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We’re only three games into the new season and Arsenal are already in crisis, on and off the field. A shocking 4-0 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday afternoon has fully exposed the Gunners’ frailties and subsequent rocky start to the Premier League season, where several players’ long and short term futures are very much in doubt ahead of Friday’s transfer deadline day. Manager Arsene Wenger looked a desolated figure on the touchline at Anfield and already has a lot of work to do to salvage their season and get the North London side to at least challenge for a place in next season’s Champions League. Here are our top tips for Wenger for him to achieve exactly that.
You may notice that we are not mentioning the club dismissing Wenger from his role as manager, as both the club and the manager act with dignity and respect the manager’s contract, so it’s very likely that Wenger will remain as the Arsenal manager until 2019
Sign some more players
The away fans at Anfield were chanting, pleading and begging for the manager to dip into their pockets next week ahead of Friday’s transfer deadline to fix a squad that is lacking in consistency and quality. In fact, Arsenal’s early transfer window exploits looked very promising, with the early acquisitions of Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette speculating a more ruthless Arsenal with regards to transfer business. But the spending, so far, has stopped there, with Wenger stating recently that the squad is now too big, and must sell players before they recruit again. The Arsenal side is, frankly, not good enough to challenge for the Premier League title and the Gunners are miles behind in progress compared to their Premier League rivals. The North London side have five days to improve their squad, with, in my opinion, major investment needed to do so. A new centre-back is needed, especially with Gabriel sold and Shkodran Mustafi’s future uncertain. Arsenal do have cover in Callum Chambers, Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker supporting Laurent Koscielny, but the first two are still too raw to trust in big Premier League matches and the German international is set to retire at the end of season. Virgil Van Dijk would be a perfect acquisition for the Gunners, but a £70 million price tag may prove to be too steep for the Arsenal board. A central midfielder is also required, with the Aaron Ramsey-Granit Xhaka partnership too attacking during big games, as well as the inconsistencies of Francis Coquelin and Mohammed Elneny, while Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are too injury prone. Jean Seri is the name being whispered around the media and his excellent positioning and work rate is exactly what the Gunners’ midfield have been lacking since the start of the season. Furthermore, any key players who leave the club need to be replaced (but we’ll come to that later).
Work out what the best XI is – and stick to it
You can’t blame Wenger entirely for the defeat at Anfield, but what you can accuse him of is a poor choice of starting XI. It appears as though the Frenchman is trying to accommodate too many players at once, and needs to be more ruthless. It baffles me how he chose to play right-sided defender Hector Bellerin at left wing back against Liverpool instead of Sead Kolasinac, who is a natural in that position. Wenger made the same choice at Stoke with regards to Bellerin, playing Kolasinac and fellow left back Nacho Monreal at central defence when they had Mertesacker and Chambers both fit and available for selection. The Gunners have suffered defensively because of this and it’s not good for the team. Furthermore, Danny Welbeck had a very poor afternoon at the bet365 Stadium, but was kept in the side at the expense of record-signing Lacazette, who was sharp against the Potters and had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. All this evidence shows that Wenger doesn’t quite know his strongest line-up yet, and with Europa League football awaiting the Gunners this season, the Gunners have the prime opportunity to play a ‘First XI’ and a mid-week ‘Second XI’ to keep their key players refreshed. If Wenger solves this dilemma quickly, then he can expect to see some vast improvements on the pitch.
Change the formation in big games
Wenger changed Arsenal’s formation for the first time in around a decade, and the 3-4-3 set-up initially looked like it was a revelation. The Gunners won ten games out of eleven, including the FA Cup Final against Chelsea, but since then, teams have found a way to counteract this Arsenal team, by trying to separate and therefore isolating the two central midfielders, creating holes in the Arsenal defence. In addition, the success of the formation is too heavily reliant on the midfield never giving the ball away, and in the opening 3 games of the Premier League season, all three of the Gunners’ opponents (Leicester, Stoke and Liverpool) all profited from exactly this. They got away with it eventually against the Foxes, but against the latter two teams they didn’t manage to recover, so a rethink is needed. In my opinion, the Gunners should revert to a back four in big matches to create a bit more structure in their defence, as any misplaced pass at Anfield caused chaos and confusion in that phase of play. It’s fine to do that against lower quality opposition at home, as teams normally set themselves up to defend for 90 minutes at the Emirates, but against a team like Liverpool that can punish you severely, mistakes need to be kept to a minimum, and the 3-4-3 in big matches causes too many individual errors.
Change the backroom staff
Well, when I say ‘Change the backroom staff’, I mean ‘Get rid of Steve Bould’. What on earth does he do in training sessions? He was brought in to the first-team set-up to improve the defence, but there has been absolutely no improvement at all on this matter. In fact, the Gunners’ defence now seems worse than before his tenure as assistant manager! Bould is one of Arsenal’s greatest ever defenders, playing a pivotal role in the double-winning side of 1998, but has not really been influential as a coach. His predecessor Pat Rice was up and down the technical area barking instructions at each and every player at every game. But Bould just sits in his chair and does nothing, it’s almost as if he doesn’t care.
Sort out the contract uncertainties of key players
Even considering the poor displays at Stoke and Liverpool, this is arguably the most concerning part of the turmoil at the club. The club have been an abomination with regards to contract renewals in recent years and you can clearly see the uncertainty in the players who are refusing to extend their contracts. How on earth have the contracts of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, amongst others, been allowed to run down into their final year, giving them the opportunity to sign a pre-contract with another club in five months time, and leave for free in June? David Dein would never have allowed this if he were the chief executive at the club! However, the Gunners have to accept this situation, and should probably cash in on players who are set to leave, if they refuse to extend their deals. No player is bigger than the club, and anyone, for the right amount of money, can be replaced. If I were Arsene Wenger right now, if Alexis or Ozil turned round to me on Monday morning and wanted out, I’d show them the door and immediately start looking for replacements. The only mistake that the club can make in this regard is to sell these players to a rival, so if these players can find some new suitors away from the Premier League who are offering the right amount of money, then the club should definitely let them go.
It’s evidently a crisis for the Gunners right now, but even with all this turmoil, there’s no need to panic too much right now. We’re still in August and only three games into the new season, with plenty of time for the club to turn its fortunes around. However, if the Gunners, as they have been for quite a few seasons now, continue as they are at present, then things could really get ugly, and even Champions League football would be a stretch too far for Arsene Wenger and his side.