Change is needed at the Emirates Stadium.
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Arsenal lost to Manchester United last night in a game that was all too familiar to some.
The match was decided by a single goal, but Wayne Rooney’s penalty miss meant it could have been more, and like when Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan tamed Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League last season, Sir Alex Ferguson was happy to let the opposition keep the ball.
Arsenal attacked constantly through the centre of the pitch, but were unable to find a way through the tight Man Utd defence.
It is not the first time this has happened.
The Gunners have now drawn one of their last eleven games against Manchester United and Chelsea in all competitions – losing the other ten – and the suggestion that these two teams have worked out how to play against Arsenal is a valid one.
Arsenal’s primary gameplan isn’t working against either of the two, and with Chelsea coming to the Emirates Stadium on December 27th, something has to be altered.
Arsene Wenger’s team frequently dominate possession against both teams, but as soon as it gets to the final third of the pitch the opposition is defending so deeply and compactly that there is scarcely any space to exploit.
Frequent comparisons are made between Arsenal and Barcelona, but there are a few areas that the Catalan side stand out in.
The first is the higher calibre of player. There is no equivalent of Lionel Messi at Arsenal, and while Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Andriy Arshavin are excellent players, they are not quite Xavi Hernandez or Andres Iniesta. Alex Song is not as effective as Sergio Busquets.
Every Barcelona player always knows where a passing option is on the pitch, and even if there appears to be little space available they can almost always find a way out. This allows them to build patiently with pass upon pass until an opening appears.
Arsenal were pressed and harried all over the pitch last night, and while the Old Trafford surface was in poor condition, the amount of times they gave away possession was worrying. It enabled Manchester United to launch multiple counter attacks with the Gunners players scrambling to get back into position.
Arsenal are unlikely to invest massively in the squad to correct their flaws, but last night showed a desperate need for a plan B – especially given that they are also likely to face tough opposition in the UEFA Champions League last 16.
Marouane Chamakh has been an excellent signing, but is not yet a lethal finisher. Had he taken his one chance last night the result might have been different, but instead Nemanja Vidic cleared off the line. Alex Song has a tendency to abandon his position for an attacking role, and while he has scored crucial goals this season, he would be of more value if he were more disciplined.
However, despite the inherent flaws in this Arsenal team, and the lack of trophies in five years, I do not advocate the sacking of Arsene Wenger.
No other manager in the world would be able to operate on such a budget and still deliver Champions League qualification and progression, and his youth development is unrivalled.
However, the hiring of an assistant to help offer an alternate point of view in big games would not go amiss at all, while a few astute signings could bring Arsenal to the next level.
Trophies would then surely follow.
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