Sabtu, 11 Februari 2012

The five steps Arsenal must take to reignite their top-four ambitions


In case you hadn't noticed, Robin van Persie is pretty important to Arsenal.




That's said with more than a hint of jest, of course, as Van Persie is actually, some might argue, the difference between Arsenal still being in with a shout of securing Champions League qualification and having to settle for mid-table mediocrity.

Okay so one player doesn't make a team, is the cry, but the statistics really are quite startling when looking at just how imperative the Dutchman has been to the Gunners - especially in helping hold things together following the quite momentous departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

Like an excitable teenage girl taking cover behind the sofa at the notoriously jumpy parts of a horror film, Arsene Wenger could have been forgiven for covering his eyes when Blackburn's Gael Givet came crashing into his star striker last weekend - the Frenchman's 'challenge' one of the clumsy and ugly variety that was rightly rewarded with a red card.

Needless to say, keeping Van Persie fit and firing for the rest of the season could be the difference between another 'nearly' season for the Gunners and one that finally, once and for all, ends that six-and-a-half-year wait for silverware.


While the FA struggle to pick up the pieces after a testing couple of weeks that has further dragged the reputation of the England national team through the mud, one flicker of positivity has been the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - and right on cue ahead of Euro 2012. 

The former Southampton youngster showed a composure that defied his 18 years as he tucked away two goals during the 7-1 rout against Blackburn last weekend and, with Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce temporarily taking over from Fabio Capello, he could find himself fast-tracked into the squad for the friendly with the Netherlands in a little over two weeks' time.

It certainly wouldn't be a surprise if Wenger took the decision to pull the winger, whose reputation is bourgeoning with every game he plays, out of the spotlight ahead of Saturday's meeting with Sunderland but can he even afford to?

With Andrey Arshavin well short on form and confidence and Gervinho still away with the Ivory Coast, Wenger has little choice but to continue with Oxlade-Chamberlain and you probably won't find many Arsenal fans expressing discontent at that decision...




"Had an early chance with a tame effort after being put through on goal, but the ball was just too far ahead and his sliding shot was collected easily by Bogdan. In the middle his passing was timely, but was sometimes a little hasty and played the ball without thinking causing his side to lose possession from time to time."


"Clumsy tackle from the Welshman back in his home country to give away the penalty. Almost made up for it straight after with an effort cleared off the line. He wasn't helped by a sloppy pass to him, but didn't show any urgency and was robbed by Allen for the Swans' second goal, during which he picked up a knock. Had a thumping header saved by Vorm, but it wasn't a great performance from the midfielder."
The Welshman was undoubtedly the man that the Gunners' were hoping would carry the torch following Fabregas' move to Barcelona in the summer although it's not quite come together exactly as he would have liked for the former Cardiff City midfielder thus far this season.

Wenger has consistently stuck by the 21-year-old despite his inconsistent displays in recent times and has been quick to jump to his defence when sensing a whiff of any criticism.

Ramsey has come under particular scrutiny for his performances on the road in recent weeks - including a hugely disappointing showing on Welsh soil as the Gunners slumped to defeat against Swansea.

"I brought him in because of his quality," the Frenchman remarked last month.

"[What] people forget about Ramsey is that this is his first full season really.

"For me, he is growing month to month and people are a bit impatient with him. I am very happy with what he is delivering - and if [Jack] Wilshere comes back [soon] they can play together."

Despite Wenger's faith in the Wales skipper, the Gunners boss did resort to leaving him out of the emphatic win over Blackburn, instead opting for Tomas Rosicky to come in alongside Mikel Arteta and Alex Song to form a midfield trio, and tinkering too much with a winning formula could prove costly with big games coming thick and fast.


A player whose value to the team is perhaps more noticeable when he is absent, Gunners fans have been ruing the loss of Bacary Sagna even since he suffered a broken ankle back in October watching on as Wenger clearly struggled to find a solution at right-back.

The likes of Carl Jenkinson, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, young Nico Yennaris and even midfielder Francis Coquelin have all, to varying degrees of success, been charged with stepping in for Sagna at various stages over the last four months.

In a position where they have always looked so strong with the France international marauding up and down the right flank, without Sagna right-back has proved something of a problem area ever since the 28-year-old suffered the fracture in the derby meeting with Tottenham at the back end of last year.

Having come off the bench to play a part in the Gunners' last three games the former Auxerre defender is surely in contention to feature from the start in what is a crucial and, on paper, decidedly tricky trip to in-form Sunderland where Arsenal could do with their strongest back-four possible.


Arsenal's somewhat tumultuous start to the 2011-12 campaign was certainly scrutinised to the max but after an initial up-turn in fortunes, no Premier League wins throughout January could have seen the top four move out of sight.

While the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham have opened up a handsome gap between the front three and the chasing pack, fortunately for the Gunners Chelsea and Liverpool have continued to struggle for consistency.

Feb 11 S'land (A) Premier League
Feb 15 Milan (A) Champions League
Feb 18 S'land (A) FA CUP
Feb 26 Tottenham (H) Premier League
That said, with two potentially season-defining league fixtures to come, six points, and six points only, should be the rallying cry coming from Wenger within the Gunners' dressing room.

Since taking over at Sunderland Martin O'Neill has been something of a revelation although, by his own admission, a wobble is due at the Stadium of Light and you can be certain that the Black Cats boss would have picked more favourable opposition than Arsenal ahead of Saturday's fixture.

Wenger's side then travel to Milan for a mouth-watering Champions League clash with the Italian champions before again facing Sunderland in the FA Cup and then it's the big one - the north London derby at the Emirates on February 26.

Should the side who currently sit fifth in the table come out of those two league fixtures with maximum points , one would suspect they would possess the momentum to really kick on and enjoy a productive tail-end to the season.


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