Arsenal might have moved inside the top four with their 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League last night, but some serious questions still remain for the North London club going forward this season, particularly heading into the winter transfer window.
The Gunners have endured their worst start to a season under Arsene Wenger this year, but they have clawed their way back into the top four with just one loss from their past eight domestic matches heading into the Christmas and New Year period.
Yet through the opening half of the season, we've been able to see Arsenal for who they really are this year and we've been privy to their problems and issues.
Here's the biggest questions for the Gunners to answer moving forward this season, particularly if they want to hang on for that desired top-four finish.
French international Laurent Koscielny was rested again by Arsene Wenger here, with the veteran manager opting for the central pairing of Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker.
And you can't blame Wenger either for using that combination. The Gunners have been strong with the Belgian and German international at the back this season, plus the healthy return of Kieran Gibbs has meant that Vermaelen has shifted back into a more central defensive role.
But the question remains, then, if this is the pairing that Wenger is going to go with this year, what place does Koscielny have in the team this year?
A regular starter last season, the Frenchman is now suddenly on the outer of the starting side this season and is unlikely to receive any significant increase in game time unless there is an injury or player absent on international duty or something.
As captain, Vermaelen's spot is secure, meaning that Koscielny is really battling Mertesacker for the other central defender position. And whilst he was beaten once against by Wigan on the breakaway, it was hard to fault the German international to any great extent throughout the match.
An interesting storyline to watch for the year ahead.
We'll touch on this question a little more when we discuss Theo Walcott (spoiler alert), but watching Arsenal play against Wigan this weekend, you almost wonder whether their midfield is too good and too deep in terms of talent and ability.
Despite injuries to the likes of Gervinho and Abou Diaby—both of whom have had several starting appearances this season—Arsenal still fielded a very strong lineup against the Lactics, and they didn't even introduce the likes of Francis Coquelin until the waning moments of the match.
Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta in central defensive midfield. Lukas Podolski on the left. Santi Cazorla in the middle and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right.
It's hard to fault any of those selections from Wenger, and you'd have to say that the Gunners could well field some variation of that lineup week in and week out for the remainder of this season.
But the lack of inclusion that it allows for players like Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey—heck, even Theo Walcott out on the right flank if he wanted to play there—could be leading to some of the problems that the Gunners are having in their squad at the moment.
There is simply no room for any other player to establish himself as a genuine starter and if there is, the next question becomes as to who they will drop in order to make room for a new player.
Let's for a minute apply that line of thinking to the upcoming winter transfer window, where Arsenal are rumored to be interested in a number of quality attacking players.
But in all seriousness, how will any of these players fit in the current squad that Arsenal have? Perhaps more to the point, who will Arsenal drop to allow any of these players to work their way into the starting side for the North London club?
The likes of Demba Ba as a striker is a relatively easy one, most likely replacing Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott at the top of the attack. But for someone like Kevin Strootman, Yann M'Vila or Victor Wanyama, who should the Gunners let go of?
Do they drop Jack Wilshere or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, two of the hottest young talents in the Premier League? Do they let someone like Mikel Arteta drop to the bench? Will someone like Lukas Podolski or Santi Cazorla thrive as a substitute playing every game?
Of course not, and many will be quick to point out the fact that neither Podolski nor Cazorla is going to be benched any time in the near future. But the point remains the same that, because of their strong midfield and attack at the moment, Arsenal do find themselves in an interesting position heading into the transfer season.
They want new players to give their squad a boost, but who do they bring in and, more importantly, where do they fit once they arrive?
Having lauded his praises after a successful night out against Reading last week, the author here is once again questioning whether Theo Walcott is the right man to lead the Gunners attack this season.
His pace and athleticism are brilliant, but he does lack the ability to win the ball up front and provide a genuine option to build the attack through. Rather, his speed means that the North London club are always looking to play him through or over, which can become predictable for any team to read.
Against the Lactics, Walcott was poor and was rarely involved in the game. His highlight came when he was shot by a sniper and somehow won a penalty for his team—perhaps a good indication of just how poor the Englishman's night was against Wigan's defense.
Giving credit where credit's due, Wigan were sound defensively and would have caused problems for Olivier Giroud or even Lukas Podolski had they been at the top of the attack in Walcott's place. But still, the 23-year-old's inability to know what run to make and when to make it is hurting the Gunners in terms of their cohesion and is leading to a disjointed attack at times.
Maybe Walcott isn't the man to answer up front this season. After all, one good game against the worst team in the league doesn't prove anything significant.
The next question then becomes, if Walcott isn't the answer, is Giroud the right man?
The French international had been afforded several starting opportunities at the top of the attack this year without any real success, and he was subsequently benched by Arsene Wenger. The manager opted for the likes of Walcott, Podolski—heck, even Gervinho—at the top of the attack instead of the former Montpellier striker who simply tore up Ligue 1 last season.
Should Giroud be afforded further opportunities up front this season?
The answer to that question is without doubt. Anyone who saw him play last season knows how talented he is on either foot and how clinical he can be in front of goal.
His aerial presence makes him a dual threat to defenders and his ability to build an attack does lend itself to the style of play that Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have made so effective this season.
Walcott has been afforded his chance; now it's time to return to the original plan of Giroud up front and their other summer signings in behind and try and reignite the Gunners attack.
He might only have four Premier League goals from his 11 appearances to date, but his impact on this team is still growing and he still has plenty left to deliver for the North London club. And when you consider that Arsenal haven't lost a match the Frenchman has started in since going down to Manchester United over two months ago, it might be worth looking his way once more this season.
Last week, Arsenal could not do a thing wrong in attack.
Their passes met their mark, they were creating chances with every minute of play and peppered Reading's goal all night with good, quality shots, finishing with five goals and a comfortable win in the process.
Yet this week, they were simply nowhere near as efficient and effective as they were last week.
Granted, some of that might have been because Wigan Athletic were a billion times better than the hapless Reading side they played last week, but still, this was a match that the Gunners really should have won comfortably. It should never have come down to an incredibly fortunate penalty decision for them to secure all three points in this one, no matter how well Wigan played on the night.
And it's been inconsistency—their innate inability to put opponents away and find the back of the net—that has defined the North London club's season so far.
Strong one week, mediocre the next.
Their inconsistency in attack has been the hallmark of their season to date and unless they can find the right squad with the right attacking players soon, it will continue to shape and haunt the Gunners throughout the remainder of the 2012-13 season.
Arsenal are a very talented team with a plethora of world-class players in their side. They should not be battling for fourth—having won their way up from 10th position from a few weeks back—and they should not have just eight wins from 18 EPL matches so far.
They've proven they can be solid and strong this year; now they simply need to perform to that standard week in and week out.
What do you make of Arsenal so far this season?
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