Plotting Arsenal's Route Back to the Very Top of English Football
Arsenal have had their share of struggles since their last bit of silverware in 2005.
Hampered by constant injuries, impatient players looking to vacate the storied club and not replacing quality with quality, the Gunners have done well to stay where they're at among the elite in English football, to say the least.
To go to the top of the proverbial heap in the greatest league in the world, they will have to void all that was mentioned above.
They will need to take that next step to take their place atop the Premier League table and become the best of the best in the dog-eat-dog world that is world football.
If there has been anything that has slowed the Gunners down more than anything else, it is injuries.
The lack of health with their players is startling and highly disruptive to maintaining a batch of players who is playing together week in and week out.
Not only does it mess up team-building, but it's usually someone crucial to their play at the time, getting injured by a wild, flying challenge by someone else (see: Ramsey's leg break, Sagna's leg break, Eduardo's ankle break).
Now, this can all be put down to the chances of the play. Harsh challenges coming in is merely another part of the game. But, these hamstring, calf, groin, and even abdominal muscle pulls are a bit silly.
I know, as a player who has played the game for 14 years, that you know when you have a tight muscle or aren't able to stretch out to the necessary extent that you need to play.
Sure, they have a few that were a bit unfortunate, especially the hamstring pulls, because those feel like you were shot in the back of the leg, but a player at the professional ranks should know the physical limits of their body.
Yes, go in hard for challenges—never give that up—but don't put the team at risk of losing a key asset to their success by going in for an unnecessary challenge and overextending yourself.
A bit much to ask of a player at the peak of their play, but in order for Arsenal to reach their peak again, there needs to be more mindfulness of this risk.
Defensive Line Security
If there is one thing that anyone notices after reading an article on Arsenal, it is that defensive frailty has been stabbing the sides of this Gunner machine for a few years now.
With the loss of Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy and other somewhat experienced defenders to the transfer market, Arsenal have struggled a bit to put out a high-performing, consistent defense from game to game.
They have remedied their losses with the signings of Vermaelen, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Andre Santos and Per Mertesacker to help the struggling Djourou, Sagna and Gibbs on the back line.
But there is an argument that there is a loss of defensive quality outside of Koscielny and Vermaelen.
Djourou has been the player that has been on the blame list the most, but there has been questions of Santos for his high-flying, attacking mindedness, which has been missing from the Arsenal back line since Ashley Cole, and the sluggishness of the German giant, Mertesacker.
If there can be a consistency among the current defensive players and maybe one more addition, a Jan Vertonghen if you will, then Arsenal could be well on their way to having a strong enough back line to keep close scorelines at bay.
Maybe they can build their defensive reputation up to the reputation levels of the Old Guard of the late 90s, when Dixon and Winterburn were at the helm.
High-Quality Depth from the Bench
Unless it's a Carling Cup tie or FA Cup early-round fixture and Arsenal are bringing on Arteta or van Persie off the bench to wrap up the game, there is rarely quality coming off the bench that matches the quality coming off the field.
With the exception of Oxlade-Chamberlain, the players coming off the bench have the feel of being position-fillers, rather than exceptional world talents.
Benayoun did give his fill quite a few times this season, helping to create and finish plays. But players like Arshavin, Jenkinson, Djourou and Coquelin just leave this taste of filling the role when the guy who started was winded.
It's not a good sign.
What the Gunners need to have is competition for positions. There should never be a definite starter and definite bench player for positions.
Players should be under constant pressure from the players around them to play at their world-beating best every single day, rather than having secondary players who show up for the Carling Cup every once in a while.
If Arsenal can bring in or develop higher quality players quickly, then you will see a much, much more competitive team out on the field with that added depth of quality on the substitution bench.
More Direct Play
Arsenal is known for their beautiful, sweeping passing play.
A sight to behold in itself.
But what this beautiful play lacks is that sharp bite at the end: a result of a fantastic buildup that left the other team wondering what just happened and yelling at each other for not covering a wonderful three- or four-pronged attack from one of the best passing teams in the game.
Arsenal has the ability to create open space with their precision play, but their inability to shoot when the goal is open is the most frustrating for any fan to watch.
You hide your face in your hands after you see this wonderful, sweeping counterattack merely go out for a goal kick or a throw-in because no one had the cojones to put their laces behind the ball and take a shot on goal.
Arsenal have to make their opposing number in goal work for their paycheck, rather than pass, then pass and pass some more.
It is all wonderful to watch, yes. But, you know what's even more wonderful?
Seeing your team score bucket loads of goals.
Arsenal have come a long way from last August, in which they had one of their worst starts on record.
In order to avoid a repeat, they have a few steps to take to make sure they are at the top of the table at the beginning of May, becoming the team to beat in one of the toughest leagues on the planet.
It's a steep call to ask for, but as seen, it isn't impossible. They can do it.
They've been at the top quite a few times before.
They can do it again.
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