5 Questions Raised from Arsenal's Draw with Southampton
Just 34 points from 20 games.
This is undoubtedly Arsene Wenger’s worst season at the helm of affairs of the club, and after showing off their attacking verve in the emphatic victory over Newcastle, the Gunners failed to turn up against a struggling Southampton side.
With Tottenham grabbing maximum points against Reading, coupled with Chelsea’s potential victory over Queens Park Rangers tonight, Arsenal will lose further ground on the leading pack and, more importantly, that coveted fourth place position.
In the wake of Arsenal’s disappointing draw against Southampton, here are five questions that have been raised from a faction of the Arsenal faithful.
What Happened to Arsenal’s Creativity?
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When the Gunners hosted Newcastle two days ago, the creative juices of the attacking personnel flowed like a fountain which led to boatload of goals scored.
Many attributed Newcastle’s slump to the mind-blowing 4–3 defeat they suffered against Manchester United, coupled with the fact that nine of their first-team regulars were nursing injuries.
If my memory serves me right, this was the same Arsenal team that ran riot past Southampton at the Emirates in September 2012. Lukas Podolski curled in a beautiful free kick, Gervinho bagged a brace, Theo Walcott had a simple tap-in and there was also the tale of two unfortunate own goals.
Yesterday night, Arsenal produced a very lethargic performance reminiscent of the Norwich, Schalke 04 (home) and Manchester United games, where they just failed to turn up. There were a few half chances here and there, but ultimately, they weren’t enough.
Shamefully, the Gunners had to rely on another own goal from Guly do Prado to get something out of the game.
After the game, Arsene Wenger rued the lack of creativity (via SkySports).
Where Was the Influence from the Midfield?
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Arsenal’s holy midfield trinity of Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla have been ever-present figures all season long.
While the Spanish duo has become a mainstay in the team, Wilshere’s return to full fitness has seen him fill up the box-to-box role, where he has thrived admirably since donning the pitch against Queens Park Rangers in October.
Wilshere was in imperious form against Newcastle. His drive into the box and that delicate chip in the buildup for Podolski’s goal made the fans drool.
Against Southampton, Wilshere was very sloppy in possession and looked like a somewhat clueless figure, lacking ideas and the usual passion he exudes on a regular basis.
Santi Cazorla has been a creative lynchpin for Arsenal this season, but like the games against Norwich, Schalke 04 and Swansea, he was smothered by the energetic Southampton midfielders. The Saints pressed the Gunners midfield so hard that they hardly afforded the midfielders the opportunity to create chances for the forward line.
Arsene Wenger took a bold step in removing Santi Cazorla for Aaron Ramsey, and as expected, the Welshman didn’t light up any fireworks.
How Do We Contend with Walcott’s Bad Day at the Office?
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That Thierry Henry-esque finish, the shot that slammed the roof of the net with so many bodies in the box and that exquisite delicate chip. These were the goals that made the name Theo Walcott reverberate 'round the Emirates in the last game of 2012.
Instead of singing, “Theo Walcott, he scores when he wants," the Gunners echoed that infamous YouTube video, “Walcott, sign da ting."
It’s fair to say that the hat-trick staked his claim to make the center forward position his for keeps, even if many still dispute the issue of the 100,000-per-week offer.
Unlike Newcastle, which played with a defense no different from a leaking vessel, Southampton had a pretty defensive shape, and they matched Walcott pound for pound, getting the better of the Englishman on several occasions.
In a game where Arsenal required Walcott to play as a target man, linking up play with his teammates as well as coming deep to win those balls for his team, he was found wanting on that front.
Instead, Walcott decided to wait for those defense-splitting through balls that never came.
After an hour of the game gone, Wenger brought on his natural center forward, Olivier Giroud, with Podolski getting the axe. Giroud’s cameo performance against Newcastle was hugely encouraging, but he turned out to be another peripheral figure against Southampton.
Late on, Giroud had a chance to seal all three points for his team, but he launched his header into orbit with a gaping goal in sight. The same feats he achieved late on against Sunderland and Chelsea this season. Typical.
With Wenger ruling out a move for King Thierry Henry (via BBC Sport), I wonder what the transfer window has in store for the Gunners this winter. A seasoned center forward and a tenacious defensive midfielder are the highest priorities in the club’s shopping list.
Where Is the Mr. Consistency We Used to Know?
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I once tagged Bacary Sagna as the football S.I. unit for measuring consistency.
The way he balanced his attacking and defensive play was the stuff of legends. He hardly crosses the ball but when he does, it’s usually to devastating effect.
His tackles are always timely and inch-perfect, his determination is second to none and he has produced stellar performances week in and week out for the Gunners.
After his long-awaited return from his leg injury suffered at the tail end of last season, Sagna returned to the team by replacing a resurgent Carl Jenkinson, who had really matured as a footballer. The Frenchman went through a rigorous period of Under-21 games, but when he was deemed fully fit, he was drafted back into the squad.
When Arsenal played Newcastle, Sagna came up against Gabriel Obertan, a winger that had failed to command a starting berth in Newcastle all season long. The commentator had even stated that Obertan’s last start for Newcastle came as far back as March 2012, which obviously meant that he was in the team to make up the numbers.
However, Obertan bested Sagna many times to devastating effect, as he was impeded by the Frenchman for the free kick that led to Demba Ba’s first goal. Obertan also made mince meat of Sagna in the buildup to Sylvian Marveaux’s simple tap-in where Kieran Gibbs was caught ball watching.
Against Southampton, Sagna put up another putrid show that was epitomized by his aberration of a clearance that caused a goalmouth scramble that ended with Gaston Ramirez blasting the ball past Wojciech Szczesny to put the hosts ahead.
Many have been quick to point out that Sagna has become a disgruntled figure at the Emirates, and he’s probably next in line to join the exodus out of the club with his contract expiring in 2014, putting him in a strong position to negotiate his future. At 29, he’ll be seeking a fat pay raise like the Flying Dutchman with the little boy inside him; and one tends to wonder if he’ll get that contract at Arsenal.
The least he could do will be to put up his string of consistent performances Arsenal fans have become accustomed to. We could do with them right about now.
When are we going to have the Right Quality in Arsenal’s Bench?
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At the start of every Premier League campaign, teams are instructed to present a list of 25 players that will be used for the grueling 10-month Premier League campaign. While 11 players take on the pitch, each team is eligible to bring in three players from a possible seven which will include a spare goalkeeper as well as a couple of defenders, midfielders and strikers.
When Arsenal visited St. Mary’s Stadium yesterday, Arsene Wenger had a bench that had Damian Martinez, Per Mertesacker, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Gervinho and Olivier Giroud.
Martinez is a relatively untested Argentine goalkeeper that hasn’t impressed me in his Capital One cup appearances this season. Mertesacker was returning from an illness, so he wasn’t at his optimum health levels. Rosicky is also in that mold with his fitness levels not at 100 percent, and Coquelin, in my honest opinion, hasn’t done enough to contend with Mikel Arteta for the holding role.
This ultimately meant that Arsene Wenger’s surefire cards on deck were Ramsey, Gervinho and Giroud, and as expected, he used the aforementioned players as reinforcements as the game progressed.
Giroud was the first to be thrown into the thick of things, with Podolski withdrawn, causing Wenger to change his tactical setup, with the Ox drifting to the left and Walcott to the right, allowing Giroud to strut his stuff through the middle.
Sadly, the same Giroud that whetted our appetites against Newcastle was pretty poor, to say the least, and his late miss didn’t do anything to help his cause.
Ramsey and Gervinho came in simultaneously for the fatigued Cazorla and the ineffectual Ox. The Welshman couldn’t stamp his authority on the game and the Ivorian has become a complete shadow of the player that did well in the early part of the campaign.
If Arsenal had that seasoned center forward like, let’s say, Fernando Llorente or Demba Ba, and a midfield enforcer like Yann M’Vila or Cheick Tiote, their outstanding qualities would have helped the team through a game of this magnitude when there’s no place for mental fragility.
Demba Ba’s attacking prowess needs no introduction, as Arsenal got a first-hand demonstration of his lethal abilities and predatory instincts in front of goal. Having a Tiote or M’Vila in the team would have allowed Arteta to impose himself on the game, as he has done in times past.
With no one to protect the shaky back line that had potential time bombs like Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny, Arteta couldn’t dare drift farther up the pitch, and to make things worse, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla were struggling up front.
Arsene Wenger has the entire month to sort the state of his team, and if Arsenal passes through January without making any signing, no one should raise an eyebrow if the club fails to qualify for the Champions League at the end of the season.
This article is also featured in Toni Okike's Arsenal blog, Gooner Daily.