Sunday, August 21, 2016

A clean sheet but no cutting edge

After conceding four last week to Liverpool, a clean sheet away to the Champions was incredibly welcome. The defending from the Gunners was solid, composed and effective against the pacy Leicester City front-line with the returning Laurent Koscielny putting in a superb showing. Apart from a couple of hairy moments when referee Mark Clattenburg had a few decisions to make, Jamie Vardy struggled to find much space in behind to cause Arsenal problems, and Nacho Monreal kept Riyad Mahrez quiet. Following the speculation of those two players potentially joining Arsenal over the summer, it was a big relief to not have them make the difference at the King Power on Saturday.
But even though Vardy and Mahrez didn’t score against the Gunners, they were still a reminder of the holes that are still in the Gunners’ squad. Arsenal fans, unsurprisingly, vocalised their disapproval at Arsene Wenger’s transfer dealings this summer as Arsenal put in an insipid attacking display. Until Mesut Ozil entered the fray for his first appearance of the season, there was no fluidity to Arsenal’s moves forward. The Gunners ran out of ideas as soon as they reached the penalty area and those who began the game in the three attacking positions could barely find each other in the final third and create opportunities.
Theo Walcott continued to frustrate. As usual, there were miscontrolled balls and a lack of confidence around the penalty area from the Englishman, who couldn’t build on a goal-scoring start to the season against Liverpool. He seems to panic when around the penalty area and doesn’t seem to have any sort of understanding with Alexis when the Chilean plays in the centre of the front three.
That Alexis kept drifting out wide to try and get the ball and get involved in the game hinted at a lack of confidence in those players meant to be creating opportunities for him. Arsene Wenger is right to say that Alexis has the attributes to be a dynamic centre-forward, but when in that position, he is a lot more reliant on others feeding him, and being more disciplined to stay at the head of Arsenal’s attack. The experiment of playing him as a fully-fledged front man hasn’t worked in the two games so far this season and, while it might turn into something good given time, the opening matches of the season aren’t when you should be experimenting. It is just another example of it looking like Arsenal were unprepared going into the season.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the other man to start in the front three, and while there were glimpses of excellence, the most of the game just passed Oxlade-Chamberlain by. He looked uncomfortable out on the left flank and for him to develop into the player most fans hope and believe he can be, it is a waste playing him out on that side.
Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud made their first appearances after their exertions in Euro 2016. The manager is right to be cautious with them because of pre-season fitness, with Aaron Ramsey’s hamstring injury against Liverpool serving as proof of that, but both the German and the Frenchman have to be straight back into the starting line-up from next week. Ozil immediately gave Arsenal some fluidity going forward and engaged Alexis Sanchez more in the game by giving him the ball in central positions. From just those 20 minutes, I already fear that an injury to Ozil this season would seriously damage Arsenal’s chances of putting together a decent campaign.
It was the sort of attacking performance that makes a mockery of Arsene Wenger’s argument of only wanting to sign players that will improve the quality of the squad. That is a transfer policy that I wholeheartedly agree with, but you can’t defend not signing players by saying that there is no-one better when there is clearly a staggering amount of room for improvement. Based on that performance at Leicester, you can’t tell me that there isn’t a player available to sign who would be an improvement on Walcott or on Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Yet again, Arsenal enter the final knockings of the transfer window with deals needing to be done if they are to have a good season. Transfer signings aren’t the only way to improve the team, but this Arsenal team is crying out for some fresh impetus. The attacking performance on Saturday was stale and needs freshening up. Arsene can bemoan the market and make excuses about quality until he’s blue in the face, but the performances of his team this season have not backed up the reasoning he’s given for not signing a defender or, primarily, a centre-forward.