Thursday, November 30, 2006

Arsenal in Crisis?

After yesterday’s match at Craven Cottage, it’s not far fetched. The Gunners looked completely lost and out of their league against a side they’ve handled with ease for the last 40 odd years. Wenger’s squad selection didn’t help. Song was simply awful and was deservedly replaced by Cesc at halftime. And I must say that the idea of Rosicky and Hleb in the side together hasn’t been working. Both like to turn inside and don’t provide any width. The have a couple of nice moves and then lay the ball off. If they happen to get free, they often take the extra pass instead of having a shot.

But mainly what Arsenal lack is steel. Toughness. They’ve already been knocked off more balls this season than a cheap hooker. The players that like to get stuck in and have a go just are not there anymore. And it shows. The Arsenal players are continually bounced around and beaten to the 50/50 balls, especially in the middle of the park.

For some reason, Wenger has not sufficiently addressed the lack of effective defending on set pieces that has dogged his team for the last eight years. Time and again opposing players are first to balls, be them from corners or freekicks. It’s amazing to me that he hasn’t addressed this issue – “OK, this has been a problem for us for a while now, and we’re going to end it.” But that hasn’t happened.

Sadly for Gunner fans, I think the lack of experience is catching up with the players. They need a few older players (other than Lehman and Henry) to lead by example and take charge. Freddie has been injured too much and beyond that there is no one. There is not even an old rock like Ray Parlour or Gilles Grimandi to come off the bench. It’s simply another young player without the grit that comes from some solid years in the EPL or other top leagues in Europe. And that’s where the lack of squad depth comes into play. What striker is available behind Henry and van Persie? Adebayor? He’s proven incapable of establishing himself as a regular threat. All the other true strikers are on loan and all that’s left is the mass of attacking midfielders that haven’t adapted or had any substantial minutes (Hleb, Rosisky, Walcott, Denilson, Baptista, etc). In the midfield I don’t see anyone who can cover for Gilberto should he go down and Fabregas is the exception rather than the rule when t come to young middies.

In the back the loss of Lauren has been a real blow. Eboue can make wonderful runs but doesn’t have the toughness that Lauren exhibits. At least not yet.

This is a true test for Wenger. He continues to insist that he has the squad he wants and won’t be doing any buying come January; if his squad doesn’t get their act together and toughen up, ’06-’07 could be disastrous. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out. -Sanford

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