In recent weeks there has been a number of excellent Your Vision posts from Gooners expressing their views and thoughts on Arsenal’s 2013/2014 season. Those articles (and a very small amount of credible media articles analysing all things Arsenal) inspired me to pen my own thoughts around Arsenal’s approach to the 2013/2014 season in terms of playing style, player management and recruitment.
In terms of playing style, I think the defensive solidarity demonstrated by the team at the back end of the 2012/2013 season is an excellent platform for Arsenal to build upon in the 2013/2014 season. I struggle to recall a league winning side that did not possess a resolute, solid and coordinated defensive unit. If Arsenal’s aim is to win the EPL, demonstrating the same defensive solidarity displayed at the back end of the 2012/2013 season is, in my opinion, fundamental to achieving that target. Some would argue that the defensive discipline shown by Ramsey and Arteta during that period (in their efforts to shield the back four) and a greater reluctance from Gibbs and Sanga to take up attacking positions, resulted in Arsenal’s attack being more ineffectual than earlier in the season. To a degree I agree with that view, primarily in relation to Gibbs and Sagna. That said, I believe that in the 2013/2014 season Arsenal can demonstrate the same defensive solidarity displayed at the back end of the 2012/2013 season and improve the team’s attacking potency without the need to go on a recruitment drive. In my view retaining our defensive solidarity and improving our effectiveness in attack essentially comes down to:
- Mertesaker, Koscielny, Ramsey and Arteta continuing to demonstrate the same style of play they displayed at the back end of the 2012/2013 season;
- Arsenal’s full backs improving their decision making as to when to join the attack and when to hold deep and defend; and
- Arsenal demonstrating greater attacking diversity.
I think attacking diversity is really critical to a team’s ability to create more goal scoring opportunities. Attack one dimensionally and most EPL sides have the defensive quality to negate the attacking team's build up play. Possess multiple attacking approaches and it is difficult for an opposition's defence to adapt its defensive structure to negate the attacking threat. I think the primary reason Arsenal struggled to score goals at the back end of last season was down to our largely one dimensional attacking play. That is:
- Cazorla would dribble or pass the ball from the left wing into a central attacking midfield position and link with Rosicky (the actual central attacking midfielder); and
- from that central attacking midfield position, Cazorla or Rosicky would try and play through balls to Walcott (who had moved into a right striking role) or Podolski or Giroud (who had moved from the central striking role to more of a left striker role).
Whilst I don't have any dramas with Arsene preferring to utilise a creative midfielder like Cazorla on one wing and a striker like Walcott on the other wing, without attacking diversity to support that primary attacking approach (e.g. aerial and ground crosses from our overlapping fullbacks or long range shots from our central attacking midfielder (Wilshere or Rosicky) and wide attacking midfielder (Cazorla or Ox)) our attacking play is to a degree restricted in its build up.
That said, there is, in my opinion, still a need for Arsenal to balance its attacking diversity between using the side’s primary attacking approach and using alternate attacking approaches. If balance in Arsenal’s attacking diversity is not considered by the team and the side diverts too often from its primary attacking approach, I foresee players failing to understand their role in the team's attacking build up play, which increases the likelihood of Arsenal’s build up play breaking down. However, if the team become too focused on one single attacking approach and does not vary that approach often enough, then the side is faced with the aforementioned one dimensional attacking conundrum. That said, I thought the team at the back end of the 2012/2013 season did not demonstrate enough attacking diversity. This allowed the opposition’s defence to set its structure and negate our attacking threat. For that reason, I would like to see Arsenal demonstrate more attacking diversity next season in contrast to what was on display at the back end of last season. If Arsenal can do that, Mertesaker, Koscielny, Ramsey and Arteta can replicate the defensive discipline they demonstrated at the back end of the 2012/2013 season and Arsenal’s fullbacks can improve their decision making as to when to join the attack and when to hold deep and defend, I really think Arsenal can challenge for the league title in the 2013/2014 season, without the need for a recruitment drive during the transfer window.
In terms of recruitment, there has been a lot of noise in recent weeks regarding the need for Arsenal to add another attacking midfielder to the squad (in the ilk of Cazorla, Wilshere or Rosicky) ahead of the 2013/2014 season. I will be very interested to see what happens to the likes of Wilshere, Cazorla, Ox and Rosicky if Arsene decides to recruit a high priced creative midfielder. With Cazorla at his peak and Wilshere seemingly the central attacking midfielder Arsene wants to build his current and future side around, I don't see much room for a high priced creative midfielder, who one would think would demand a starting spot. Personally I would like to see more of Gnabry in the coming season, preferably rotating with Rosicky as backup to Wilshere. I really hope Ox also gets rotated more often with Cazorla in the wide attacking midfield role in the coming season. Given some of Ox’s comments throughout the season just gone regarding his frustration with a lack of game time, I think if Ox doesn't get more game time in the season coming he will start thinking about a move elsewhere. That would be a real shame, in my opinion, as Ox is a British player (and the theory goes that British players are easier for Arsenal to retain) and, in my view, has all of the necessary skills to flourish in that wide attacking midfield role.
Personally I think only limited changes to the current squad are necessary in the current offseason.
- If Podolski is deployed on the wing in competition with Walcott and Cazorla and Ox are rotated in the other wing spot, we are more than covered in the winger/striker role and winger/attacking midfielder role.
- In the central striker role, I am actually content with Giroud and Afobe or Sanago rotating throughout the season.
- In the centre of midfield my first choice for next season would be Ramsey (box to box) and Arteta (holding), with Aneke (box to box) and Yennaris (holding) backing them up. I would have said Diaby or Coquelin as back up in the box to box role but Diaby's body is just not right and I sadly anticipate he will breakdown once more next season. Also I think Coquelin may move away from the club in the current transfer window given the lack of game time he was afforded over the past season.
- In defence I hope Sanga signs a new deal and stays but I hope Jenkinson is given the nod as first choice right fullback. Maybe a similar sort of rotational arrangement could be implemented in the right fullback role next season as was used in the left fullback role in the second half of the season just gone.
- Regarding the left fullback role I think Monreal and Gibbs are both quality players and I hope Arsene continues to rotate the players to afford them both a reasonable amount of game time next season.
- Central defence is the one area of concern in my opinion. I’m more than happy with Koscielny and Mertesaker as our first choice central defensive pairing. However, Vermaelen's repeated positional, decision making and technical errors both on and off the ball last season and the lack of a suitable replacement for Mertesaker within the existing first team and young professional squad (both in terms of physicality and as a calming presence), means I would like to see two relatively young (under 23) and reasonably priced (approximately $5 million each) central defenders (in the mould of Koscielny and Mertesaker) recruited. That said, I don't think Arsene (who appears staunchly loyal to his players) will sell Vermaelen in the offseason. I think Arsene will give Vermaelen the chance to redeem himself in the 2013/2014 season. That said, I see Vermaelen as back up to Koscielny but still struggle to see any such player in the existing first team and young professional squad who could adequately back up Mertesaker and that appears to be a squad issue that needs addressing.
- In the goalkeeping role I am happy with Szezcsny as first choice and would love to see Fabianski or Mannone stick around as back up as I think both keepers are highly underrated.
I understand I’ve expressed a view that doesn’t promote Arsenal as needing to recruit a proven $20million plus striker, a ‘beast’ of a defensive midfielder, a $20million plus creative midfielder and an experienced goalkeeper and I understand that that view is likely to be at odds with the view of many people who believe Arsenal need to make such transactions and additions to the existing squad. However, I have a preference for Arsenal to focus on sourcing the vast majority of their 22 first team players from their youth system, with only a sprinkling of experienced professionals being recruited. That ideology and recruitment approach appeals to me more than the approach adopted by the likes of Man U, Chelsea and Man C (i.e. to recruit established professionals at fees in the range of $20 million plus per player). I actually think that internal promotion with only a sprinkling of experienced professionals has been Arsene's aim in recent years. Unfortunately Barcelona’s considerable success in during that time, the introduction of oil money into Chelsea and Man City and the internal values held by some of those youth players that developed (under Arsene’s guidance) into quality professionals, has resulted in Arsenal struggling to retain the better players within Arsenal’s first team squad. That said with extra finances seemingly available I'm hopeful Arsenal will be better equipped to retain their talented young professionals and attract a high calibre of experienced professional, without the need to spend $20 million plus on any one individual.
Mean Lean's Response
Thank you for the article and while I do not quite agree with all of it, it certainly is a refreshing change to hear a view that isn't just about spending money. We have a squad full of many good young players, many of which have signed long term deals. Players like Jenkinson, Chamberlain, Wilshere, Ramsey and so on are very important to the future of our potential success. I absolutely agree that Arsene is doing the right thing with the players he has but I do believe that we have to supplement that with additional quality.
With the competition so big these days, it is very difficult to form a squad of youngsters that would compete over the course of an entire campaign. When we first moved to Ashburton Grove the cash was short so turning to younger players to develop and grow together was a good idea. While it didn't win trophies, it was by no means a failure. At worst it became a way of creating cash to regenerate the squad when players wanted out. Further down the line, it has got us into the position we are in today.
In 2013/14 with our own cash behind us we need to bring in top quality additions to supplement the youthful foundations we have. I am going the other way to you in regards to a centre forward, he doesn't need to be worth x amount, he just needs to have the ability to do what needs to be done to win matches. We have very good wide forwards in Podolski and Walcott but as a centre forward we only really have Giroud.
I am interested to see how someone like Higuain fits in should we win the race for his signature because he doesn't play like Giroud therefore you would expect his (or someone else's) presence to affect others around them.
I do expect some of our more youthful members to feature more over the course of the season. Our reserve side has been chopped down so I expect the players remaining to be of the quality to contribute at least in cup fixtures. Serge Gnabry is one of those players and we have many more bubbling under the surface. These next couple of years will be very important to their Arsenal careers.
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