Improving Arsenal’s strategy, injuries and new opportunities, taking a backwards step.
1. Everything about the loss to Stoke was disappointing as the Gunners’ slipped to their third defeat so far this season; the same amount as last. Before the match Arsene Wenger called for the defenders to not be ‘mentally obsessed’ with the long throw tactic of Stoke but the team selection was anything but. A bit more attacking instinct would have been suffice but Mr. Wenger was also concerned by the physicality of Stoke and therefore played four central midfielders, just the same as the opponents and the result a on-dimensional showing.
There was no need to play Denilson as this sacrificed our attacking play. Where did the tactic of scoring more than our opponents go? High balls was our main problem so the best option would have been to play Van Persie and Bendtner on the wings partnering Adebayor, the same as against West Ham in the second half. True, it was a different situation but the way Stoke were playing it was like breaking a team down in the final minutes. By playing this the Gunners will still have the aerial challenge but also play closer to the main striker, Adebayor. It is a tactic used by Chelsea and Man United (discussed in two articles here and here) but we can still play our passing game which has received criticism of late for no real reason.
Wenger is not a bad manager and saying he should go over steps the mark.
2. The Gunners have injury worries ahead of the big game next week against United and nearer Fenerbahce. Adebayor, Walcott and Sagna are certain to be out, while Gallas and Eboue have niggling injuries and Van Persie suspended for United.
“We have very bad injuries to Adebayor and Walcott, and there is (Bacary) Sagna,” said Wenger “One or two have knocks as well. It is the kind of game we played today and when you are a little bit short on sharpness, you are less agile and get out of tackles less quickly.”
A lack of wingers is the main problem in what is likely to be a 4-3-3 against Manchester United. Fabregas should be rested in midweek but opportunities open for the likes of Bendtner, Ramsey, Djourou, Diaby and Vela. An interesting option is to play Ramsey on the wings against Fenerbahce and Diaby played better when moved to the centre against Stoke. He showed his presence, strength and tackling side but maybe now we can see how his positioning, marking and discipline plays out. Walcott is a big miss as you would feel he would cause great problems to Evra while Adebayor is always a handful.
3. All the big teams improved but the Gunners have lost three key players; Hleb, Flamini and Gilberto. Hleb was replaced by Nasri who still is yet to fully find his feet as a creative winger while the latter two taken over by two potential stars though not yet ready. A lot of burden is placed of Fabregas to create and dictate and though he is yet to hit the heights as have Arsenal as a team, who should have maximum points considering the clubs played. Hleb and Flamini were two especially the Belarussian who was key to creating chances and sharing the burden. But it’s still early days and taking it game by game, we are still in the race. Let’s keep the faith.