Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Time for the Squad to Step Up

Leeds away and the question most are pondering is how good of a side Arsene Wenger will field. On paper, Arsenal's squad looks pretty strong. What the recent games against lower division opposition have shown is that there remains a mini-gulf in quality between Arsenal's "first" and "second" sides. A clear divide between the main men and the back up.

Despite his technical deficiencies, Walcott's work rate and the threat of his roaring pace means he has usurped Arshavin in the front three. Van Persie looks like coming back into form. Nasri has had a fantastic season. Behind them, the trio of Fabregas, Song and Wilshere are undeniably first choice. With Vermaelen out until March (at least) and Squillaci looking unconvincing, Koscielny and Djourou is now the clear preferred centre back pairing.

After an utterly abject showing by the team that faced Ipswich, following the lethargy on display against Leeds, and before that the league draw at Wigan, doubts have surfaced as to whether Arsenal can make extensive changes against even inferior sides and still win.

But the second string likes of Bendtner and Chamakh and Arshavin should be given another chance to prove their worth in the game at Elland Road. If they are not capable of exerting their superiority against this kind of team, you have to question their worth to a club of Arsenal's standing. With a League Cup final still, hopefully, on the horizon, the boss is likely to prioritise the Premiership over the FA Cup. The game at the weekend is at home to Wigan, which may seem soft enough, but Arsenal have already been punished too many times for taking games lightly, and Wenger won't want to lose more ground in the title race.

Two interrelated problems hang over the rest of the campaign. With Vermaelen's return date uncertain, much relies on the fitness of Djourou, who has a rotten record in that regard.

And Alex Song is Arsenal's only convincing defensive midfielder.

Arsene Wenger may be averse to spending what he perceives as silly money on short term solutions but he might end up looking silly if a couple of injuries (hardly inconceivable when you consider Arsenal's recent record) mean that Alex Song has to be moved back to centre half, thus weakening the midfield.

It's worth remembering that after a January of transfer inactivity last season, Arsenal faced big games against United and Chelsea with Arshavin at centre forward. Then, in the Barcelona tie, Thomas Vermaelen had to be partnerred by first, Alex Song in the first leg, and then at the Nou Camp, Mikael Silvestre (snigger)...

Sol Campbell was the stopgap signing then, and although the veteran acquitted himself with dignity and committment, his manager patently didn't even trust him to face Barcelona. If there is to be a signing this time, let's hope it's a more impressive one.

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