Whilst most people would have annoyed having to watch Arsenal as opposed to Real Madrid outclass Liverpool, the Gunners’s display against Belgian minnows Anderlecht proved to be a highly thrilling game for all the wrong reasons. Even before the kick-off, the Gunners defensive deficiencies were of huge concern. Calum Chambers was beginning to show signs of maturity as his fledgling career progressed, but against the Flemish footballers, he looked outclassed and out-of-sorts. Per Mertesacker, however, is considerably more experienced but looks just as uneasy – since hanging up his World Cup winner’s medal on the mantel, he has returned to The Emirates with a lack of guile and passion. And the less said about Nacho Monreal the better – although a makeshift centre-half, he gave his versatility credibility little credence as he stumbled listlessly, giving Anderlecht a penalty in the process. Tactically, Arsenal were all over the place. Arsene Wenger seems to want to emulate the free-flowing attacking verve Liverpool adopted so well last season, but he needs to measure it. At the moment, it’s in excess. Every player is bombing forward with reckless abandon, leaving the Gunners’ weak back four horribly exposed. In Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey and, to a lesser extent, Danny Welbeck, they have footballers with swagger and attacking prowess. But, as a whole, they’re top heavy, and the rickety defence really needs care and attention in the January transfer window.
Being an Arsenal fan must result in a few strained arteries. In the Premier League, their last two results have been straightforward, but then again, they were against Burnley and Sunderland (the latter more than happy to let Sanchez score). But look at their recent results against more challenging opposition and it makes for less satisfying reading. They toiled hard against Hull, eventually drawing 2-2 when they should have lost, whilst their middling displays against Southampton and Chelsea don’t make Arsenal look like contenders for Jose Mourinho’s impending trophy. Their next game is against Swansea, who now boast a firing Wilfried Bony and are fresh from a win. It’ll be another long 90 minutes. In the Champions League, too, the best they can now hope for is second place. They’ve struggled against Anderlecht and next up is Borussia Dortmund, who won’t exactly give the Gunners an easy ride.
With the Champions League looking less likely, Wenger will want to bolster the north London side’s league position. With the FA Cup silverware making the trophy cabinet look less dusty, he may have to be content with improving on a fourth-place finish in the Premier League. With Liverpool fading, Manchester United still finding their feet and Everton not looking as potent as before, finishing third would be a very realistic aim. But to do this, he not only needs his assets to be fit, like Jack Wilshere, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, but he also needs to buy well in January. It isn’t an easy market, but Arsenal lack the depth and quality their nearest rivals Manchester City and Chelsea have, and to emulate their talents, he needs to start focusing on his defence rather than his attack.
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