Arsenal are a frustrating team to watch. It’s difficult to know what to expect from game to game, never mind the rest of the season.
Sometimes they look like a title-winning team, rolling over sides by four or five goals and playing the kind of football that deserves to be emulated around the league. Other times they look devoid of ideas, losing games through sloppy mistakes.
Their current position in the league reflects this inconsistency, and Arsene Wenger has found his job in question by reports suggesting that Pep Guardiola might be the man to take over. Guardiola himself has stated that Arsenal would be his preferred choice should he decide to manage an English club, via the Daily Mirror.
It’s safe to say that Wenger needs to motivate his team to heights greater than their current sixth place. If this is to be his final season, finishing fourth is absolutely essential.
Champions League football has become a minimum requirement during Wenger’s reign, and he knows that the team will achieve nothing without consistency. When speaking to Arsenal Player, Wenger called for more dependable performances from January onwards:
We have built a team who showed fantastic promise at the start but have stuttered a little bit. Now there is a block of unity and understanding. They know the way to play. That can give us the consistency between January and May.
Despite this assertion that the players are all in place to make a run in the league, Wenger doesn’t have the depth in his squad that is enjoyed by Roberto Mancini or Rafa Benitez. His team hasn’t lost in the Premier League since the beginning of November, but they have drawn seven games this year, which in turn has aggravated the four losses.
While he assured fans that he has money to spend in the January window, Wenger was also quick to state that he would not be buying players just for the sake of it, via SkySports.com
This act of giving with one hand and taking with the other has been Wenger’s stock in trade for the last few years.
While that argument has some merit, Arsenal are not currently beset by injury problems, at least not to players who are difference-makers on the team. It was reported in the Guardian that Theo Walcott is close to signing a contract that would commit his future to the club, so it wouldn’t be surprising to hear Wenger mention that in lieu of new signings.
One of the problems Arsenal have had to fight against this year has been their own lack of mental sharpness. Take the game against Southampton, for instance.
Going into the game, expectations were high. The team had scored 13 goals over the previous three games, so an away fixture at St. Mary’s didn’t look too troubling.
The reality of the game was one of little purpose, no creativity and few chances. While Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta were running things nicely from midfield, the possession never went anywhere and Arsenal finally had to rely on Guly do Prado to divert a Walcott free kick past his own goalkeeper.
In his press conference after the game, Wenger stated that he would be active in the transfer window and that he was “looking everywhere,” via the Daily Mail.
So where does that leave the outlook for 2013, following inconsistency from both manager and players?
A home game against Manchester City offers a useful opportunity to start the new year in style. The fixture list conspires to ruin their plans for success, with a home game against Swansea in the FA Cup offering little respite before a visit to Chelsea.
Walcott has been impressive of late in his preferred centre-forward role, but Wenger needs to know when to rest him. Olivier Giroud has been patchy at best, but Wenger should offer him chances to prove his worth on a rotational basis.
B/R Columnist Callum Mackenzie points out that Arsenal’s varying standards of performance have come as a result of multiple fixtures shoehorned into a short space of time, so Arsenal must avoid this to start 2013. Keeping players sharp and alert has to be the focus, especially as the FA Cup is now the one remaining chance to pick up a trophy.
The fact that expectations for the coming year can now be described as “muted” shows that the season has been a disappointing one thus far.
Some dominant performances would go a long way toward restoring faith and pride within the club, and a Champions League place next season would further attract players to a club that is rich in history and achievement.