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Arsenal: Why It's All Going Wrong without Robin Van Persie

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12:  Hatem Ben Arfa of Newcastle and Robin van Persie of Arsenal battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on March 12, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterDecember 3, 2012

It's easy to say that Arsenal are in 10th place in the English Premier League because they didn't replace Robin van Persie with a similarly world-class star.

So what exactly is wrong with the Gunners up front? Let's take a detailed look at what's happening.

 

Old system

It's no secret—Arsenal relied on Robin van Persie throughout the 2011-12 season to score and create goals.

Last season, Arsenal took on Wovles at Molineux, winning 3-0 as RvP put in another superlative performance.

The diagram shows where and how his teammates found him, as the Dutchman reeled in 57 passes—though just three were received inside the opposition's penalty box.

Are these the tendencies of a 30-goal forward? Surely it must be an anomaly.

But no. Here's the graph for his 60 passes received in Arsenal's 4-0 victory over Wigan Athletic—another example of how he's heavily involved in the build-up play despite technically being a lone forward.

Now a Manchester United player, Sir Alex Ferguson has had his team adapt very quickly to van Persie's clever movement. In the Red Devils' 4-0 drubbing of Wigan Athletic, RvP received 57 passes in some pretty similar positions.

 

New problems

Olivier Giroud, Arsenal's new striker, paints an entirely different picture.

Here's his diagram from the Gunners' 0-0 draw with Aston Villa in Birmingham. Arsenal are happier to play the long ball to the big man, but from watching them it's clear that they're still looking for van Persie even though he's no longer there.

You've also got Gervinho playing a striker's role when he's not naturally a striker, meaning he's drifting to the wide areas and neglecting his responsibilities in the centre.

Furthermore, you've got Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski—two wide forwards who are desperate to earn a central role—running inward to get into goalscoring positions despite it not being their job. Chaos.

 

Conclusion

It's easy to settle into a rhythm, and Arsenal were well and truly accustomed to dumping the ball off with RvP and allowing him to turn creator. His nine assists last season was second only to a constantly out-of-position Alex Song, making him a real inventor as well as a finisher.

While the personnel has changed, the team are playing the same way. Santi Cazorla is being used as the playmaker even though he's not playing in the same position RvP did.

Giroud isn't being utilized, while Gervinho, Walcott and Poldi aren't showing discipline.

There were concerns before the season started with regard to Arsenal's over-reliance on RvP's unique mastering of the nine-and-a-half position (via Lifesapitch.co.uk). Those concerns have been justified.

The sooner the Gunners snap out of it and move on from the RvP era, the sooner they'll click offensively and move up the table.

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