After a promising October for the Gunners, the frustrations among Arsenal supporters are beginning to emerge after two poor results in a row – an embarrassing 3-3 draw at home against Anderlecht after leading 3-0, and a 2-1 away loss to Swansea City despite Alexis Sanchez putting the London side in the lead.
During the last international break, we examined Arsenal’s strengths and weaknesses from August through September. Now it’s time to take a closer look at how the Gunners have performed for October through November (to date).
Star Player: Alexis Sanchez. Alexis has turned out to be one of the best summer transfer purchases in all of Europe. The Chilean forward has scored 12 goals in all competitions this season, including eight scores during the months of October and November (eight matches). The 25-year-old striker single-handedly guided Arsenal to victories over Sunderland and Burnley and has been given Man of the Match awards in three of Arsenal’s last four Premier League matches.
Best Starting XI: (excluding currently injured players) Wojciech Szczęsny, Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Calum Chambers, Hector Bellerin, Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, and Danny Welbeck. Despite Nacho Monreal’s solid October performances filling in for Koscielny at center-back, the usual left-back has been exploited over the last two matches due to his lack of size and physicality.
Chambers has shown that while he is a good defender, he does not have the pace to keep up with shifty wingers in the Premier League and is probably better suited to playing center-back. Aaron Ramsey would normally be automatic for a starting XI spot; however, his current lack of form is shocking. Perhaps an international break is just what the Wales international needs. Current injured players Mesut Özil, Olivier Giroud, Mikel Arteta, Koscielny and Debuchy will all most likely return to the starting XI once healthy.
Team Strength: Arsenal’s team strength is currently on offense. The Gunners have scored 17 goals during their eight matches in October and November so far. While they are certainly relying heavily on Alexis Sanchez, as he has netted eight of the 17 goals, the Gunners have not had problems finding the back of the net over the last two months.
Team Weakness: It is quite simple really. Arsenal need to improve defensively if they wish to extend their streak to 18 consecutive seasons in Champions League play. Injuries have without a doubt hindered the team’s play, with right-back Mathieu Debuchy missing out on the last two months due to an ankle injury and center-back Laurent Koscielny currently out of action because of a lingering Achilles issue.
Debuchy is on track and set to return to the first team within the next month, while Koscielny will need a few more weeks to recover from his injury. The French duo will certainly help ease Arsenal’s defensive problems when they return from injury, but the north London team must look at the January transfer window to strengthen their defensive depth.
Injury Concerns: With Debuchy, Giroud, and Özil all on track to return from their respective injuries, the most glaring concern is with Koscielny’s injury. The France international has not featured for the Gunners since a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on October 5, and there is no real time table for his return to the side. Wenger confirmed late last week that his defender will most likely miss the next three or four weeks due to the nagging achilles injury, but nothing is set in stone.
January Transfer Needs: The Gunners are in serious need of defensive help. If they can splash for two players, a defensive midfielder and a center-back, then Arsenal can get back on track and finish the season on a strong note. German duo Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira are high on Wenger’s wish list and both would be welcomed additions to the squad by fans.
It has been reported that Hummels is open to joining Arsenal, and would even choose the Gunners over Manchester United, but the highly-rated defender would most likely cost the Gunners around £30 million.
Khedira is currently lost in the shuffle at Real Madrid and has not even been given a start in any competition this season. With the German midfielder out of contract at the end of the campaign, he very well could be up for sale in January. If Arsenal were to get both Hummels and Khedira (and that is a big if), it would be a very successful transfer window.
Manager Grade: C. While I believe Arsene Wenger is an extremely good manager and is still the man to guide the Gunners, I do feel that he could have done well to buy one or two additional players in the summer transfer window. The five players that he brought in during the summer (Alexis, Chambers, Debuchy, Welbeck, and David Ospina) all appear to be solid buys; however, the Frenchman could have done more on the defensive side.
Tactically, Wenger needs to rotate his squad more. Germany international Lukas Podolski should be utilized up front in the place of Welbeck at times, and perhaps Tomas Rosicky and Joel Campbell need to be given more playing time as well.
Overall Team Rating (out of 5 stars): 2.5. The Gunners are currently sixth in the Premier League standings and in the runner-up spot of the four-team Champions League group stage. Arsenal has only collected four victories during the eight-game stretch throughout October and November.
While the Gunners have obviously not played as well as they would have liked so far this season, one silver lining is that their biggest top four rivals at the moment, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur are all underneath them in the league table.
Looking ahead to the big picture, the Gunners will still most likely finish within the top four in the Premier League and go through to the knockout phase of the Champions League, but is that good enough for Arsenal fans? Much of the team’s success for the remainder of the season depends on injuries and the January transfer market.
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