Sunday, January 13, 2013

Either Wenger Strengthens the Squad, or We Get Someone Else who Will.

Oh January, you've been great so far. Thoughts as follows:

* I thought Arsene again picked the wrong team, which is a worrying trend from games this season. There were three decisions that I thought he got wrong, and I'll go through them separately:

 - Koscielny and Vermaelen are not an effective partnership. I think Mertesacker's form has dipped in recent games, and he was made to look a bit of a mug by Michu last week. But he does, overall, bring a calmness and sense of nous to the defence that is always badly missing when he is absent. TV and LK together just seems to be a purely reactive partnership that frequently descends into chaos. I imagine that Wenger was worried about us dealing with city's extremely mobile forward line, but, and just like against Chelsea earlier this season, it was the wrong decision and it cost us.

- Diaby's selection was ridiculous. To be frank, it smacked of desperation and arrogance in almost equal measure - desperation that we don't have better options in central midfield, and arrogance in that Arsene appears desperate for his prolonged faith in Diaby to be repaid. Diaby, on his day, is a fantastic footballer who brings a unique blend of qualities to his midfield. Unfortunately, those days are few and far between because of his appalling injury record. The fact that Diaby was removed after 60 minutes, in what appeared to be a pre-planned move, was incredible. This was not the type of game that you use to re-build a player's fitness. Players are either fit enough to play and compete, or they're not. His performance while not terrible smacked of a player who hadn't played a league game since since September. He is a player that badly needs to be released, and with talk of Fellaini having a release clause at about £22m, this would appear to be a no-brainer for me. But then I suppose I am actually somewhat ambitious.

- Diaby's selection raised big questions about Coquelin - is he good enough to be a part of this Arsenal squad, or not? For me, if he can't be trusted to fill in for Arteta, he shouldn't be at the club. He is taking up the space of a player who could contribute. Personally, I think Coquelin is not a the level required for a club that's serious about competing for trophies. Arsene either needs to give him a chance, or get rid of him at the end of the season.

- A final point about Diaby's selection - it meant that it was not clear who was meant to be playing as the holding midfielder. Given that we operate with almost zero tactical discipline, Silva was given the freedom of the Emirates to run about in the space between our midfield and our defence. It frustrates me hugely to see this, because this is down to a simple lack of coaching.

- Lastly, Theo started centrally again. More on this later, but perhaps some tactical flexibility would have been nice here, given that he was going to be playing against Kompany. Giroud should have started, in my opinion, and I say that as someone who has serious doubts about Giroud's ability.

* People will probably have forgotten most of the game's first nine minutes, but City were already on top when the pivotal moment of the match occurred. It's never a good idea to play the "what if" game, but I think they would have won narrowly with or without the sending off. That's not just me being pessimistic - it's based on the fact that our defence was already a mess, and City have better players than us. That's all. It's also worth remembering that City were without Yaya Toure and Kun Aguero today - I can only imagine the carnage if they had both played.

* Should Koscielny have been sent off? Yes. If Kompany or Lescott had done that to Giroud, we'd have been fuming if they'd escaped without a red. It was an obvious goalscoring opportunity, and Koz deserved to go. After a brilliant, apparent breakthrough season last year, Koz seems to have regressed this year. He always seems to have a calamitous error in him, and he needs to be taken out of the firing line for a while.

* Which brings me onto Vermaelen. Maybe it's the captaincy, but he seems to have regressed as both a player and a leader since August. His positioning is frequently terrible, and directly led to the first goal. Can he improve? I'm not sure. And, at a certain point, you have to wonder whether any player could come in and magically improve the defence, or whether we have a systemic problems that require a complete approach in terms of how we approach the game as a team.

* After the first, a second appeared to be only a matter of time and so it proved. The scoreline ultimately did not reflect City's dominance in the match. Only a few bizarre passages of play in the second half, where they procrastinated over who was going to take the decisive shot on goal, meant that the scoreline stayed at only two. It always felt that they had another gear within them, and I think they will come away from the game with the feeling that it was a closer much than it should have been for them.

* Gunnerblog joked on Twitter, and it's probably true - Theo's wretched performance was undoubtedly evidence that he's signed a new deal. Theo is infuriating - he frequently drifts out of games almost completely, and, I feel, he often outright hides in certain matches, which is unacceptable given the fact he is now an experienced player. I think the "Theo through the middle" experiment has had decidedly mixed results - notably, when up against quality players, like Kompany today, Theo was almost completely out of the game. That said, he almost scored when he did pop-up late on. Ultimately, it says a lot how far the club has fallen that we are being held to ransom, effectively, by a player of his calibre.

* So, Giroud should have come on. But not for Podolski, who remains the only reasonably clinical finisher at the club. Instead, Cazorla should have been removed, who was having, not for the first time, an extremely quiet afternoon. Santi is obviously a great player, but we needed him to step up today after the sending off, and he didn't. It seems that substituting Podolski is Arsene's go-to move at the moment, and I wish he'd leave him on the pitch because he is someone who will take that half-chance when it arrives.

* We were much improved in the second-half, although, as I stated earlier, I do think City were very wasteful in possession. Wilshere stood out and had probably his best game since returning from injury. Not only did he show a huge amount of talent, he has character and determination, which is more than can be said for a lot of other individuals at the club at present.

* It seems that we are really missing someone who can make intelligent runs in the final third. Our play often seems to reach the edge of our opponents penalty box, before breaking down. Losing van Persie has robbed us off someone who creates goals through intelligent movement off the ball. We desperately need to get someone who can open up space in the manner that he used to do.

* What it all comes down to, for me, is this - we need substantial investment in the squad. We are weak in almost every area of the pitch. We have three centre-backs who all seem to have one fatal flaw. We are incredibly reliant on Arteta - someone who has now finally broken down after being massively over-played. Cazorla is knackered and his form has dipped. We lack a spark in the final third. We have a goalkeeper who, penalty save aside, had a mixed game and distributed the ball terribly.

We need new blood and lots of it. If Coquelin and Frimpong have their careers at Arsenal "killed" by bringing in an experienced central midfielder, so be it. If Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo complain about a lack of opportunities because we bring in new attacking options, so be it, etc., etc.

If Arsene claims, as he did today, that it's too hard to find quality players in January, then he needs to go, and be replaced by someone who can find quality players in January. If not Arsene, then our scouting network needs to improve. If it's not the scouting network, then Dick Law, or whoever negotiates our myriad, failed deals, needs to go.

After a disastrous summer transfer window, which perfectly set up this mess of a season, I cannot tolerate another window where we fail to make the necessary improvements to our squad. As 7 AM Kickoff said this week, Arsenal's 2004 side was almost entirely built through astute purchases in the transfer market. Much as it pains me to say this, if Arsene is incapable of effectively operating in the transfer market anymore, we need to find someone who will go out and get us the players we need.

As far as I can see, we have two weeks to find the players to save our season. Otherwise, a humiliating experience at the hands of Bayern awaits, as does the Europa League next season. Because too many of the players that we currently have are simply not good enough for a club like Arsenal, and that's why we are where we are.