Arsenal slumped to a defeat against a buoyant West Bromwich Albion side at the Emirates on Saturday. Had Arsene Wenger's team earned all three points, they would have only been a point away from league leaders Chelsea. As it stands, the Gunners are four points away, and now have a tough task on their hands.
Arsenal deserved to drop points against Sunderland and West Brom, after insipid displays in both these matches. These games could have a major impact on their title challenge, but they should remain positive about their title hopes, because a four point gap in October is not a big deal, but a loss to Chelsea will certainly dent their hopes to a greater extent.
Wenger will have a lot of things to consider this week before important games against Partizan and Chelsea, and will have to resurrect Arsenal's title challenge. Another year without a trophy will be very frustrating for all the Arsenal supporters, and Wenger will have to do his best to bring silverware to the Emirates.
Samir Nasri has occupied the central attacking midfield role in the absence of Cesc Fabregas, and he has done a very good job in that role, scoring four goals in the last three games. Nasri has been a revelation so far this season, and Arsenal supporters will hope that he retains his good form over the course of the season.
But Nasri is not the most experienced player on the pitch, and in the absence of Fabregas, Rosicky will add some much needed experience and is also a leader. Against Tottenham and Sunderland, he was given the captain's armband when Fabregas was injured, and though he missed a crucial penalty against Sunderland, he is a true leader on the pitch.
Rosicky needs to be given an important role in the team, and he has shown glimpses of returning to his best, after a spate of injuries in the last few years. He can play in the central attacking role or on the wings. It does look like Nasri has cemented the central role, but Rosicky can certainly be used on the wings, and his interchanges with Nasri, will trouble oppositions.
Arsene Wenger's squad has already been decimated by injuries, and he does not have enough depth to rotate all the players, but he should try to do his best in rotating certain players, so that they can remain fresh and injury free.
Against Tottenham, Arsenal played a relatively strong side featuring Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny among others and only Nasri and Koscielny started in the WBA game, so Wenger did try to rotate his players, but against Sunderland, it was puzzling to see why he was playing the same team which played in the Champions League midweek fixture against Sporting Braga.
The team looked jaded and could not dominate the game as they would have normally done. It is time for Wenger to promote the likes of Havard Nordtveit and Jay Emmanuel Thomas, and give them chances, thereby increasing the depth in the squad.
Denilson has struggled with injuries in the past few months, but is now back to full fitness and raring to go. It was surprising to see Abou Diaby, who is just returning from injury, start ahead of Denilson against West Brom, considering the fact that Denilson looked good against Tottenham and Diaby was short of match-fitness.
The Samba star did not have a great season, last year, but he does deserve his chance to improve upon his performances. He has bulked up a bit, and looks in good shape. He has been at Arsenal for a long time, and he is passionate about the club, though he is a very calm player on the pitch. His optimism needs to rub onto his fellow Gunners, and he can be an important player for the club.
He is not a player who has a lot of flair, but he shows a lot of composure and common sense on the pitch. He just keeps the flow of play moving by passing it crisply to his teammates, and he has very good passing range, and also can shoot from distance. He reads the game as well as anyone else in the side, and intercepts a number of opposition passes, winning back possession for the team. He is a different player than Alex Song and Abou Diaby, but he can be an important player and links up the play between defence and attack with his excellent passing range.
This year's edition of the Carling Cup has already had a number of upsets, in just the third round. A host of major teams including Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham have all been knocked out. this is a trophy which is there for the taking and Arsenal and Arsene Wenger should not neglect the Carling Cup matches like they have in the past few years.
No one was critical of Wenger when he decided to field a strong Arsenal side against Spurs in contradiction to his youth policy. They need not field a strong side for the Carling Cup, but they must prepare well, play with a lot of passion and aspire to lift silverware in February. This will give a huge boost to their confidence, and they will be able to end their long trophy drought.
Alex Song is one of the most valuable players in the team, and it is important to provide him with a well defined role. He is often confronted by a dilemma as to whether to make forward runs, or stay back to prevent counter attacks. If he is caught out of position, it makes life very difficult for the defence, because he is the one who protects the defence from the opposition attacks.
Song is a tough tackler, and is one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premiership. He has improved drastically in the last year. It is important that he knows his role properly and strikes a rich vein of form in the near future.
Emmanuel Eboue is a tireless worker for Arsenal, and is one of the most versatile players in the squad. His favoured position is the right fullback role, but he can also operate as a winger or as a midfielder. Eboue was booed off the pitch two years ago, but has since won over the supporters with his performances on the pitch.
Eboue is a good right back, but Bacary Sagna is better defensively, which has relegated Eboue to a back-up role. Eboue has good pace, but is not very creative and is quite one dimensional in comparison to Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky. Though his commitment should be appreciated, Wenger must not use him as a winger, when he has other options like Wilshere, Rosicky and even Jay Emmanuel Thomas and Henri Lansbury, available to him.
Andrei Arshavin is one of Arsenal's most talented and creative players and when he is the mood, he can be devastating against any opposition. However, his form of late has not been great and he has been criticized for his laziness in some matches. He can create goals out of nothing and can be a game breaker, which is why Wenger has retained faith in the diminutive Russian.
However, Arshavin is more comfortable on the right flank than on the left, where he has been playing this season. Theo Walcott is the natural choice for the right winger slot, but in his absence, Arshavin should be given his favoured flank in order to regain his confidence, ahead of key encounters. Besides, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Kieran Gibbs can play on the left flank instead of him.
He could also be given a role just behind the striker, almost like a second striker, where he could be more influential. Wenger must do something to get the Russian firing on all cylinders, and giving him his favoured role might just be what Arshavin needs at this juncture.
Jack Wilshere was not loaned out this term by Arsenal and Wenger believes that the youngster has an important role to play this season. So far, Wenger has shown admirable faith in the teenager, with Wilshere starting six games, and being benched only twice against Blackburn and West Brom. Wilshere needs to continue his development at Arsenal, and based on his impressive performances this season, he deserves to be given starts in most of the Arsenal games.
However, with the return to fitness of Abou Diaby and Denilson, Wilshere might be relegated to the bench should Wenger prefer to have experience on the pitch against tougher opposition. The young Englishman needs to playing regularly, and if he doesn't get to play in the centre, then Wenger should use him as a winger. He is a very talented and versatile player, who is also comfortable on the wings. This can also develop him as an overall player, and being a good crosser of the ball, it could help Arsenal who have Marouane Chamakh as their lone striker.
Kieran Gibbs was impressive against Spurs in the Carling Cup tie, but unfortunately, suffered an injury in the closing minutes of the game. But the good news is that he will be back in a short time, and will challenge the experienced Gael Clichy for a spot in the starting 11.
Clichy's performances this season have been quite poor and he is to be blamed for some of the defensive lapses for Arsenal. His scuffed clearance against Sunderland led to the equaliser, and he was beaten time and again defensively against both Sunderland and West Brom. It is time that Wenger chooses his team based on performance, rather than reputation.
Clichy is the more experienced of the two, but Kieran Gibbs deserves his chance to start games on a regular basis for the Gunners. Gibbs has all the necessary attributes required to be a successful left back for Arsenal, and it would not be a bad decision to give the young Englishman more playing time in this season.
Manuel Almunia had a forgettable day at the office against West Bromwich in a game which will be remembered for his errors. Almunia had been decent in this season, until this game. Arsenal supporters were clamouring for a new goalkeeper (most probably Mark Schwarzer) to be signed at the start of the season. Wenger failed in his attempts to sign a new goalkeeper, but backed Almunia to come good this season.
But Almunia does not seem to have put behind him his inconsistency, and the goalkeeping problem needs to be addressed by Wenger. Lukasz Fabianski is the No. 2 keeper, but is a disaster waiting to happen, and most Arsenal supporters might take an error prone Almunia over "Flapianski", after his horrible mistakes against FC Porto, Wigan, and Blackburn last year.
Vito Mannone is the third choice keeper, and has shown he has the talent to be a top level 'keeper. If his performance against Fulham at Craven Cottage is any indication, Mannone has a bright future ahead of him and should be promoted to at least No. 2 goalkeeper. However, he is still prone to the odd error and it might be early for him to be the first choice keeper.
Wojciech Szczesny has lamented his lack of chances, and it might be the right time for him to be thrown into the spotlight, even though he is the most inexperienced of all the 'keepers available to Wenger. He was loaned out to Brentford last year, and the tall 'keeper proved to be among the best keepers in the Championship, having an outstanding season on loan. He did not want to go out on loan this year and opted to fight for his place.
Szczesny has shown the talent to be the Gunners' No. 1 keeper, and even though his words to the media could have been avoided, they proved his ambition to be promoted. Wenger should be bold in his decision making and should expose Szczesny and Mannone to the competitiveness of the Premier League on a regular basis. Wenger has always backed Almunia and Flapianski despite their mistakes, and if Szczesny or Mannone do make any errors, they are sure to have the backing of Arsene Wenger.