Arsenal are again at crossroads. They have been title contenders for a long time during the season and characteristically have choked again and now have their best players on the verge of leaving.
It seems to have become a repeat of the 2007-08 season when they played some flamboyant and strong football till Eduardo's injury and Van Persie's lay off, along with Kolo Toure's absence, forced Arsenal to concede.
They lost Adebayor in the off season and now are on the verge of losing Clichy and Nasri. It is a waste of fans' money to come and watch their beloved team capitulate time and again and leave the ground with hands clutching their hearts and foreheads in disbelief and disgust.
Arsenal's formation changed from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3/ 4-5-1 formation in the 2009-10 season. In the beginning, the going was easy, a great defence with Gallas and Vermaelen and attacking midfielders charging forward and cutting from the side meant that Arsenal scored many and conceded less.
In the winter when their lone centre forward was injured, they lost track, with no target man, the midfielders lost their zest, and in the search of individual skill as the game plan broke down more often, would drift in to the centre causing the fullbacks to bomb forward and expose themselves.
It is a tactical lesson that Maicon's debacle in the Tottenham tie was a result of lack of Inter's width, something that Benitez was never good at. His time at Liverpool was the stagnation of many a winger like Riera, Pennant and Babel. The same Pennant with a wing playing formation has excelled this season in Stoke's side.
With the same formation, we have this season found only the same results. In fact the season ending ties at Bolton, Sunderland and Stoke have opened many eyes as to how to counter a midfield dominant attack.
Stout defending coupled with forwards who work the channels has led to counter attacking and physical sides find enormous vacant spaces behind the Arsenal full backs.
It is time that Wenger started playing his team to the strengths of his players instead of trying to fit square pegs in round holes. A 4-3-3 system has failed with Arsenal due to the inability of the front three to stretch the opposition defence.
Arshavin and Nasri have both a tendency to play central and cut in from wide.
How many times have we seen as a routine that the fullbacks charge up and after they overlap, these two players have either cut in and left them stranded since while cutting in they take two defenders towards them and the chances to lose a ball increases or pass it to the fullback and take a position outside the box?
We end up with a crowded front three who shall be easy to switch mark for the opposition if they short pass among themselves, which they mostly do. With Walcott on one side, the problem is partly alleviated but his dreadful crossing at most times kills the advantage.
Arsene Wenger bought Arshavin who was a deep lying forward/ No. 10 for Russia and Zenit St. Petersburg. He is a winger now.
Nasri a central attacking midfielder is a winger now. So is Walcott whose ability to go behind the defence is better suited as a second forward.
As such, having Wilshere and Ramsey in the center along with Fabregas and having so many wingers cutting in during attack crowds our attack and ability to penetrate the opposition defence.
If buying immensely talented players and forcing them to play against their strengths is a philosophy to total football, then it must be dumped right now.
Total football is not about playing footballers out of position but to find the right players to be able to alternate and negate man marking.
While Nasri and Arshavin have sufficiently interchanged positions on the pitch during the game, being very similar players, their markers needn't change much of a strategy.
It is really a time to change tactics. 4-4-2 is the most viable option for Arsenal now. Chamakh's ability to run the game around him is good and even if he doesn't score enough, he will create many attacks. Chamakh should be the most forward player for Arsenal so that the center halves are focussed on him and he can draw at least one or two CBs to him at all times. He can hold the ball under pressure (something Bendtner needs to do a lot better before he matches his game with his talk) and so can be a pivot around which the attack starts. This essentially leaves Van Persie as second forward free to wander and if a centre back latches to him then our midfielders are free to run forward centrally. If he is left free, he can create along with the midfield and rush in to the box or a cross/ pass to pressure the defence. Arsenal's present strike force is enough and Chamakh and Van Persie can alternate in the forward striker, while Van Persie, Walcott and Arshavin can alternate in the 2nd striker role.
The wings, need reinforcement. We have too many central players right now and lack of pressure in the wings gives a lot of relief to the defences who want to park the bus. Wingers like Nani and Valencia have given another dimension to Man U's game apart from the direct running of Rooney and Ji Sung Park. A fast winger, to which Walcott comes close is required on the left. Somebody who is good on the ball, holding it well and deliver good crosses to RvP and Chamakh. I feel we can try Gibbs in that role, apart from Wilshere, though as the eventual successor to Fabregas, Wenger would be loathe to use him on the wings. In any case, selling off Denilson and Bendtner can generate almost 20 million pounds which can give us money for a true winger. I have a mind to try for Joaquin but I guess he my not be good for the hustle and bustle of EPL. It is imperative that the winger is built well so that physical defenders like Ivanovic and Huth don't easily push them off the ball. Wenger should get the winger some how even if paying 20 million is the only option.
The central defensive midfielder has to be Song or Parker. Parker is one player who can not only keep the defence in shape behind him but also like Vieira be a box to box player when required. Song is only learning this aspect of the game and shall be ready by the time he is 25-26 yrs of age. Parker can be a great addition till then, considering we have to target a 60 game season next year. This leaves the lone slot for Fabregas, Ramsey and Wilshere to compete, along with Diaby and Rosicky. This is the reason why Wilshere should start in the wings and improve his aerial passing ability and try on switching flanks. Ramsey is a great hope and I feel he should be tried in the centre only alternating with Fabregas which I feel will be required considering his tweaky ham strings. In fact Ramsey and Rosicky can also alternate with Wilshere and Walcott on the wings. You have only 6 (plus Parker if he comes) players for 4 positions so of the possible 240 playing positions, each shall get 40 games at least providing no injuries strike.Wenger should resist burning his first 11 by February as happened with Nasri and Fabregas. We can see how Van Persie profited form his forced rest. At least the players should rest in a manner to prevent fatigue striking them when it matters most.
The defence surely needs overhaul as we have terribly gone AWOL at most crucial points. Koscielny and Djourou are worthy back ups but nothing more. Squillaci needs selling off immediately to prevent further damage to our club and so shall Clichy go if he doesn't sign a contract. We could as well get something like 10 million pounds selling them and buy Chris Samba or Mertesacker. The LB position is error prone and it is better to get Leighton Baines or even Robert Huth (and make him or Vermaelen play LB) at least defensively we can keep shape then. My priority will be to buy Baines as he is truly exceptional. It can be that Eboue may leave but I feel we can promote somebody from the ranks to be an understudy for Sagna. The defence for me looks like Vermaelen and Samba/ Mertesacker, Sagna and Clichy unless we buy Baines and Huth.
Goal keeping is looking good with Sczezny and Arsene Wenger should give Lehmnan a one year contract. It is a shame we lost him and were looking for Schwarzer to come and take charge till) Sczezny rose. I believe Almunia's time is up and to sell him will save us more gaffe's in the future.
MUST SELL: Denilson (8 mill), Diaby(6 mil), Bendtner(12 mil), Squillaci(4 mil) and Almunia (2 mil). Also if Nasri (12 mil) and Clichy (6 mil) dither please sell them and get worthy replacements.
MUST BUY: Modric (25 mil) and Micah Richards( 8 mil) along with Baines( 8 mil), or Huth (6 mil) and Sneijder (35 mil) , Van der Vaart (16 mil), Chris Samba (10 mil), Mertesacker (12), Parker (8 mil). Money raised: 50 million pounds. Money required to buy 2 central midfielder, a left midfielder, a central defender and a left back : 68 mil pounds or 78 mil pounds depending on Sneijder or Modric. If it is van der Vaart then net spend only 58 mil pounds.
Must Keep : Fabregas, Nasri (if he stays we can save a minimum 12 mil pounds)., Rosicky and Clichy.
Minimum Buy : Scott Parker (8 mil) + Left Winger (15 mil). Min Sell: Denilson (8 mill), Diaby(6 mil), Bendtner(12 mil), Squillaci(4 mil) and Almunia (2 mil).
I think Wenger has to really work hard, I wish David Dein was there to help him out.