This column is day later than it should be and this is partly because I have been deliberating what to write about. I could easily have written an angry piece and, in truth, I am an angry fan at present. This would have been straightforward as a good rant tends to flow once you get started. However, I will save that for my own personal blog and endeavour to retain my constructive focus for the Shoot column.
Arsenal’s poor form is well-documented and it may well be that the back-to-back defeats against Man United and Swansea have cost us our shot at the Premier League title. Certainly you will not meet any professional gambler staking money on the Gunners – eight points off the lead with only nine games remaining. What is certain is that if we are to have any hope at all, we will probably need to win eight, or even nine, matches. So, the only reason to look back at the two embarrassing defeats is to see what can be learned from them.
Regardless of my personal view on individual players and the manager, as fans all we can do is get behind the team. That is much easier when signs of improvement are evident and when changes are implemented to tangibly alter our fortunes. It comes back to the old adage of doing the same things all the time and expecting the same results. Last season, Wenger for the first times in years began to amend the team set-up dependent on the opposition. Most notably changing to a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3, depending on your perspective, in big away matches at Old Trafford, The Etihad and Anfield. For some reason, he has not seen fit to do so this season as often either before matches, or in-game, and the intransigence has cost us.
On Saturday, I hope on purpose, rather than due to lack of resources, he made a big call and played three central midfielders to counter a combative, pressing Spurs side, high on confidence. The TV may have just seen it as 4-2-1-3 with Ramsey back on the right, but in truth it did not play that way. It was far more a 4-3-3 or the 4-3-1-2 I wrote about ahead of the match. It frustrated Tottenham well, protected our back four and limited the home side to one clear goalscoring chance. Wenger deserves praise for this. Every bit as much as he deserves criticism for the previous two matches, and it would have reaped the dividends it warranted if not for the red card. Arsenal had absorbed the pressure, taken the lead, were on top and I strongly suspect would have gone on to win the derby.
The system allowed us to see the best of Elneny and he very definitely impressed me alongside Coquelin. Ramsey grew into the role and as long as he is always in the three when we are without the ball, he can be freed up to join the attack as he did so well when we regain it. The other huge advantage is that it gave Ozil two mobile targets and allowed Alexis to play far more centrally and closer to Welbeck. It was no surprise that the Chilean looked far more like his old self.
Given that the return of Cazorla and Wilshere no longer seems imminent, and the form of Walcott and Giroud is so patchy, if I am kind, I am struggling to see a good reason to change back from this deployment of assets. We all want Ozil and Alexis in the team and on form, and this structure seems the most likely to serve that purpose. The width can and will come from the full-backs and the increased solidity centrally will allow us to use our undoubted creativity from a stronger base.
This may seem harsh on Joel Campbell, who was ill-deservingly withdrawn against Swansea when patently our best player, but now it is first and foremost about NOT LOSING anymore matches, whilst utilising our best attacking players to create and score the gaols to win us the eight or nine to give us a squeak at the title. In Joel, Olly and Theo we have players who can step in for injuries and from the substitutes’ bench.
Tonight against Hull, without Coquelin, we can revert to the conventional 4-2-3-1 but as soon as he is back I sincerely hope Wenger sticks with the new formula that would have seen us beaten our North London rivals if it stayed 11 vs 11.