Arsenal FC: Arsene Wenger's Best/Worst Decisions so Far This Season
After a 1-0 loss at home to Blackburn saw Arsenal crash out of the FA Cup—arguably the competition that they stood the best chance of winning—a lot of questions must be asked, starting at the top with Monsieur Wenger.
Arsenal's 2012-13 season has gone from bad to worse: they're currently fifth in the league, four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham and completely out of the title race with 21 points separating themselves and leaders Manchester United. The loss to Blackburn wasn't the first humiliating cup exit this season, either—Arsenal suffered an even more embarrassing loss at nPower League Two side Bradford City in the CapitalOne Cup quarterfinal back in December.
Arsene Wenger has definitely received his fair share of criticism this season, but that doesn't mean every single one of his decisions have been bad—granted, there have been quite a few bad decisions—but there are at least a few positives to take so far this season.
Starting with the best, here are the three best and worst decisions Wenger has made so far this season.
Note: Summer Transfer Window Activity does not count as this season.
Best: Playing Theo Walcott at Forward and Extending His Contract
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Arsenal have a nasty habit of selling their key players in recent years, with Robin Van Persie, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Kolo Toure all leaving the club for one reason or another, whether it be for more money or for better chances at winning a trophy.
Fortunately, Arsene Wenger and the club didn't let that happen with Theo Walcott. As he began to show his best form in an Arsenal shirt with 18 goals in all competitions this season, the club finally extended his contract, even if it came a bit too late.
Another smart decision Wenger made regarding Walcott was giving the England international a chance to play striker. Walcott has always made it clear that he sees himself as a forward rather than a right winger, the position he's usually played at in his time at Arsenal, but hasn't been given the chance up top until this season.
Wenger's decision has certainly paid off—Walcott had arguably his best game in an Arsenal shirt in a 7-3 win over Newcastle back in December when he scored a hat trick and got two assists playing as a forward. The numbers don't lie either: 18 goals and 12 assists is a very good record to have in February.
This is one decision that Wenger thankfully got right.
Best: Keeping Faith in Olivier Giroud
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Olivier Giroud's Arsenal career got off to a shaky start, failing to score in the league until October and missing a few good chances on the way.
Since scoring his first league goal against West Ham (he got one in the Capital One Cup earlier in a 6-1 win over Coventry City), the Frenchman seems to have settled in and gelled with his teammates, currently with 14 goals and 10 assists in all competitions.
However, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Giroud has very much been a purple patch striker in that he gets most of his goals during patches of good form that last a few weeks or a month. A perfect example is scoring five goals in three games at the end of January, but having yet to score a goal in the month of February.
Giroud may not have every Arsenal fan convinced, but he seems to have won over a portion of the Gunners faithful. Fourteen goals for his first season in England is a very respectable tally, and the former Montpellier man only seems to be improving.
A little bit more consistency would really improve Giroud's game, but one thing is for sure—he's not the next Chamakh.
Best: Signing Nacho Monreal in January
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
The signing of Nacho Monreal may have seemed like a panic buy at first, but in reality it was a good piece of business by Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.
Much like the signing of Santi Cazorla, Wenger took advantage of Malaga's financial situation to get a cut-price deal for a quality player. Nacho Monreal performances in La Liga this season before moving to Arsenal were superb, averaging 2.1 tackles and interceptions per game as well as 3.4 clearances per game (WhoScored.com).
While Monreal was a good signing, it also showed what Wenger did wrong. The fact that it took Kieran Gibbs getting injured for Wenger to realize that Andre Santos is simply not good enough to play for Arsenal is yet another sign of poor management.
This was a smart signing by the Arsenal manager, but it came much too late in the transfer window.
Worst: Not Signing a Striker in January
David Ramos/Getty Images
Moving on to Arsene Wenger's failings this season, and there have been plenty—starting off with transfers. Going into January, Arsenal were considerably short on striking options: with Lukas Podolski spending most of his time on the left wing and Theo Walcott usually on the right, Olivier Giroud was—and still is—the only out-and-out striker at the club.
Walcott was used as a striker whenever Giroud was injured and the Englishman's long-term future may very well lie in a central position, but the point is that Arsenal needed to bolster their strikeforce during this transfer window, and the fact that they failed to do so is ultimately the fault of the manager.
David Villa was a player whom the Gunners were strongly linked with throughout January, but nothing materialized for one reason or another.
This isn't the first time Wenger has failed to address his squad's needs with necessary transfers, and it's definitely an area of his management that he should look to improve if he wants to end the club's trophy drought and keep his job.
Worst: Playing Aaron Ramsey as a Right Winger
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Since breaking his leg in that horrifying tackle from Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross back in 2010, Aaron Ramsey has struggled to find his best form, coming under a lot of criticism from a portion of Arsenal supporters.
However, Arsene Wenger's handling of the situation has been nothing but poor management. In 2012, Wenger persisted in playing Ramsey out of position on the right wing, a decision that makes zero sense.
Ramsey's attributes as a footballer don't suit a wing position at all—he isn't the paciest player, and rarely takes on a man successfully, with 0.9 dribbles per game (courtesy of WhoScored.com). The Welshman's strongest attribute is his passing and distribution of the ball—he's a central midfielder, he always has been, and playing in his preferred position certainly wouldn't hurt his form.
Wenger has succeeded in the past in converting players to different positions—Thierry Henry transforming from a winger into a striker is a prime example—but Aaron Ramsey's future at Arsenal FC lies in the central midfield position, period.
Worst: Persisting with Zonal Marking and Not Fixing the Defense
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Does anyone know how Arsenal have conceded only 29 goals in the league this season?
That puts them third in the league in terms of goals conceded, behind Chelsea and Manchester City, and ahead of Manchester United and Tottenham. Really though, the numbers don't tell the whole story: Arsenal's defense has been downright awful at times this season.
Take the goal conceded against Blackburn on Saturday as a prime example. Francis Coquelin loses an aerial duel, letting Martin Olsson get the ball. As Olsson takes his shot, Laurent Koscielny is drawn in, and Olsson's shot is parried by Wojciech Szczesny right into the path of an unmarked Colin Kazim-Richards, whose mishit shot isn't cleared off the line by a waiting Thomas Vermaelen.
That's four "big-name" players making individual mistakes to concede the deciding goal against a team in the league below them.
Tell me—what's wrong with that picture?
This defensive situation isn't novel, either. Arsenal have been leaking goals for years now, so surely the manager should've realized that some new tactics and new faces would shore up the backline, right?
Instead, Arsene Wenger has persisted with zonal marking on set pieces, and it's precisely those tactics that have cost Arsenal sloppy goals, with instances against Brighton, Hove Albion and Manchester City coming to mind.
There have been glimpses of defensive solidity this season, with clean sheets against the physical teams of Sunderland and Stoke both home and away, but goals have flown in elsewhere on the fixture list.
The way I see it, if a back four that consists of top class, big name defenders (The first-choice four of Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, and Kieran Gibbs is a very strong backline on paper.) is conceding sloppy goals, it's the fault of the defensive tactics, and ultimately, the manager.
I've only mentioned three of Wenger's best and worst decisions this season, so what do you think of the Frenchman's management this season? Feel free to contribute in the comments section below.