New year needs fresh Arsenal resolutions

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-3 21:38:01

Gunners start 2015 with bad loss, but things may get better

A dejected Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger covers his face during his side's 2-0 Premier League defeat to Southampton in Southampton, England on Thursday. Photo: IC

If you're an Arsenal fan, one thing you've got to credit the team is for taking you on a ride throughout this season.

From the highs of 4-1 wins in the Champions League and the Premiership to the drama of comebacks to the lows of being an offside call away from being 4-0 down to Stoke, the Gunners have done it all.

Looking ahead at the new year, there might be room for optimism. Old faces are returning from injury and the boss Arsene Wenger will surely find reinforcements.

However, the concerns linger over whether this will be enough. Sixth-place Arsenal need to climb back into the top four but worryingly, clubs like Southampton and Spurs are proving to be worthy challengers for those spots.

This season has been disappointing to say the least. The FA Cup victory in May finally lifted the trophy-less run from Wenger and his team, but instead of looking stronger, the opposite has happened.

Arsenal have endured a lot of turmoil in the past few months, with Wenger bearing the brunt of anger from fans. Things got so dire that Wenger got heckled by his own fans in public ­after the disastrous Stoke defeat, as well as berated by an angry fan who intruded onto the dugout in Southampton on Thursday.

What caused this was a series of embarrassments, highlighted by the draw against Anderlecht in the Champions League in which the Belgian team came back from 3-0 down in the 59th minute on November 4. Then back in the Premier League, Arsenal went to old nemesis Stoke on December 6 aware of their past troubles, and promptly rolled over to be 3-0 down in the first half in a game that ended 3-2. Last season's 5-1 and 6-0 losses to Liverpool and Chelsea were bad enough, but getting blown out by Stoke took things to a new low.

So is there hope for the second half of the season to be better?

A brighter 2015?

After the Stoke humiliation, the Gunners managed to rediscover their winning ways by beating Newcastle, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham before succumbing to Southampton. The last defeat was especially bad as Arsenal's defense was actually intact with Mathieu Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny back from injuries.

Defense has been Arsenal's weak point this season, as it was in the last season, and it is not just coincidence that the return of Debuchy and Koscielny resulted in several wins in December until defeat to Southampton.

As players like Koscielny and Debuchy start playing more, the defense will likely be more fluid. Meanwhile, players need to step up and assert themselves, as Wenger has said that sometimes they don't communicate during games.

What is encouraging is that more injured mainstays will be returning in January such as midfielders Aaron Ramsey, Mezut Ozil and Mikel Arteta.

If the defense stays healthy, and Alexis Sanchez continues his prolific, fearless form, ­Arsenal's offense will have the potential to be one of the best in Europe. A forward trio of Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud, supported by the likes of Ozil and Ramsey in the center and Theo Walcott on the wing, would be a daunting unit.

Wenger has even promised to spend in the January transfer window, on defense nonetheless. Arsenal fans have long pleaded for the club to get premier defenders and defensive mid­fielders rather than focus only on offensive talents, and Wenger has probably realized this by now. There are strong rumors of Arsenal signing Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho and any minute now, there should be news confirming it. This would be a definite upgrade from past transfer windows.

Old problems

The return of players like Ozil and Ramsey plus the likelihood of defensive support bodes well for Arsenal. However, by itself, it will not solve their defensive issues completely. This is because Arsenal's tactics and mental strength have often been found lacking, something Wenger has admitted at times.

What is worrying is that some of their poor results have been against supposedly lesser teams. The 3-3 draw against Anderlecht was a ­stunner, not just because Arsenal allowed three goals but because of the opposition. The Belgian team may be better than most people would think, but in the end they are no Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.

In their 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in November, Arsenal were dominant and constantly on the attack but still failed to score until the final minutes. They were flustered by the stout United defense, and instead of controlling the game, Arsenal became more indisciplined and eventually lost.

As if the defense was not already a concern, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny had a game to forget against Southampton when two bad errors led directly to two goals from the Saints.

Arsenal need to solve this mental block, otherwise this might be the season that Arsenal's much-vaunted top-four streak under Wenger ends.

Posted in: Soccer

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