EPL: Balancing Arsenal's Forward Line Has to Be Arsene Wenger's Top Priority
Balancing his new-look forward line has to be Arsene Wenger's top priority with the 2012 English Premier League season still in its infancy.
The decision to offload contract rebel Robin van Persie was a little easier to understand thanks to the early arrivals of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Both players are recognised internationals, with respectable and proven goal scoring records.
However, despite their credentials, finding out how best to deploy them is a challenge. The current 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid formation was designed to maximise Cesc Fabregas and to a lesser extent van Persie.
It worked thanks to van Persie's intelligent movement and deceptive quickness in and around the box. The problem, as Wenger discovered last season, is that without players possessing similar attributes, the system quickly becomes redundant and doesn't favour different types of forwards.
Just as it was folly to continue to playing a Fabregas system, even after the man himself left last season, Wenger may be making a mistake trying to put Podolski or Giroud in van Persie's position. The problem then is how to find the right balance up front.
Unfortunately, no easy solutions present themselves. Accommodating both Podolski and Giroud in the current tactical structure, would likely require putting Podolski out on the left.
The problem is that in Arsenal's system, the wide players are asked to alternate as both true wingers and wide forwards, two entirely different positions. It's a tough ask and although Podolski offers decent versatility, he has not tended to thrive when pushed too far out wide.
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Operating wide left was a chief contributory factor for Podolski's sub-par performances at Euro 2012. His best success has come in central areas. Yet that doesn't mean the German international is the natural replacement for van Persie.
He reacts to the pattern of attacks, rather than letting his movement dictate them. What he doesn't have is van Persie's superior first touch and clever link-up play.
In the season opener against Sunderland, Podolski drifted around waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon. In contrast, van Persie's subtle runs made him the natural target once Arsenal got the ball to the opposition box.
If he persists with a lone striker, Wenger could let Giroud operate centrally. His link-up play is probably the best aspect of his game.
As a definite aerial threat, Giroud would require constant supply, and that could be a problem. Accurate, high crosses are not the strength of anyone on this Arsenal team. Most of the assists for van Persie were pullbacks across the ground, intended for the tap-in from close range.
Playing Giroud and Podolski together may appear the most logical choice. Indeed, Podolski's best moments have come with the German national team, partnered with Miroslav Klose.
Deploying the diminutive Podolski just behind the towering and powerful Giroud might be the best way to get the new signings firing. However, this dynamic would cause a switch to some version of a 4-4-2 alignment.
That's a switch that seems unlikely with Theo Walcott still around and Gervinho in the mix. The trouble with identifying a sole striker is that given Arsenal's efforts scouting Giroud and Podolski and the prices paid, using either as a rotation player would resemble a costly farce.
Finding the right mix up front will dominate the initial fixtures of Arsenal's latest EPL campaign. Their form and season will stutter along until Wenger works out how best to use his new weapons.
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