Arsenal scored a 1-0 victory over QPR at the Emirates in their Day 9 Premier League encounter. This victory temporarily lifted the Gunners to fourth place on the table.
Everton, who play Liverpool in the Merseyside derby, Tottenham Hotspur, who will be away at Southampton and West Bromwich Albion, who will be away at Newcastle United, could all overtake Arsenal on Sunday if each team can claim a victory over its opponent.
As far as this goes, one could say there's no cause for alarm because there's still a long way to go in the league: 29 matches. A lot can still happen.
A positive spin accompanies victories while all sorts of criticisms follow defeat.
When a team plays badly, but wins anyway, fans—with wide grins and big smirks—will call this “winning ugly.” If a team plays well and loses anyway, some fans will acknowledge this and call it bad luck. Most will criticize the team all the same.
In the case of Arsenal against QPR, I'd say that although the team got the victory, I was unimpressed by the performance.
I feel that there's a real danger that this team will not achieve its minimum mark this year, which is finishing in the Champions League position.
Now those who are familiar with my writing will know that I do not say this lightly, as I am a staunch supporter of both the team and Arsene Wenger. But what I have seen in the last three matches leaves me doubting the real potential of this team.
Is this team good enough? Getty Images.
Now, some fans can point to the 70 percent possession against QPR and declare this a positive sign, or even domination. I didn't see it that way.
I saw a team display a severe lack of ideas in the final third, even if the goal-scoring chances created in this match were better than those against either Norwich City last weekend and Schalke in midweek.
Anyone with a keen eye would see that Arsenal's possession was mostly harmless. It consisted typically of side-to-side and backward passing.
The big problem still with the team is the fact that the passing and tempo of attack in general aren't quick enough. This was on display in both the Norwich and the Schalke losses, and it was still on display in this match.
Rarely did Arsenal have the QPR defense on the ropes. That's because these defenders were seldom rattled because they had time enough to remain organized. I identified this same issue in the Norwich loss.
Secondly, player movement off the ball left a lot to be desired. Arsenal scarcely opened QPR up while thrusting forward.
What one found was an attack bogged down by a lack of options for a forward pass for the possessing player. It was the reason that lateral passing dominated.
If Arsenal are to improve on this performance, they'll have to practice creating space off the ball while moving forward. This will keep the momentum going towards the opponents' goal.
A positive return. Getty Images.
In previous matches, I have identified the midfield as the problem with the team. With Jack Wilshere's return, the combination was better today. The attacking thrust, which has been lacking in recent matches, was regained here through Wilshere's driving runs. This was really good.
His was the most positive movement in the entire team as far as this goes. This is the kind of thrust Abou Diaby (and the overlapping Alex Song) provided.
It was interesting that Wilshere played slightly in advance of Arteta (in the box-to-box or the linking-up role, that is).
The problem still in the midfield is congestion, not of the opponent, but of Arsenal's own players, and this returns me to the issue of movement off the ball.
Arsene Wenger needs to find a way to drill the team in this movement in such a way that the momentum of the attack keeps moving forward rather than sideways and backwards.
Lack of cutting edge? Getty Images.
When Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas were still in the team, all kinds of off-the-ball movement in the final third happened. It was intuitive and tended to cause a great deal of problems for Arsenal's opponents.
Last season, Robin van Persie was adept at eluding his markers. That's because his off-the-ball movement is unpredictable and excellent. Plus, he has the knack for anticipating where the ball will end up.
This sort of movement is lacking in Arsenal's front. It is one of the major reasons the team isn't creating or scoring much.
I have said previously that the midfield problem needs to be fixed. Well, it was, to some extent, today. If this can be consolidated with expansive movement therein, then the other problem that needs to be eliminated very quickly is this lack of creative movement at the front.
Wenger needs to be very specific with this. He needs to spoon-feed Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Gervinho.
When Gervinho plays wide, he is good. But he still isn't very adept at the center-forward role. For Giroud, while he is good at holding the ball up, his general movement to create chance for himself and others isn't very good.
For Lukas Podolski, I think he can do more.
I perceive that there is a problem of deference with the entire front men of the team, including Santi Cazorla, whereby players would rather make a meaningless pass rather than take responsibility and advance forward with ball.
Podolski needs to shake this deference if he is to take his game with Arsenal to the next level. This factor is the reason I singled out Wilshere above, because of his directness.
In general, Arsenal need to find a balance between passing and directness. Right now, too many meaningless passes dominate, with players opting to make a pass when they could either move with the ball or shoot. It becomes annoying to watch.
But don't get me wrong, I prefer passing football in general. It is only that in the case of Arsenal right now, their passing isn't taking them anywhere
Breakthrough. Getty Images
Per Mertesacker—Thomas Vermealen---(Central Defense)
Bacary Sagna (or Carl Jenkinson)—Kieran Gibbs ---(Pivoting Defence)
Arteta—Wilshere (or Abou Diaby)—Cazorla (or Aaron Ramsey or even Andrey Arshavin)—Midfield
This list, I believe, is the core of the current team. These are good players. What is needed is to find that expansive space and directness in midfield and you'd see a marked improvement in the team.
What Wenger needs to fix, to find a balance for, is the forward end of the team. He needs to figure out how to define the following players: Theo Walcott (deal with his contract situation and get it out of the way, too), Gervinho, Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud.
But I do not mean by this the mere question of where a given player is to play. What I mean is movement—calculated movement. Players need to know what to do both in possession and out of possession. Right now, too much redundancy and confusion in the final third is rendering Arsenal toothless.
The problem right now, though, is the fact that Wenger doesn't have much time to whip this team into shape. Manchester United, for instance, await next weekend.
A loss here will kill off any chance Arsenal still entertains for the title, not that I think this team is a title-winning material, but as we know, one should never say never.
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