Football

Midfield central to Arsenal's problems

Arsenal slipped to a 2-1 defeat in north London derby. (©GettyImages)
Arsenal slipped to a 2-1 defeat in north London derby. (©GettyImages).

Arsenal were in charge for half an hour against Tottenham on Sunday. Two lapses and they went into the tunnel at White Hart Lane 2-0 down at half-time.

Per Mertesacker’s goal early in the second half should have started the comeback but the Gunners’ challenge ebbed away. Wenger was left to rue lapses in both boxes but his team’s biggest strength could also be one of its weaknesses.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the defeat, Wenger said: "We were not efficient in those decisive zones, not at the back or up front. We were not cautious enough.

"On the two goals we played offside in a position where we shouldn't play offside."

It was easy to point out the defensive errors that allowed Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon to run in and score the two Spurs goals, but less mentioned was the Arsenal midfield.

Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker were both allowed to pick up the ball unchallenged and run at the Arsenal defence without any pressure from the midfield trio of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, and Aaron Ramsey. The defending was schoolboy but this was not the first time Spurs had looked to get in behind, and if the problem had been addressed at source then Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen would not have had the chance to be exposed.

Wenger continues to play Arteta as a holding midfielder but the Spaniard is not known for his defensive abilities, and while Jack Wilshere has great determination and appetite for the battle, he is not a defensive midfielder either.

The absent Abo Diaby has the physicality but again has an attacking ethos, while even the departed Alex Song was complimented more on his link-up play with Robin van Persie, rather than his work shielding his defence.

The more worrying aspect is that, with the technically proficient midfield trio, with Santi Cazorla also drifting inside from a wide berth, Olivier Giroud had to battle with so many aerial balls, within 12 such duels according to whoscored.com.

The Arsenal way is slick, quick, short passing along the deck, yet the only way they used their striker on the weekend was to lob balls for him to challenge for. While that may play to Giroud’s strengths, being a more physical forward than previous incumbents like Van Persie and Thierry Henry, it does not play to Arsenal’s strengths.

Wenger added: "We made it difficult for ourselves. We came back and dominated the game but the game was stop and go.

"It was difficult to get a flow in the final 20 minutes, we didn't find the second goal."

That lack of flow came from his midfield failing to connect with the forward line. In the first half Tottenham looked to press Arsenal on the halfway line and stop any through balls, while in the second half they retreated to the edge of the penalty area and presented a wall that Arsenal were unable to break through.

At their best Arsenal are, or were, a fast, free-flowing, dynamic team that tore teams apart with a delightful football style. As their results have regressed so has their football and while flashes of the old Arsenal come up in games like the 7-3 win over Newcastle in December or the 5-1 win over West Ham in January, these are matched by games like the north London derby on Sunday, or the defeat to Bayern Munich at the Emirates in the first leg of their Champions League tie.

The midfield is the least of Arsene Wenger’s worries, but it is a worry none the less and with little covering of the defence and the creative engine misfiring, Arsenal’s season could go up in flames.

 

DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeFootball Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeFootball.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeFootball.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

Topics:
Arsenal
Football
Premier League

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