, the Arsenal defenders have always been a prey to set pieces. Things have improved under the leadership as Per Mertesacker, but not having Giroud defending for set pieces means that Arsenal will be short in terms of height at the back to head the ball clear. Besiktas would be aware of this chink in Arsenal’s armor and would be looking to exploit.
There are plenty of problems for Arsenal Wenger to sort out before he takes the field on Wednesday. Although clear favorites, Arsenal are in real danger of not qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 17 years. If Besiktas play they had in the first leg, Arsenal would need to up their game and address these problems to get home.