Make Or Break For Arsenal


After a woeful few weeks, Arsenal have reached a make or break moment in their season. On Saturday night the Gunners face Manchester City at the Emirates knowing if they lose then the London club will almost certainly be out of the title race.

It will be of little comfort for the Arsenal fans that they’ve managed to stay relevant in the championship picture until the end of March for the first time in years because the sides recent capitulations against rival teams has totally knocked the wind out of their sails.

The feel good factor from the first half of the season (when the Gunners were sitting pretty top of the league, still in the Champions league and having spent over £40m on one player) has nearly completely vanished in 2014.

Most of us could see it coming. Fans and pundits alike were imploring long-time Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger to splash the cash again in January, so his side could push on and seriously challenge at the top. But alas the Frenchman sat back and waited before panicking and signing the injured Kim Kallstrom on the last day of the transfer window.

Wenger’s handling of the winter window was inept to say the least. He totally misread the situation and he showed far too much faith in his current squad of players. Everyone and their granny (Happy 80th gran!) could see that the strike-force needed bolstering and that Arsenal still needed extra strength in the heart of midfield. You could forgive the Kallstrom farce had the Gunners have signed a top-class striker and a solid defensive midfielder.

If you look at the sides that occupy the spots above Arsenal and you see that they have filled out their squads with more players especially in the main areas. Chelsea can call upon David Luiz, Ramires and Nemanja Matic to add steel in the middle of the park. The ‘Blues’ also have three main strikers vying for the top spot. Man City have four strikers in the first team squad and strong hard-working midfielders. Liverpool have plenty of midfield options and two forwards (Luis Suarez & Daniel Sturridge) in-form.

Against Chelsea, Arsenal were over-run in midfield. Many observers looked at the team-sheet and struggled to see how Mikel Arteta could cope with Andre Schurrle, Oscar and Eden Hazard running at him. By the time Mathieu Flamini had came on it was too late. Both Arteta and Flamini are great players but neither are fantastic at getting in oppositions faces and intimidating them. Chelsea pushed Arsenal around and their pressing style totally knocked Arsenal for six (pardon the pun).

A strong combative type, say in the mould of Patrick Vieira, needs to be brought back into the Arsenal midfield. It would give them an extra option that would supply an extra security in front of the defence, especially in the big away fixtures.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, I am a huge fan of Olivier Giroud. The French international striker is great with his hold up play and by getting other creative talent involved in play. With 19 strikes in 41 outings the Chambery native has done well on the scoring front. Questions have been asked about his ability to score in the really big games though. The problems he has had in his personal life seem to have affected his mood and his all round game.

The main issue for Arsenal’s number twelve has been the lack of competition for his role in the team. A rival would push Giroud to perform better and would also relieve him of some pressure. Plus a new frontman could possibly offset Giroud’s shortcoming if he’s fast and able to run at defences.

The back up strikers aren’t really pushing Giroud. Youngster Yaya Sanogo is still too inexperienced and raw to stake a claim for many regular starts at the moment, while Nicklas Bendtner just wont reach the expected heights at the Emirates.

Injuries have obviously played a major part in Arsenal’s recent decline with Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott being sorely missed to mention but a few. That though is yet another reason why Wenger needed to get his finger out and sign more players in the winter window. He was happy with his squad and how they had done, but sometimes its best to spend when you’re winning just to help keep the run going.

Looking ahead to the match tomorrow. Arsenal fans will be fearful of City as they are in-form and raring to go after the Manchester derby triumph.

The home fans will have had nightmares this week thinking about the prospect of having Yaya Toure, Jesus Navas, David Silva and old boy Samir Nasri running at Arteta or Flamini. I would probably play both in the middle of the pitch to add a bit more mettle.

The Gunners also have to start on the front foot and press City back. If they give the Manchester club the initiative then they themselves will once again be pushed back and costly mistakes will be made. Players like Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla have to find themselves occupying Fernandinho and Yaya Toure’s attention inside City’s half. Kieran Gibbs also has to try and push forward when he can and keep Pablo Zabaleta from getting beyond the half-way line.

If they can do all that and keep the ball away from City then the defensive partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker should be able to handle Edin Dzeko or Alvaro Negredo.

Arsenal have been dire in the big games of 2014; losing 5-1 to Liverpool, 6-0 to rivals Chelsea and being eliminated from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich. But a win at the Emirates over big spending City could just be the tonic needed to propel them back up the league. They would also then hope to welcome back Ramsey, Ozil and Wilshere. Those players could help close the gap as Arsenal’s run in looks better than rest. Plus they are still in the FA Cup and will have a great chance to end that near nine year wait for silverware.

But a defeat to City would almost certainly see them out of the title picture. Then they have a tricky away match at Goodison against fifth placed Everton. Should they lose that and then maybe just maybe the season totally goes off track and Arsenal could miss out on the Champions League spots too!

It is crunch time for the North London giants and its time the players step up and repay the faith shown in them by Wenger. Should it totally fall apart then their is a major rebuilding job needed this summer at the Emirates. Will that involve Wenger? That seems to be undecided at the present time.

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