Arsenal FC: Which Gunners Must Step Up in 2013 for Top-4 Spot?

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Arsenal FC: Which Gunners Must Step Up in 2013 for Top-4 Spot?
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Once again, it's January and the objective of Arsenal's season has now been reduced to finishing in the top four and clinching that coveted Champions League spot.

The only hopes of ending their seven-year trophy drought lie in the FA Cup, as well as extremely slim Champions League hopes as the Gunners come up against Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich in the knockout round next month.

Currently in sixth place and six points adrift of the top four with a game in hand, Arsenal face a huge uphill climb from now until the end of the season, and most would agree that it would be Arsene Wenger's greatest achievement to get this team into the top four—after the Invincibles, of course.

In my opinion, this current team is simply not good enough to get into the top four, especially if it keeps producing performances like the one against Manchester City Sunday. New signings either need to be made this month, or some players need to step up their game.

Here are a few Gunners that need to step it up in order to get Arsenal into the top four.

 

Thomas Vermaelen

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Thomas Vermaelen's debut season with Arsenal was brilliant: He was rock solid at the heart of Arsenal's defense, and even scored eight goals in all competitions to show the world that he's an attacking centre-back by nature.

When remembering the shortcomings in the following season—Arsenal's 2010-11 campaign—people often point to the fact that Vermaelen was out for the majority of the season, making just five appearances. He wasn't quite as defensively sound last season, but he made up for it with his six league goals, a few of which were match-winners.

With Vermaelen given the captain's armband following the departure of Robin van Persie, you would expect him to improve his performances—but if anything, he's gotten worse. The Belgian has looked uncharacteristically shaky this season, and he hasn't even made up for it with goals at the other end of the pitch, scoring just once this season in that dreadful night at Bradford.

If Arsenal's form is to improve, it has to stem from the captain.

 

Lukas Podolski

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Lukas Podolski's Arsenal career has been up and down so far. Statistically, his numbers have been solid: Six goals and six assists in the league are a healthy contribution—more impressively are his Champions League performances, though, with three goals including a stunning volley against Montpellier.

The only problem with Podolski seems to be consistency—a problem you wouldn't expect from a German international with over 100 caps for his country. Although Podolski is brilliant at his best, he has these games where he's silent, and as a spectator you almost forget he's on the pitch.

So despite scoring 10 goals in all competitions this season, you get the feeling that Podolski is capable of much more—after all, a player who's scored over 40 goals for Germany should consistently put in world-class performances, right?

We can only hope to consistently see the best of Lukas Podolski in 2013—Arsenal's top-four challenge could depend on it.

 

Laurent Koscielny

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Laurent Koscielny received an early bath in Arsenal's 2-0 defeat to Manchester City

This one is especially timely, considering Laurent Koscielny's performance—or lack thereof—against Manchester City. 

It's useless to play the blame game, but to hear Arsenal supporters blame Mike Dean for the loss Sunday just doesn't make sense—Koscielny's rugby-style tackle on Edin Dzeko was fully deserving of a red card.

Looking at the replays, you have to wonder—just what was Koscielny doing? The French defender bear hugs the Manchester City striker, and it's difficult to understand what exactly his intentions were, or if he understood that his actions could cost the game for his team.

However, there's more to the Koscielny situation than just his ridiculous tackle on Dzeko.

Last season, Koscielny was undoubtedly Arsenal's most consistent defender. He looked twice the player he was in his shaky 2010-11 debut season and truly seemed on the brink of evolving into a world-class centre-back.

But after just nine Premier League starts this season, and no significant injury keeping him out for a long period of time, it's clear that Laurent Koscielny is currently Arsenal's third-choice centre-back, losing his starting place to Per Mertesacker.

Besides his mindless tackle against Manchester City on Sunday and the first half against Reading in that CapitalOne Cup game, Koscielny hasn't been particularly bad this season—that said, he hasn't been half as good as he was last season.

If the Koscielny of 2011-12 came back for 2013, Arsenal's defense would definitely be shipping less goals and could make their top-four challenge that much stronger.

 

Bacary Sagna

In his five seasons with Arsenal, Bacary Sagna has been one of the few players who brings consistency, giving 100 percent week in, week out. He's rarely had a bad game, looking defensively sound and contributing to the attack with his bombing runs down the right flank and signature early crosses.

After breaking both legs last season and missing the start of this season, Sagna just doesn't seem to be back to his best quite yet. He looks less strong defensively, and it's understandable that he lacks a bit of pace going forward considering his injury issues.

Nonetheless, Bacary Sagna remains a world-class right-back and is one of the best professionals at Arsenal, a competitor who plays with his heart on his sleeve. From what we've learned about Sagna as a character and as a player, he'll return to form and be crucial in Arsenal's top-four push.

 

Aaron Ramsey

Although not a regular in the starting XI, Aaron Ramsey consistently comes off of the bench for Arsenal—and consistently fails to make his mark on the game.

It's true that Ramsey receives way too much criticism from a certain section of Arsenal supporters and should be treated better as a loyal member of the club. It's also true that one of Arsene Wenger's biggest managerial mistakes this season has been playing Aaron Ramsey out of position on the right wing, when the Welshman is really a center midfielder.

But at the same time, Aaron Ramsey's performances this season have been subpar—in fact, it's difficult to remember the last time the 22-year-old put in a truly great performance in red and white.

Arsene Wenger clearly sees something in him, considering the fact that the former Wales captain has signed a new long-term deal at the club, so hopefully Ramsey steps it up in 2013 with some performances to prove his doubters wrong—and playing him at center midfield wouldn't hurt, Arsene.

 

Olivier Giroud

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Olivier Giroud's Arsenal career began with a rocky start, missing a brilliant chance on his debut against Sunderland. When the goal drought continued, people already began labeling the man who signed from Montpellier in the summer as a "flop," until finally he scored his first Premier League goal in a 3-1 win at West Ham in October.

Since then, Giroud has scored five more league goals as well as a few in the CapitalOne Cup. At 6'3", Olivier Giroud gives the Gunners a physical edge—he's a target man who can win headers, someone to aim crosses at. Giroud has thrived in that role, scoring headers against Fulham, Spurs, Reading, Schalke 04 and Newcastle—not too shabby, huh?

Interestingly enough, Giroud's most impressive statistic seems to be his assist tally: The Frenchman racked up four assists in the Champions League, putting him at second in the assists charts after Zlatan Ibrahimovic

So while his physique and playing style might suggest otherwise, Giroud is somewhat of a playmaker. He was the one who dinked the pass to Podolski for the German's magnificent volley against Montpellier, and he played a similar lofted pass to Kieran Gibbs for his volley against Swansea in the FA Cup. He's also grabbed a few assists by winning aerial duels to knock the ball down to his teammates for a simple finish.

Despite gaining some steam in his first few months at Arsenal, Giroud has worked in purple patches, finding spots of form here and there but not stringing together a consistent run of matches where he scores. 

Olivier Giroud seems like the type of player who would thrive in the Premier League, and I can only see him improving from here. 

 

Notable Omissions

There are some players who need to step up their game, and there are some who need to leave the club altogether. 

I've left out Gervinho simply because I feel the club should sell him while he has any value; since scoring a few goals as a forward earlier in the season, he's been dreadful when coming on as a substitute and just isn't good enough to be at a club like Arsenal.

Andre Santos is also a player who Arsenal needs to get rid of: he's a left-back who doesn't know how to defend and isn't particularly brilliant when attacking either. 

 

Anyone else need to step it up? Let us know in the comments section below.

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