Arsenal's Detailed Plan to Chase Down EPL's Top Clubs
This season's league table provides a microcosm of the overall challenge facing Arsenal. The Gunners currently trail United by 18 points.
Sadly, there is no quick fix for Arsene Wenger's footballing model. However, key steps can still be taken this season to aid Arsenal's long-term recovery as a legitimate contender for the EPL title.
Play two strikers through the middle
This is arguably the most important change Arsenal can make to revive their flagging league campaign. The Gunners need goals and lots of them to get back among the top clubs.
That means an attack featuring two central strikers. This is not a call for a flat 4-4-2, but there are certainly ways Wenger can accommodate a strike duo through the middle.
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Perhaps the best way might be to re-introduce the same 4-4-1-1 dynamic Wenger had so much early success with. Looking at the current personnel, this structure could work with Lukas Podolski playing behind Theo Walcott.
Walcott and Arsenal's first goal in their recent 7-3 win over Newcastle United proved how this combination could work.
Add another creative, ball player to midfield
This could be as significant as altering the alignment of the forward line. Wenger needs another creative outlet in midfield.
Santi Cazorla has shouldered that burden alone, for too long this season. Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere is experiencing the inevitable teething problems from trying to grow into a more advanced role.
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A more technical, flair player like Tomas Rosicky or Abou Diaby needs to be allowed to join the starting midfield. Only then can Arsenal's possession play and expansive, stylish passing improve.
Establish some continuity to avoid the problem of transition
Make no mistake, Arsenal are undergoing full-scale transition this season. The changes are both personnel and scheme-based.
An example is how the team is choosing to defend. For years under Wenger, Arsenal pressed all over the pitch with almost reckless abandon.
This season has seen them replace high-energy with numbers behind the ball. Arsenal are now content to drop off when the opposition are in possession. In a similar way, their set-piece marking is now zonal.
This is a major tactical shift and has yielded mixed results. Such inconsistency is understandable when players are learning new systems.
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However, no matter how Arsenal set up to defend, or how they deploy their forward line, continuity is essential. Too often this season, Wenger has flip-flopped personnel, particularly in attack.
Whatever formation he chooses, whatever combination of strikers he deems best, now is the time to make a decision and stick to it. That's the only way to halt the inconsistency and deal with the problem of transition.
An eye to the future: Stick to core values and don't pin all hopes on FFP
Arsenal must resist playing the dangerous game of pinning all their hopes on financial fair play. Instead, they should continue emphasizing core values about developing young talent.
Establishing a long-term core to the team is a priority. That process has begun this season with retention of a British quartet. However, it shouldn't stop there, regardless of fan pressure.
Recently, Wenger has a made a number of moves that almost look like panic-driven crowd pleasers. Three years ago would he have even entertained a £13.8 million bid for a 31-year-old?
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It's easy to doubt that he would. Yet fan pressure has increased to an almost merciless frenzy and the strain of attempting to stop the bleeding, is beginning to show.
The problem is that FFP rules may only be superficial at best. What Arsenal need to do, during and beyond Wenger's reign, is better emphasize their development of youth and unheralded gems.
Expand the scouting network
The best way for Arsenal to improve their current model of team-building is to expand their scouting network. Wenger recently spoke about the talent available in Spain and Germany. He also mentioned Japan as a stronghold of footballing potential.
Arsenal must establish serious connections in these markets. Gone are the days when Wenger had a monopoly on the best young French and African talent.
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Now everybody knows about these prospects and Arsenal have lost their transfer edge. However, Wenger can still unearth and develop a potential star better than anyone.
He must create a new inside track in the business of identifying footballing talent.
Conclusion: Challenge won't get any easier, any time soon
Arsenal face a major challenge chasing down the EPL's big three, this season and beyond. That challenge won't change with or without Wenger in charge.
Because as long as Chelsea and Manchester City rely on almost unlimited resources, Arsenal are at a disadvantage. Manchester United's ruthless model of buying big for now also keeps Arsenal trailing.
Robin van Persie will win the Red Devils this season's title. Yet sending £24 million on a 29-year-old, with the club already in major debt, shows an almost cavalier cynicism regarding the future.
The truth is Arsenal's only method of competing is to form squads through keen talent-spotting and shrewd development. Recent claims that Arsenal will soon match the big spenders will remain merely empty rhetoric, without a major and somewhat soulless shift in the club's overall philosophy.
Without that, Arsenal must find ways to get more from their current model. Wenger's way can still work, but he must ensure he provides himself with better tools to carry out his methods.
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