Arsenal's Defeat to Chelsea Shows Balance of Gunners' Attack Is Still Not Right

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Arsenal's Defeat to Chelsea Shows Balance of Gunners' Attack Is Still Not Right
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Arsenal's spirit-crushing 2-1 defeat at home to London rivals Chelsea proved that the balance of Arsene Wenger's new-look attack is still not right. Lack of a coherent structure in forward areas is undermining the team in the biggest games and means Arsenal cannot be taken seriously as title contenders.

The problem is encapsulated by Wenger's team selection against both Chelsea and Manchester City. In both fixtures, the Gunners' boss opted for Gervinho through the middle in a false 9 role.

The tactic takes good advantage of the Ivory Coast forward's intelligent and active movement. It has certainly given some impetus to his Arsenal career.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Gervinho has been revitalized in a free role in Arsenal's attack.

However, by its very nature, this ploy leaves Arsenal without a natural focal point for their attack. The Gunners are relying instead on fluidity and interchangeability in the forward positions.

Problems occur when teams pack the areas between midfield and attack. This is something Chelsea did extremely well. Roberto Di Matteo's team relied on the static duo of Ramires and Jon Obi Mikel to strictly marshal the area in front of their back four.

This prevents Arsenal from taking advantage of the runs made by Gervinho and Lukas Podolski. The Gunners' midfield is denied the space to play the kind of through passes this pacey brand of attacking demands.

That means Arsenal are limited to fewer chances in the bigger games. A limited number of chances is fine, if those sparse openings are regularly converted. However, sharpness in front of goal remains the one key quality missing from Arsenal's play.

It's easy to critique Wenger's decision to demote Olivier Giroud for these games. Certainly the critics have a legitimate gripe, considering Giroud is a natural target man. His strength and link-up play could well provide the perfect foil for intricate passing moves.

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Olivier Giroud's poor form in front of goal is undermining Arsenal's options in attack.

However, strikers are primarily judged on goals and that's exactly how it should be. Which is why it's understandable that Wenger perhaps doesn't entirely trust his summer arrival from Montpellier.

Indeed, Giroud's miss in the closing minutes against Chelsea is just another entry in an already thick catalogue of poor misses. Add it to Giroud's clumsy looking efforts against Sunderland and Liverpool.

It's difficult to stay sympathetic when the Chelsea and Liverpool misses came on Giroud's preferred left foot. Yet the other side of that argument is to say that Giroud will only improve with time and, most importantly, confidence.

That confidence is hardly likely to be built up by not being selected for big matches. Continuity is also a vital factor in the success of any forward line. Flip-flopping between the false 9 and a more traditional attack spearheaded by Giroud has prevented the opportunity for the new strikers to build a rapport.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Aaron Ramsey is being misused in Arsenal's forward line.

For instance, if the false 9 is deemed the best way, then Aaron Ramsey has no place in the forward line. The false 9 has to be focused on speed and that means Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right.

Picking Ramsey is just another way of trying to have the best of everything, with a hybrid formation that lacks focus. If Giroud is to lead the attack, then let him lead it now and don't alternate from game to game.

A certain amount of transition up front was inevitable following Robin van Persie's cynical defection. However, the longer Wenger goes without a clear plan for his attack, the longer Arsenal are going to be stuck in neutral.

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