A shambolic defeat at Ostersund followed by a no show in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, the writing has been on the wall for Arsene Wenger's side for quite some time now- this once invincibles have been in a continuous downward spiral since the last decade with only the customary top-4 finish saving their blushes. Even Wenger has gone on record to re-title their ambitions as the 'Top-4' trophy. For a club of such a stature this statement represents a decaying mentality in a time when English clubs are on a rise on the European stage.
They have been numerous outcries of #WengerOut since the turn of 2012 from fans at that time highlighting the trophy-less spell extending to over 9 years. Fast forward to their FA Cup win against Hull City and suddenly the Frenchman was once again untouchable. Away victories against Manchester City and Liverpool meant that Arsene still had that panache about him that had endeared him to the fans and it was clear that many had jumped the gun in labeling him as a primitive tactician.
At the Emirates on Friday, Arsene Wenger found himself once again facing the gauntlet against perhaps the best side in all of Europe as his die-hard supporters looked for a reaction from the legendary manager. 32 minutes in, his side were 3-0 down at home, visibly distraught and listless, the players treading back to the center circle, a stark contrast to the mentality which saw them overturn a 2-0 deficit in the FA Cup final in 2014. Whether or not Arsene Wenger will stay at the club, there are a lot of other issues that need fixing before the Gunners can re-establish themselves back to the upper echelons of English football. Here is a detailed analysis of some of them.
Replacing Alexis Sanchez with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has become a headache for Arsene Wenger. He has deployed two formations: one is the 3-4-3 and the other is a 4-2-3-1, both featuring a lone forward flanked by pacy wingers; which evidently he no longer has.
Another issue with the 3-4-3 formation is Ozil. He gets shifted wide off the ball and the severe lack of positional awareness of Hector Bellerin makes matters worse. In attacking sense this makes a lot of sense with the pace of Bellerin on the wings and the german cutting inside centrally but both end up doing neither; getting caught out of position repeatedly. Ozil does not have the pace to gallop repeatedly from wide areas and this stunts any build up from the right hand side.
Coming to the 4-2-3-1 formation. Xhaka and Ramsey are not defensive midfielders and neither is a telling box to box midfielder. Ramsey has the tendency to push forward and same can be said about Jack Wilshere who was their best player in the Carabao Cup final, leaving Xhaka as the lone marshal in the center of the park. No wonder David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan had a field day at the Emirates on Friday.
Another gaping highlight from the defeat was Hector Bellerin's inability to play in a back-4. He repeatedly over-committed on Leroy Sane only to be dragged around by the German like a balloon on a string, leaving Shkodran Mustafi to cover the onrushing full-back which in turned opened up space for David Silva to score.
Is Aubameyang a winger or a striker? Is Ramsey an attacking midfielder or a box to box merchant? Is Bellerin a full-back or a wing-back? Is Elneny niether footed? Jokes aside, Arsenal players look lost on the pitch and in all honesty it doesn't seem to be entirely their fault. Professional footballers are expected to fill in as per requirements but if you are going to come any closer to winning against Pep Guardiola, you need to have a system which actually gets results.
At Arsenal it's still not clear who is designated starter in midfield or in defense. Who will start up top is another dilemma and clearly no thought has been given as to who is the creator in-chief between Ozil and Mkhitaryan.
Kolasinac was hailed as a terrific signing but somehow no-one at Arsenal seems to know how to use him. Nacho Monreal's goal scoring exploits mean that he is preferred in the wing-back role and the constant switching has resulted in both players finding it hard to develop any consistency. A similar assessment can be made of Mohammed Elneny who looks lost in a midfield two but can be developed as a reliable presence as a defensive midfielder yet he gets deployed with Xhaka and struggles like a deer in headlights. Alex Iwobi looked a Yaya Toure like presence against Chelsea in Community Shield in center-midfield but regularly gets shifted out on the wings.
Arsenal failed to score against Tottenham, didn't trouble the rafters in both matches against a World Class defence of City. Any guesses what is going to happen against a Milan side coached by Gennaro Gattuso? Evidently they struggle against good defenses but that does not mean they are not a creative side. Against City for the first quarter, they were the better team and looked threatening, it's when they started leaking goals faster than water from open taps, is when they got bogged down and the players just couldn't seem to muster a response.
If Arsenal are going to win, they need first stop the pilferage at the other end. Shkodran Mustafi needs to be moved on, he is not the answer. Laurent Koscielny has been a reliable presence but looks short on confidence. Hector Bellerin does not have the discipline to play in a back-4. Perhaps trying Sead Kolasinac in the center-back spot could be a temporary solution but again as Gary Neville suggested he looks rather unfit. They need a bustling midfielder in the shape of Arturo Vidal and Radja Naingollan to breathe some much needed energy into the midfield.
Abdoulaye Doucoure from Watford, Tanguy N'Dombele of Lyon and Geoffrey Kondogbia of Valencia could be potential candidates for the Patrick Viera type role. This will allow Xhaka to express his passing side of the game much more. Similarly a new no non-sense center-back would be a nice addition. Stefan De Vrij would be the dream signing while another under the radar signing could be Hannover's Salif Sane.
Remember the times of Vieira and Tony Adams? Well those Arsenal sides from the times gone by had one thing in common and that was leaders across the pitch. In the Carabao Cup final as Vincent Kompany celebrated with his troops, Arsenal players walked back with dejected looks on their faces. It seemed that the squad was waiting for a miracle to save them from the humiliation.
Against Bournemouth, they took the lead and failed to convert chances and promptly got stung back by the lively Ryan Fraser. While anybody would have still banked on Arsenal to bag all three points from there on, there was a sinking feeling around the away section that they are going to witness their latest capitulation and so it turned out eventually, Bournemouth rallied to win all three points.
Arsenal in dire need of someone to grab the game from the scruff and make things happen. Similar circumstances saw the mercurial Alexis Sanchez ghost past QPR defenders on the near post and produce a stunning goal in 2015 to give them a 2-0 lead. While he has moved on to pastures new, he has left the void of a dynamic presence in the Arsenal squad. Mesut Ozil is their talisman but he is not someone who strikes fear into the opposition. Someone needs to take up that mantle and currently the only person closest to doing that spends much of his time on the injury table (cough ** Jack Wilshere ** cough).
Replacing the departing Alexis Sanchez with Aubameyang might not have been the smartest move by Arsene Wenger especially after considering that he had shelled out a hefty amount in the summer on Alexandre Lacazette. Now left with two top-class strikers, the Frenchman clearly has not found a system to get the best of the duo or even from a single one of them. Their price tag suggests that the only way forward is incorporating them together into the team similar to the way Henry and Bergkamp operated. Another example would be the recent partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge that plundered 5 goals at Anfield against Arsenal in 2013/14.
Apart the forward line, the midfield three needs to clearly sought out and with Ozil and Mkhitaryan the prime candidates to knit play together like David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne do for Manchester City. Perhaps a switch back to a 4-2-2-2 formation will work best for Arsene Wenger but again who will play in the midfield two?
The defence needs a major plug to give them solidity. Petr Cech needs a young deputy and Hector Bellerin needs competition at the right back spot. Rob Holding is too naive to fill in as a centre-half and Maitland-Niles has a future in midfield, although his performance at Ostersund suggests otherwise. Alban Lafont could be great signing moving into the next phase for Arsenal and a centre-back to complement Laurent Koscielny could be key next season.