Arsenal have, for a long time now, been unable to truly challenge for the Premier League title, having won just the one FA Cup in the last nine years, and once again this year it seems that Arsene Wenger’s men will be left wanting. Although it is still too early in the season to be predicting anything, Arsenal have already proven their depth is lacking in certain areas of the park, with the first of six Champions League group games showing the need for strengthening in defence.
After the 2-2 draw against Manchester City, Arsenal fans worldwide were looking on at the squad with a certain air of confidence, after Wenger had seemingly instilled some fight in a team that had, up to this point, struggled to truly make an impact on any games. Apart from the victory at Selhurst Park, one that came astonishingly close to having shared spoils, Arsenal’s season has been spluttering from week to week.
Against Everton, the midfield looked vulnerable and the defence just seemed unable to cope with the physicality of Romelu Lukaku and the pace of Steven Naismith. The positive to take out of that game was the spirit-charged comeback that saw Giroud head home an equalizer right at the death to ensure that confidence didn’t become an endangered species in the Arsenal dressing room. To consolidate this after a two week international break, which saw Wenger’s most recent acquisition score a brace for England, Arsenal came head to head with last year’s champions, and many expected it to be a thoroughly one-sided affair.
However, for Wenger and his motley collection of stars bred and bought, the 3-0 victory in the Community Shield was fresh in mind, and it was with this latest result that Arsenal sought to prove their credentials as potential champions against the current holders of the Premier League crown. Many speculated as to whether Wenger would decide to hand Danny Wellbeck a debut at home against the title-holders, and it was to the glee of gooners around the world that the young striker led the line in the absence of Giroud, allowing Sanchez to play in what is considered his preferred position on the wing.
It seemed as if Wenger had finally given his players freedom to shoot from distance, with a number of shots testing Joe Hart early. This culminated in Wellbeck very nearly becoming an instant Arsenal hero, after he picked up the ball in the City box after a poor David Silva back pass, before his cheeky chip found the far post and was safely recuperated by a red-faced Hart.
Man City eventually found their groove, and their intricate passing and superb build-up play took centre-stage as Pellegrini’s men sought to pick-up a vital three points after last round’s shocking loss to Stoke. In what Pellegrini has previously touted a “six-point match”, it seemed that the champions were finally hitting gear and after some astonishing pace from Navas and complacent defending from Flamini, Aguero poked home from six yards.
As the defensive frailties started to show, it seemed the familiar frustrations that plagued Arsenal last season against the top sides, of being caught out and punished, were coming to light again.
It should have been 2-0 not long after with Silva coming close but amazingly, Arsenal clawed their way into the contest through some brilliant work by Jack Wilshere. It was a true skipper’s goal in the absence of Mikel Arteta, and it really makes one think that in a few years time it will be impossible to take the armband from him. Wilshere seemed to play with a confidence and drive that shows a glimpse of the player he should be had it not been for all the injuries he has suffered, and yet, this season the young gunner has taken it upon himself to face his critics and pull out some spectacular performances. His goal was typical Wilshere, driving forward on the back of a number of frustrating challenges before continuing his run and chipping Hart with class and precision.
With the score at 1-1, City began to push for the winner and Arsenal looked vulnerable with Clichy coming close, as well as Nasri being the centre of some nice build up play before shooting weakly into the arms of Szcezney – two of City’s collection of former Gunners. Anyone watching might have expected City to eventually put one past the Arsenal defence and yet it was after some great build up play from the Arsenal midfield and a deflected cross from Ramsey that found the head of Wilshere that resulted in a brilliantly taken volley by Sanchez that amazingly had the Gunners up 2-1 with 15 minutes to go.
It seemed to be Arsenal’s game, with the clock winding down and the game having petered out after a very hard fought 80 minutes, however it wasn’t to be, as Martin Demichelis found Kolarov’s well placed corner after Özil failed to track his man. With the scores level at 2-2, both teams surged forward in attempts to make amends however the game ended with both teams taking a point and both managers agreeing that the result was indicative of the performances of their respective teams. The bad news for Wenger was the status of newly recruited fullback Mathieu Debuchy, who seemed in immense pain after landing awkwardly on his ankle.
This caused the ultimate of selection woes for Wenger, as the defensive frailties that threatened to unravel having lost senior defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna in the summer were coming to fruition. Although Calum Chambers is more than capable of filling in at right back, the position that Wenger seemingly brought him in to cover, it was just the Arsenal luck that the young man would come down with tonsillitis just in time for the Champions League tie against Dortumund. One could only hope that Arsenal would bring some of the tenacity and incisiveness that almost saw them take all three points just days earlier.
Unfortunately for Wenger’s men, the only part of their game that was apparent in Germany were the defensive frailties that led to two goals at the Emirates, and had Dortmund been more on point, Arsenal would have been made to pay even more dearly.
Having exposed the lack of enforcement in the midfield for Immobile’s strike late in the first half, Jurgen Klopp focused his sides attacks on Hector Bellerin, the young right back who was forced to deputise in defence due to Debuchy’s severe ankle strain and Chambers’ illness. With the young defender boasting only 25 minutes of first team action to this point, he was thrown into the deep end against one of Europe’s deadliest attacking forces, and finally the Gunners were made to pay for their lack of defensive investment over the summer.
No one can claim that Wenger’s transfer approach was conservative; after all, £82 million was spent on players, a great departure from the recent stingy years. However those brought in were only replacements, and the total lack of depth in the defensive third was brutally exposed, with both of Dortmund’s goals coming off swift counter attacks which Arsenal’s defence were simply unable to cope with. The loss was only made worse by the fact that even when attacking, Arsenal lacked the quality that is necessary to truly be considered a threat both in Europe and in the Premier League. Özil was once again looking like a passenger, and if the calls for his replacement in the starting XI weren’t already loud enough, they will be bellowing after his most recent performance.
All in all, it really seems as if Arsenal have questions to answer tonight at Villa Park. With Mikel Arteta putting in one of his worst performances in red and white to date against a robust Borussia Dortmund, it will be interesting to see how much of the lineup will make this fixture, and one can only hope that the squad manage to find some depth and quality against an Aston Villa side that has already take 10 points from a possible 12 this season.