Tactical Observations from Arsenal's 2012-13 Season Under Arsene Wenger
After losing Robin van Persie, this was always going to be a transitional season for Arsenal.
As the campaign has worn on, the shape of the team has evolved considerably. After struggling in the first half of the season, Arsene Wenger has adapted his team to cope better with the many challenges they face.
Even at this late stage of his managerial career, Arsene Wenger is still open to tactical innovation. This season has provided six key lessons to take in to next year.
Go to the next slide to explore the most important tactical observations from 2012-13.
Variety Is Vital in Defence
Thomas Vermaelen began the season as Arsenal's first-choice centre-half.
He also inherited the captain's armband from Robin van Persie. The idea of him being dropped was unthinkable.
However, as the season wore on, Vermaelen's form declined dramatically. The Belgian's nadir came in the North London derby against Tottenham, and since then he has found himself primarily used as a substitute.
In his stead, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have flourished. Key to their partnership is the contrast between the two players: Mertesacker's game is based on intelligent positional play; Koscielny is a reactive sprinter.
Koscielny and Vermaelen have never jelled as a partnership. The simple truth is that they are too similar.
Olivier Giroud Is Too Static
Olivier Giroud has enjoyed a reasonable season as Arsenal's centre-forward. A tally of 17 goals is a very respectable tally for a player in his first season in English football.
However, when compared to Arsenal centre-forwards of the past, he lacks the constant movement required to bring unpredictability to the attack.
Thierry Henry outfoxed defenders with his willingness to pull out to the left wing and attack from there. It's a trait Emmanuel Adebayor later emulated.
Giroud is a more static player, patrolling the width of the penalty box alone.
The success of the likes of Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero in the Premier League suggests Arsenal would benefit from the acquisition of a more mobile striker than Giroud.
Set Pieces Are Still a Weakness
Arsenal have long been defensively vulnerable against set pieces.
This season, they’ve improved a little, with Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker adding height and aerial ability to the side.
However, another weakness has been exposed: Arsenal are painfully ineffective when it comes to attacking set pieces.
It is astonishing how frequently players with the technical gifts of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere can fail to bend a free-kick or corner beyond the first defender.
Arsenal frequently pass up the opportunity to score from set pieces. It is a luxury a side of their declining quality can no longer afford.
Three Forwards Might Be One Too Many
At the start of the season, Arsenal fans expected to see Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski lining up alongside each other.
In actuality, they have only been selected in the same side on a few occasions. As the season has worn on, Arsene Wenger has dropped Podolski to the bench and replaced him with an extra midfielder, usually Santi Cazorla.
Since switching to that more conservative system, Arsenal have looked considerably more solid.
Fielding both Walcott and Podolski either side of a striker was simply too cavalier.
Mikel Arteta Has Become a Defensive Midfielder
At Everton, Mikel Arteta was regarded as a flair player. He was an attacking creative midfielder, often playing out wide or even just behind a striker.
This season he has undergone a remarkable transformation.
After the sale of Alex Song to Barcelona, Arteta has stepped in to the breach as a defensive midfielder. He has wilfully neglected his creative instincts and knuckled down to hard work and tough tackling.
He has made sacrifices for the sake of the team. That sums up all that is great about Arteta.
Tempo Trumps Talent
Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are probably the two most talented midfielders in the Arsenal squad.
However, startlingly, neither player is currently in Arsene Wenger's first-choice midfield. Jack Wilshere is on the bench, while Santi Cazorla has been shunted out to left wing.
They have been replaced by the pair of Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky. Both are technically gifted, but what they offer over Wilshere and Cazorla is an incredible ability to accelerate the tempo of Arsenal's game through sheer work-rate alone.
Since Ramsey and Rosicky began starting for Arsenal, their midfield has been slightly less skillful but far more dynamic.