As an Arsenal fan, I go through highs and lows several times throughout each game. I get especially frustrated with our defensive lapses against lesser opponents.
These counterattacks seem to be occurring more and more. Due to either a great save by Wojciech Szczesny or a poorly timed pass or shot by the opponent, we escape trouble more often than not. But pretty soon the luck Arsenal has had defensively is going to run out on them, so a new strategy needs to be developed.
While I am an admitted Arsene Wenger supporter, I often feel that due to his stubbornness, he won't make certain changes to his lineups or formations to correct these defensive breakdowns. Wenger is one of the top two Arsenal managers of all time and even though several of the supporters disagree with some of his signings or non-signings, no one can question his love for the club. This is why he needs to make some internal adjustments along with whatever January signing the club completes.
In my eyes one of the biggest areas of concern outside of a true center forward (which is a story for another day) is the need for a strong defensive midfielder.
The player that best fits into Arsenal's style of play is Abou Diaby. Unfortunately, due to chronic injuries he can't be counted on playing 90 minutes each week. He's supposedly close to returning to practice, but no one is relying on him to stay in the lineup. Once Diaby got injured it seemed like the discipline and structure waned on the defensive line.
Mikel Arteta has done a very good job, but he's not a classic defensive midfielder and should be further up the pitch where he can use his creativity with Santi Cazorla. Arteta is 30 years old and can't handle the rigors of playing 90 minutes each game.
That is why I would move Cazorla up to one of the wings, push Arteta into a more attacking role and then slot Thomas Vermaelen into the customary defensive midfielder role. This way Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny can play center back with all three defenders on the same pitch at one time.
For all the talent Vermaelen has, the Arsenal captain has given away some dangerous free kicks this year by being caught out of position or by his penchant for sometimes joining the rush forward.
Allowing Vermaelen to be in the midfield would allow him to join the counterattack if it's called for, but more importantly allow his strength and defensive intelligence to break up the play before a dangerous counterattack could occur.
I realize that midfield would be a new position that Vermaelen is not used to, as he has only played center back and left back. In time I believe he would relish the opportunity to play defensive midfielder and he would be able to chip in the odd goal every so often. His ability to play the ball quickly wouldn't hinder the Arsenal style of play and would solve a huge problem with an internal solution.
At first this could only be used at the end of games for the last 15 minutes until the team gets more familiar with their roles. Besides, if this transition didn't work, Diaby could be a defensive super sub (if healthy) or Wenger could look on the transfer market this summer for a real defensive midfielder like Yann M'Vila.
Feel free to reach me on Twitter at @brettkaplan.
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