5 Steps to a Foolproof Plan for Arsenal to Stay Top of the Table
Ask any Arsenal fan to come up with a foolproof plan for the Gunners to win the Premier League, and they will tell you to go out and sign half the Bayern Munich team, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi with, perhaps, Pep Guardiola as Steve Bould's assistant to Arsene Wenger.
We live in reality, however, and know that this simply will not happen.
But we like nothing better than a challenge at Bleacher Report, no matter how big or small, considering Arsenal's amazing form this term.
Here, B/R offers a foolproof plan for Arsenal to win the Premier League in five steps.
As it stands, only Aston Villa have more players ruled out of Premier League action than Arsenal.
According to Physio Room, the Gunners have seven players listed as injured. Three players—Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Flamini and Theo Walcott—are expected to return to first-team action after the international break.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the other four players.
Arsenal have no expected return dates from injury of Lukas Podolski (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Yaya Sanoga (back) and Abou Diaby (anterior cruciate ligament).
These are all important first-team squad players in one way, shape or form, especially Wilshere. They give Arsene Wenger the ability to shift his team shape and playing style. Without them, his options do become more limited.
The Gunners, therefore, could end up in trouble if other first-team players get injured.
One way around avoiding injuries is through psychological testing.
Lengthening the career of key players is nothing new to Wenger. He assisted greatly in stretching the careers of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and his current assistant Steve Bould through correct training and the administering of individual and proper diets.
The MilanLab, however, goes one step further and has forged a three-pronged outlook on how a player's health and well-being should be measured.
The analysis carried out places its findings on three levels of acquisition: Our state of health can be seen in its relation to three base factors which we can see on the sides of an equilateral triangle.
One side shows us the structural conditions, another side displays the bio-chemical aspects and the third side is the psychological condition.
If any of the three sides is weakened, it will lead to an overall imbalance and therefore the state of well being will in some way be compromised.
The basic premise of MilanLab's outlook is based on the facts that physical fitness and the varied bio-chemical changes in a player, which all contribute to fitness and injury concerns, can all be measured.
They have gone one step further than most clubs and also measure the psychological health of their players, too.
The basic premise and belief is that if a player is not concentrating 100 percent on the job at hand, they are more likely to get injured. These type of injury situations are usually manifested in players receiving muscle strains as they attempt motions or acts they are not psychologically ready for.
John Brewin, writing for ESPN, claimed that AC Milan set up the MilanLab in 2002 following the disastrous signing of Fernando Redondo from Real Madrid in 2000. Redondo only played 16 games in four years before he eventually retired.
Mathieu Flamini, once with AC Milan and now back with Arsenal, is more than familiar with the process and spoke to Brewin on how good the lab was:
The opportunity to have use of the MilanLab is great because it gives a player who is old an opportunity to extend their career. These players, they are legends but you want to follow their step.
A report in the Irish Independent in 2009 claimed that the MilanLab had reduced AC Milan's injury list by 90 percent because of their three-pronged attack.
The Gunners should adopt this approach immediately.
According to a UEFA report, Injury incidence and injury patterns in professional football, by Jan Ekstrand, Martin Hagglund and Markus Walden for Linkoping University, an average squad of 25 players sustains 50 injuries per season.
Arsenal could mitigate those statistics in a beneficial way by introducing the regular psychological testing of players. It could make the difference between finishing first and second.
Sign Another Striker
There is little doubt that Arsenal need to sign another centre-forward in January.
The season is just too long and arduous for one man to carry the burden alone.
As it stands, Olivier Giroud has already played 21 games for club and country this term with a return of eight goals in all competitions. After a tough debut season and speculation linking Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney with the club, the Frenchman has responded in the best way possible.
This term Giroud is rated as one of the best players in Europe by Who Scored.
On current form, and considering the current Arsenal squad, Giroud is on track to play 60-plus games.
Arsenal simply need to bring in a centre-forward to share in the workload. Whether the player they bring in is an exact copy of the 27-year-old, a back-up, rival, foil or different prospect entirely really doesn't matter at this stage. Arsene Wenger must sign a forward.
This has already been acknowledged by Arsenal's chief executive Ivan Gazidis to L'Equipe, per Sky Sports.
We will see where Arsenal will be in January and whether or not the club will invest in another forward.
Olivier Giroud won't be able to go on all alone until the end of the season.
We need to buy.
Sign Another Central Defender
Arsene Wenger has 11 defenders to choose from for the first team at Arsenal.
Ominously, only three could be regarded as Premier League quality central defenders.
Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have been the first-choice pairing for Wenger since last March.
Since then the Gunners have only lost three games, all at the Emirates, from a possible 32. They were unbeaten in 15 games on the road before the loss to United.
Arsenal's Premier League record in 2013 when Vermaelen starts reads as: Pld 11 W-4 D-2 L-6.
Arsenal's highly mobile, creative midfield is the main reason for their good form. They dominate possession and keep the game firmly in the opposition half and away from key danger areas.
That being said, the Arsenal central defensive pairing has done just enough this term. Koscielny and Mertesacker have made just 26 tackles, 39 interceptions and 75 clearances to date. This ranks them respectively as the 117th- and 100th-most effective players in the league, according to Who Scored. Defensively they are ranked 87th and 163rd, respectively.
In other words, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Given the fact that Vermaelen has been in such dreadful form over the past 12 months and that he is the only viable back up to the first-choice pairing, Arsenal need to sign another centre-half.
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It
When we look at Arsenal, we see what, to the untrained eye, looks like an unscripted and creative force in action.
This couldn't be further from the truth.
Arsene Wenger drills his team relentlessly to such an extent that everything looks off the cuff, but it is actually practiced to the nth degree.
Legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi is famed for saying, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect."
He shares an ideal with Wenger in how his chosen sport should be played and both coaches share a fundamental belief in how it should be practiced.
As stated on the previous slide, the main reason for Arsenal's dominance of the Premier League over the last seven months of action has been their midfield.
They set the tempo of the game, dictate the ebb and flow of the match, and cover every inch of ground between the opposing penalty boxes. The foundation for all this good play is based on their superb mobility, creativity and fitness.
Wenger has found a lovely balance in central midfield and he must stick with this philosophy, even when times go bad.
Football is a simple sport made complicated by people who do not understand the game. That is Wenger's greatest attribute. His teams play in the most simplistic of manners: They give the ball to a man in a red shirt.
Invariably there will be a time this season when this philosophy, style and system are questioned. Wenger must stick to his ideals in these situations and continue with his philosophy. Success will invariably follow.
Concentrate on the Premier League, Not the Champions League
While Arsenal are capable of winning the Champions League, they would have to go through the likes of Real Madrid, FC Bayern Munich, FC Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City and FC Barcelona to do so.
The Gunners are ranked as the seventh favourites for the Champions League at 16-1 by Oddschecker.
They will, most surely, qualify for the round of 16.
The knockout stages start in February. The first legs will be played on 18, 19, 25 and 26 February, and the second legs on 11, 12, 18 and 19 March 2014.
Around these dates, Arsenal will play (selected matches):
- Liverpool (Feb. 8, Away)
- Manchester United (Feb. 11, Home)
- Tottenham Hotspur (Mar. 15, A)
- Chelsea (Mar. 22, A)
The first legs of the quarter-finals are on 1 and 2 April, and the second legs on 8 and 9 April 2014.
Arsenal's matches during this period (selected):
- Manchester City (Mar. 29, H)
- Everton (Mar. 5, A)
- West Ham (Mar. 12, H)
The first legs of the semi-finals will be played across 22 and 23 April, and the second legs on 29 and 30 April 2014.
This calendar, of course, does not take the FA Cup into account as the third-round draw has yet to made.
Nor does it take television coverage into account. Sky, the main Premier League broadcaster, reserves the right to change fixture dates to suit its schedule.
Therefore, some of these dates are subject to change, which could leave the Gunners with a much shorter rest period before or after Champions League matches,
All things considered, the Gunners will be expected to progress far in the FA Cup and really should play at least three, if not four, more matches between January and April.
Given the riches on offer and how his team have taken the Premier League by the scruff of the neck, there is so much at risk by staying in Europe. The further Arsenal progress, the more tempting it becomes to take a slight eye off the real task at hand.
Arsene Wenger should not be faulted if he decides to concentrate on domestic bliss rather than a dalliance on a foreign holiday.
Statistics from WhoScored.com, Soccerbase.com and the PremierLeague.com