Arsene Wenger, as expected, decided to not delve into the transfer market and replenish a squad that has appeared fatigued and out of sorts in recent weeks. The 0-0 draw with Bolton mid-week highlighted the areas of the squad that many fans have been calling for Wenger to strengthen. Lack of depth in the wings and up front has become very noticeable as the first team have struggled to break down teams and there is no one on the bench who can change this it would appear. With no desirable alternative striker on the bench, Van Persie is often having to attempt miracles to drag the team through a game and salvage the hotly-contested 4th place.
This lack of depth wasn’t as pronounced when Arsenal were winning games, however, as the midfield in particular have become stretched to their limits, it’s a massive worry for the club. The midfield trio of Arteta-Song-Ramsey have played the majority of this seasons games and critics of the latter two have came out in numbers in recent weeks to criticise their performances, some even going to the extent of threatening to kill Ramsey and blaming him for the death of Gary Speed.
Focusing on the Welshman first, he has been burdened with the creative vacuum left by Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and to a lesser extent Jack Wilshere. The pressure on him has been massive and he has put in some impressive performances, most notably in the 5-3 victory over Chelsea. He has appeared fatigued in recent weeks, however, the sensationalization of his poorer performances has been entirely misplaced.
Let’s take his performance against Bolton on Wednesday night, which initiated a new wave of venomous abuse towards him on Twitter, and his performance against Chelsea.
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As you can see there is very little difference in his play. His passing stats are nearly identical, so why the abuse? One thing that could be pointed out is the quality of his finishing. Both of the chances listed above he could have done a lot better with. His trademark appears to have become a rising shot from inside the box that goes over the bar and looks like it will never come down. Another major criticism is his lack of chance creation. Some highlights of the season so far were defence-splitting passes to the onrushing Walcott or Gervinho, they have dried up in recent weeks. You could argue he has missed the dynamic Ivorian and his ability to sneak in behind defences, or that the form of Walcott is having a negative affect on the Welsh playmaker’s performances which certainly has it’s evidence as, on average, 35% of his passes fo out to the right wing. There’s also the problem of the lack of natural full-backs, pushing the wing play forward and giving something for Ramsey to aim at. Often Van Persie, with two centre-backs surrounding him, is the only one to aim at.
What needs to be remember is that this is the 21 year-old’s first full season after a horrific leg break. Ideally, he would be rotated with Jack Wilshere who played the more advanced role in pre-season, but his injury coupled with his setback means that we are unlikely to see that this season. As you can see in another article on this site – http://www.eplindex.com/9264/landon-donovan-playmaking-stats-compared.html – Aaron’s statistics hold up well against other Premier League playmakers, almost mimicking entirely the stats of the £40 million-pound rated Luka Modric.
Alex Song also appears to be stretched to his limits, but again his stats show that his performances haven’t dropped off as badly as some believe. One thing he has missed in recent weeks is the presence of Arteta, who he had developed a great understanding with. The Spaniard allowed Song to roam forward and provide an element of strength and dribbling to Arsenal’s attack, as can be seen with his 5 assists and 1 goal in the season so far. In Arteta’s absence, Song has played alongside either Rosicky or Ramsey, both less disciplined and more attack minded than Arteta. This means Song has had to restrain himself to almost an entirely defensive role.
If we look at his performance away to Wigan in a 4-0 victory earlier in the season with his performance on Wednesday night, as with Ramsey there is little to no difference.
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His defensive stats are nearly similar, although the fact he was dribbled past twice could be indicative of fatigue kicking in. An alternative lies in Francis Coquelin, whose natural position is defensive midfield and the only time he has had an opportunity there in the league was in the 8-2 mauling to United, where his removal by Wenger opened up the the floodgates in the second half.
Mikel Arteta was welcomed back against Bolton and most fans of Arsenal recognise the difference he makes to the side. So far this season he has an average pass completion of 90% and has only lost possession 15 times. This ability to retain possession has added a new calmness to the midfield this season and his absence has been amplified in recent weeks. Wenger has rotated Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey in this role of the pivot, with Rosicky putting in some very good performances.
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The Czech playmaker has added a bite to his game, notably against Man United where he tracked back and closed down, on one occassion making Smalling slip and releasing Van Persie. His dribbling skills and speed adds a different element to the Arteta part of the midfield pivot and he could conceivably slot in for Ramsey as well. Interstingly, despite Arteta playing triple the amount of minutes of Rosicky, he has only created 9 chances more. This certainly backs up calls for Tomas to be earning more game time and for Ramsey and Arteta to be rested for the odd game.
One thing that has become evident is that Wenger’s refusal to spend in January looks like it could be fatal to Arsenal’s chances of salvaging this season. One thing that some fans need reminding of is that the players had no say in this decision and continue to put in steady performances on the field. Aaron Ramsey has performed admirably in the absence of Cesc and no doubt the return of Gervinho along with the full-backs will assist him.
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