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Arsenal Review: The “2+1" Plan

Arsenal 14 - The BoosI normally write a halfway mark review of Arsenal’s season at about this time. 20 games have been played in the Premier League. There’s a sense of how things have gone and what needs to be done to do well in the second half of the season.  There’s stats, assessments and whatnot.  But I’m not doing that this year.  And I’m not for a simple reason: it’s plainly obvious to everyone and their momma that Arsenal have not had a good season.

Between the injuries to key players like Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, David Ospina, Mathieu Flamini, Nacho Monreal and the difficulty in fitting in a new formation, the season has felt like a sputtering stop-start event. We’ve started fullbacks at centerback. We’ve named players to the bench who were clearly injured and wouldn’t see the field but were needed in order to make numbers.  I mean, we’re beyond starting the odd youngster. Players like Calum Chambers, Hector Bellerin, Emiliano Martinez and Ainsley Maitland-Niles can say they’ve played for the Arsenal senior squad in key games.

The reasons for these issues are numerous and ultimately seem to return back to the same person: Arsene Wenger.  Whether or not he should have taken the FA Cup triumph in May as his chance to hit the escape button is a question that might be in the back of his head. Specially given the events following the 3-2 loss to Stoke.  At this point, all we can say is that he’s the manager and this is the team until season’s end; as it would take a horrific fall of form to think the Arsenal board would entertain the thought of releasing the club’s most successful and iconic manager.459708260

In the meantime, the transfer window is open.  And like everyone else, I have some ideas as to what should be done.  The newspapers and blogs will link Arsenal with everyone under the sun.  Edinson Cavani, Wilfred Bony and Sami Khedira are just the latest.  And they feel like retreads because we’ve heard them so much in the last few months.  We’ll also be linked with Mats Hummels, but then again, so will Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern, Chelsea, Man United and any other big club.  I expect the German international will remain at the Westphalenstadion through this season at least.  I mean, selling your best defender as you fight for your top division life would be nuts, no matter the money offered. (Now if they had a cloning machine, they could keep Mats Hummels and sell his clone around Europe. Imagine that!)

For me, it’s impossible to imagine a large influx of players.  This is January and traditionally Arsene Wenger doesn’t do a lot of business at this time.  One big addition for that season (like Reyes in 04 or Arshavin in 09) or a few small, but key ones for the future (Adebayor, Diaby and Walcott in 06). And yes, there’s more as likely a chance we do nothing in January. If I could unearth the old, original Arsenal blog I wrote, I could pull back instances where I was begging for a defender and a defensive mid in January 2009, a striker in January 2011 and a striker or winger last year).  Fact is we all seem to be aware of our needs, but that doesn’t mean the manager will go out and find a player to fill that need.

This window, to me it’s simple: we need to shore up the defense. We got fullbacks in central defense.  We got one defender who has played every minute of every game after he went to Brazil (Per Mertesacker).  We haven’t been able to properly challenge Wojciech Szczesny due to David Ospina’s injury.  And ahead of them we have the oft-injured Mikel Arteta and the red mist-suffering Mathieu Flamini protecting and shielding them.  All the bad performances this season can be attributed to either the defense in shambles or the failure of the midfield to protect them.  That leads to a team unbalanced: too worried about protecting the defense to build an attack or too desperate to create a goal and leaving gaps and holes all over the pitch for opponents to exploit.  Arsenal 14 - Injuries

So even though I’d love to see a frontline of Edinson Cavani, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott leading Arsenal, I’m fine if that transfer doesn’t happen.  Nor will I shed a tear if we don’t get someone like Reus, Draxler or any of the precocious attacking midfielders that are out in the wide world and everyone lusts after. In case you haven’t noticed, Arsenal are not short on them.  Sure, adding talent is always good, but I’m willing to finish the year with what we got in the front part of the pitch.  I am, however, terrified of what we have at the back.

For me, January must go follow a “2+1” Plan: 2 Central Defenders + 1 Defensive Midfielder.  Notice what happens if we buy 2 CBs and 1 DM.  2 CBs would give Koscielny a chance to fully heal without needing to rush him back (Aside: I don’t for a second think he’ll be healthy this season).  2 CBs also allow us to give Mertesacker a break, which he desperately needs, and lets Chambers settle into the side without pressure to adapt to what we need at that moment.  Most importantly, 2 CBs let players like Monreal and Debuchy into their more natural positions. Meanwhile a DM gives Arteta a chance to heal and put fewer wear and tear on his legs.  A DM anchors the midfield, settles things and protects the back 5.  It allows players like Ox and Santi the freedom to move up and join the attack.  And it has the added benefit of keeping all our players healthy as we still go through League, FA Cup and Champions League games through May.

So who should we get? How would I know? Any suggestion I make would sound silly.  So, instead, let me throw a few names out and, if any of them end up joining Arsenal, then we can all cheer. I would make the one suggestion that we should target starting caliber players.  People who could come in and challenge those already entrenched with the possibility of their starting spots being up for grabs.  We did it already with Sanchez, Ospina and Wellbeck this summer past.  No sense in looking for backups now.  Bring in the best players we can and let the best XI take the pitch.  We need talent up and down the side.

Centerbacks Defensive Midfielders
Benedikt Howedes, Schalke Maxime Gonalons, Lyon
Mehdi Benatia, Roma Morgan Schneiderlin, Southampton
Neven Subotic, Dortmund Igor Denisov, Dynamo Moscow
Winston Reid, West Ham Lars Bender, Bayer Leverkusen
Nemanja Matic, Man City Luis Gustavo, Wolfsburg
Hector Moreno, Espanyol Jeremy Toulalan, Monaco
Stefan de Vrij, Lazio Sven Bender, Dortmund
Nicolas Otamendi, FC Porto Rio Mavuba, Lille
Inigo Martinez, Real Sociedad Sami Khedira, Real Madrid
Ron Vlaar, Aston Villa William Carvalho, Sporting
Ezequiel Garay, Zenit Javi Martinez, Bayern Munich
So those are some ideas. The club could end up buying Hummels and Diego Godin for all I know and totally blow my mind.  I doubt it.  The reality is that everything that’s gone wrong this season has started with the issues in defense. Issues that weren’t fixed over the summer and that we went into the season with.  Well, Arsenal now sit 6th, behind not just Chelsea and Man City, but a poor Man United (who’ve had defensive issues of their own), behind the Southampton side who just beat them 2-0 today and behind Spurs who today leveled Chelsea by a 5-3 scoreline.  There’s 18 games left to go in the league season.  That’s 54 points to fight for.
The season isn’t over.  Not by a long shot.  But here’s the chance to make corrections, get the talent the team desperately needs to compete with its rivals and end the season on a positive.  For all the acrimony that this season has brought, the chance still exists to end it on a high.  To end it with a trophy.  Every year one team goes on a massive run after the New Year begins.  Why can’t Arsenal be that team?  Arsenal 14 - Happier Times

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