In the post-match nuclear afterglow of Arsenal’s 0-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea, many people have many opinions about a great number of Arsenal things. Thierry Henry thinks that Arsenal need four players to compete. Madcap Mourinho agrees with Henry but one-ups him saying that if Arsenal buy four world class players they repeat the unrepeatable and will be Invincibles again. People can’t stop talking about the Arsenal fans chanting “boring boring Chelsea” at the Chelsea players during the match. Oh, and some “stats” guy at the Telegraph made a specious argument that Arsenal have actually gotten worse this year, despite the fact that Arsenal barely finished 4th last year and this year they are in 2nd place.
Business as usual.
First, typically, 0-0 is considered a draw but when the opposition’s aim is to secure a 0-0 draw at all costs, and they celebrate the 0-0 like they just won the title, then it’s kind of a win for them, isn’t it? It feels like a win. I was first introduced to this idea at Emirates stadium in 2009. Arsenal played Sunderland on a sunny spring day and despite Arsenal’s then record signing, Andrei Arshavin making his debut, the Gunners just couldn’t break them down. Afterwards their fans stood about in their pen celebrating like they had just won the World Cup. I couldn’t believe that a 0-0 would ever feel like a loss, but there on that day, that’s what it felt like.
The 0-0 draw against Sunderland highlighted Arsenal’s need for creativity in midfield. Playing with Song and Denilson that day Arsenal put on a clinic in sideways passing and sterile possession.
In similar way, against Chelsea on Sunday, the 0-0 draw highlights what Henry and Mourinho believe is Arsenal’s need to buy four top class players: striker, center mid, center back, and keeper. I agree with both Henry and Mou, Arsenal do need 4 players, but I don’t agree that Arsenal need to go out and buy them.
Arsenal registered just one shot on goal against Chelsea and you have to think that with a more dominant striker Arsenal might have created better chances to unlock Mourinho’s stubborn defense. Thus, people say Wenger needs to buy a striker. But I think Arsenal already have the striker that they need in Alexis Sanchez.
Alexis has already scored 22 goals in 45 appearances in his first season at Arsenal. There is always a breaking in period for new players in the Premier League, last season’s player of the year Luis Suarez took a season and a half to score 21 goals for Liverpool, and it’s telling that Sanchez found his feet so quickly. He’s already averaging 0.48 goals a game (without taking penalties I might add) and I expect him to increase that strike rate next season. Suarez averaged .44 goals a game in the season before his breakout, .68 goals per game in his breakout season, and .84 in his player of the year season. Instead of buying a “top striker” I think Wenger already has one waiting to emerge in Alexis Sanchez.
In midfield I also agree that Arsenal need a top Defensive Midfielder, someone who can tackle, gets you interceptions, wins aerial duels in the middle of the park, and who can pass, start the counter attack, and create chances for his teammates. Arsenal’s current defensive midfielder is a rock defensively and I love his heart and attitude: that game where he broke his nose on an aerial duel one minute, got some cotton wool stuffed up in there, and then went in for another aerial duel and broke his nose again, epitomizes Coquelin’s attitude. I love players like that so much that I want to be the only human on earth wearing a Coquelin shirt.
And Coquelin isn’t a disaster with the ball, he’s got a good touch, and he can turn his man and find the long outlet passes to start the counter attack, but he could be better with the ball. The good news is that it looks to me like he’s getting better as the season goes on and he gains in confidence. That last bit is key: I think Coquelin has all the defensive attributes Arsenal need in a DM and I also think that Wenger is the best manager in world football to help coax out his more expressive attacking qualities. So, again, Arsenal don’t need to buy a DM if, like Alexis, Wenger can get improvement on the ball from Coquelin.
Center back is a bit more tricky. Arsene Wenger bought Gabriel in January and he has been a good addition to the squad. But ideally, Arsenal needs a left-footed center back who can pass out from the back and start Arsenal’s attacks. They currently we don’t have one of those. But finding a good, left-footed center half, who can deal with the physical challenges of the Premier League and is a cultured passer is exceptionally difficult. So, while I agree with Henry that Arsenal might need¹ a center half, it’s not going to be easy to find one who fits the bill. All the top clubs want these players, it’s a big reason why Man U paid so much for Marcos Rojo.
But I wonder if Arsene Wenger doesn’t have a trick up his sleeve in terms of left footed center backs. What if he buys a left back instead and converts Nacho Monreal to full time center back? Monreal has shown real character this season and has quickly become a fan favorite at left back. He’s also played a few matches in the center back position and done fairly well. I wonder if Wenger couldn’t develop Monreal into a solid left-footed center back?
And finally, keeper. Can I just say that Arsenal have needed a keeper for about 8 years? Almunia was a disaster, his replacement Szczesny was given every chance in the world and seems to have decided to roll it up and smoke it, and Ospina is about the least inspiring keeper I’ve ever seen between the sticks for Arsenal. Yeah, I know, I know, people get all teary-eyed about Szczesny and feel like the Pole in Goal is on the verge of a real breakout season.
But for the second time in three years Szczesny has been dropped by Wenger after a calamitous match and I suspect Wenger is finally done with him. Szczesny has played 181 games for Arsenal so he’s been given his chance and I don’t think Szczesny has proven that he is at the level required to be a top keeper in the Premier League. You need a player like de Gea, Courtoise, or Lloris to save you some points and to keep you alive in games. And on a top team like Arsenal you need a player who can distribute the ball to a diverse number of players and not just always kick the ball to the right back. Ospina also isn’t that player and I can’t see him developing into one, he’s just not big enough.
So there you have it, I agree with Henry, Arsenal need 4 new players — three they will develop and one they will probably need to buy. Will Arsenal become the new Invincibles? Impossible. But with the addition of a top quality keeper and with the development of Alexis, Coquelin, and Monreal, I think Arsenal have a decent shot at the title next season.
Heck, we weren’t far off this season and this season started out as the worst season in Wenger’s career at Arsenal.
¹I’m sort of weaseling here with my “might”