Much has changed at Arsenal recently. There is now an entire generation of young fans who are only experiencing their second manager at the club, but a sizeable number of them would say that some very familiar problems still remain.
Indeed, those interested in football spread betting can see that Arsenal are well off the pace of title-favourites Man City and Liverpool in every long list around, so just where should Arsenal strengthen in January to remedy this? The short answer is everywhere, but it is going to be difficult for Arsenal to address every problem in January, with inflated prices and speculation being the usual disruptive factors.
Comparisons exacerbate emotions
A classic victim of his own success, Arsene Wenger found his teams of the trophy-sparse 2010s constantly compared to his glorious teams of the late 1990s to mid-2000s. Who, for instance, can forget the Lazarus style rise of Tony Adams, from borderline washout to title-winning captain?
Then there was the Campbell/Toure partnership at the back – best described, in a word, as ‘impregnable’. More recently though, there has been something of a running joke on the terraces that Arsenal are desperate for a goalkeeper, defender – and a dominant central midfielder.
There can be no denying that Wenger’s teams often got bullied in the latter years of his reign, especially by workmanlike teams – such as Stoke and Bolton amongst many others – who were prepared to put up a fight in lieu of outclassing the Gunners. Alas, Wenger only ever seemed to complain about this, without ever truly addressing the issue.
‘New’ – but for how long?
Though only a few months into his reign, Unai Emery hasn’t been able to do a lot with the side. Overall, the opinion is that he has performed ‘OK’ in his role since he started, but finishing in the top four is still going to be a huge challenge.
A lack of time to settle can only be a mitigating circumstance for so long, and Emery doesn’t yet seem to know how to get the absolute best out of the players at his disposal. His attempts to solidify at the back have been honest enough, with Petr Cech and Granit Xhaka adapting well to Emery’s philosophy of fluidity. There remain question marks about Bernd Leno and Sokratis though, and with the clock now truly ticking on Cech’s time at the Emirates Stadium, the old problems remain unaddressed.
Indeed, Bernd Leno’s mistake at Southampton cast further doubt over his future at the club, but he is still young by goalkeeping standards, and has shown enough to suggest that he will improve as his Premier League career progresses. Players like David De Gea and Jordan Pickford have previously had difficult first seasons in the league, and the more forgiving Arsenal fan will still preach patience – until the end of the season at the very least.
A backline without backbone
The defence is still an issue though. Only Bellerin and Sokratis are excelling at the back right now, and getting that dominant defender they need is still a problem.
The Aaron Ramsey issue needs to be sorted too. Arsenal are seemingly never short on excellent ball players, but his inevitable departure could help Arsenal introduce a dominant midfielder, who would be able to play the ‘number six’ role that is so common in European football now.
Whether it is the likes of Kante, Fabinho or Fernandinho, the most successful teams in recent times have had that anchor man in front of the defence. Torreira has undoubtedly been a brilliant buy for Arsenal, but some feel that he needs someone more well-rounded next to him than Xhaka, whose temperamental nature can occasionally be more burden than boon.
Pace precipitates progress
Another player that Arsenal seem to lack is a pacey winger who is able to run at defenders and scare the life out of them. A link between the talented midfielders and the forwards would be useful and help to unlock the bigger teams that Arsenal can come up against.
You could argue that this is already in place with the young players at the club, especially Reiss Nelson, who has been making great progress on loan at Hoffenheim. However, there is no doubt Arsenal have long lacked the bite that took them to second place in 2015/16, with the now-departed Alexis Sanchez being the ‘complete package’ during that campaign. The truth is that even an improved Mkhitaryan is nowhere near the player Sanchez could be under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer over at Old Trafford.
There are promising signs with Emery, and a lot of talent in the squad, but the table doesn’t lie. Arsenal want to be at the top table and until they add the finishing touches to their squad, they won’t be able to keep up with the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City.