The Season So Far: Arsenal

Ben CampbellCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2009

LIEGE, BELGIUM - SEPTEMBER 16:  The Arsenal team pose for a group picture during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Standard Liege and Arsenal at the Sclessin Stadium on September 16, 2009 in Liege, Belgium.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

After the thrilling comeback in Liege, Arsenal has had a decent start to the season as a whole.  No-one expected the 6-1 win at Everton, hope was renewed amongst Arsenal fans.

However, two successive defeats against Manchester United and Manchester City sapped a lot of belief from Arsenal fans as to whether Arsenal can mount a title challenge.

In all of Arsenal’s games, apart from Standard Liege where Arsenal won ugly, Arsenal have been the better side, playing their trademark football.

Fans and pundits alike have cited the inability to kill teams off as one of Arsenal’s biggest weaknesses. A classic example of this was at Old Trafford, Arsenal could have gone 2-0 up via Robin Van Persie, putting the game beyond a lacklustre Manchester United.

Teams can win big games 1-0 without killing off the opponent, Arsenal against Chelsea 2007/2008 comes to mind. Arsenal’s biggest weakness is that certain players let the occasion get the better of them, in the big games; Manuel Almunia’s needless challenge on Wayne Rooney allowed Manchester United back into the match and Abou Diaby’s rushed shot to equalise was another example of the occasion getting the better of certain players.

The centre back partnership of Gallas and Vermaelen has been nothing short of exceptional. People will point out Arsenal have conceded 11 goals in all competitions, but 4 of the goals came from goalkeeping mistakes. Gallas and Vermaelen complement each other very well; the partnership is reminiscent of the Ferdinand and Vidic partnership, but there is a long way to go before this comparison can be validated.

Another positive shown so far from Arsenal is to create countless opportunities no matter the personnel. The tactics and team selection were questioned against Manchester City with Diaby playing on the left but Arsenal still managed to have 19 attempts.

The movement and formation versatility from Arsenal has been very impressive; last season Arsenal were either static or unsynchronised in their movement and this left Arsenal exposed. This season when Gallas goes up front, Song will drop back in defence with Diaby or Denilson vacating the holding midfield role.

Arsenal can switch to different formations with relative ease, further improving the team, last season Arsenal would only play one formation due to injuries and lack of versatility either 4-5-1 or 4-4-2.

For all of the strengths and weakness shown by the team as a whole, there are certain players who have excelled and disappointed.

Thomas Vermaelen has been immense for Arsenal since he has joined from Ajax; he may have a lack of pace but his reading of the game, aggression and football intelligence makes up for his shortcoming in pace. Another superb purchase from Arsene Wenger, Vermaelen may have been brought in to replace Toure, but Vermaelen’s playing style is reminiscent of Martin Keown and Sol Campbell.

Last season was one to forget for Gallas, stripped of the captaincy and seemingly destined for the exit door. William Gallas has formed a solid partnership with Vermaelen: his attitude alone speaks volumes of his character. Gallas is showing the form he showed at Chelsea and the 2007/2008 season.

Nicklas Bendtner has only one goal to his name this season, one that was an exquisite finish. Bendtner may only have one goal to his name but his endeavour and hard work is why he has been one of Arsenal’s best players so far this season. Arsenal’s right hand side has been strong defensively; this is because Bendtner is tracking back unlike Diaby.

Bendtner was a constant thorn in Liege’s side and, had it not been for a tremendous challenge from Mangala, Bendtner would have scored two last night, Bendtner now must play as a centre forward.

Abou Diaby has been inconsistent, his best position is in central midfield, but he can play on the left. Performances against Liverpool, AC Milan and Fenerbache, demonstrate his ability to successfully play on the left against great teams. Diaby has been inconsistent but he was lazy against Manchester City, a performance similar to AC Milan or Liverpool and Arsenal would have won on Saturday.

Cesc Fabregas has not rediscovered the form of the 2007/2008, in that season he played how a captain should play. He was immense and deserved a major trophy for some of his performances. In no way am I questioning the quality of Fabregas, but the enthusiasm.

Fabregas demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm against Manchester City, Wenger may have played him in the right of midfield but he did not engage himself and most importantly he is the captain of Arsenal, he was virtually invisible.

Manuel Almunia, 4 errors in 3 games says everything you need to know, good but not great. Some of his errors have cost Arsenal important points. Wenger has said Almunia has a chest infection, when he recovers from his chest infection he may come back stronger. If Mannone impresses, Almunia will have a hard time getting back into the starting 11.

The adjustment in formation has been a welcome change for Arsenal, as there were plenty of games last season where the team was unbalanced, the 4-3-3 has been effective. Arsenal has not fully adjusted to the formation of 4-3-3 just yet, due to injuries such as Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri, halting the process of fully adjusting to a new formation.

For Arsenal to have a successful season Arsene Wenger has to improve Arsenal in five ways.

Arsene Wenger must make sure Arsenal maintain the pressing from the forwards and the midfielders throughout the whole season: the lack of pressing was one of the major factors in Arsenal’s 4-2 defeat against Manchester City.

Standard Liege’s first goal was scored because no-one closed down Mangala quick enough, pressing the opposition is imperative to Arsenal’s trophy winning hopes.

Seven substitutes are allowed in all competitions but Arsene Wenger is wasting a substitute in the form of Mikael Silvestre. Silvestre is a player who was way past his best before he joined the club last season. Song can play at centre back if an injury occurs to Vermaelen or Gallas, and Diaby or Denilson can play in defensive midfield. 

Someone like Fran Merida or Francis Coquelin should take Silvestre’s place on the bench.

Play players in their positions, versatility is a good quality but it is not always necessary and sometimes can be a hindrance. Bendtner is not a right winger, he is a centre forward, one who will be a world class player.

Even though Diaby has played effectively on the left before, he is far more effective playing through the middle of midfield. Last night’s performance showed how effective the aforementioned players can be in their natural position.

With Wigan to come at the Emirates on Saturday, Arsene Wenger should to play Bendtner in the centre with Van Persie on the right where the Dutchman is more dangerous than Bendtner.

Rotate the midfield more often. Fabregas looks a shadow of himself due to injury, fatigue and a lack of enthusiasm. Arsenal has a run of games where they can win all of them, whilst resting players like Song and Fabregas to prevent burnout, in place for Ramsey, Merida Coquelin or Wilshere.

Buy a player or two in January, only if it is to replace players Arsenal have never replaced before such as Henry, Lehmann or Vieira. There is no need for an Adebayor replacement as Arsenal have plethora of attacking options that will make up for his departure.

Providing Arsenal address the following weaknesses and adjust a few aspects it will certainly be a successful season.



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