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Wenger Has Stumbled Across A System That Can Abate Arsenal’s Big Away Day Blues

Arsenal's manager Arsène Wenger talks to Alexis Sánchez

For all the discussion that’s raged in perpetuity when it comes to Arsene Wenger, there’s little denying that in the most recent years of his distinguished tenure, the Arsenal boss has point-blank refused to learn from his mistakes.

The club finally ended their silverware hiatus last season after winning the FA Cup, but that was on the back of a league campaign in which pertinent concerns remained an obvious hindrance. The most obvious was the club’s inability to turn in respectable performances at the country’s iconic grounds; the Gunners were hit with some heavy defeats away from the Emirates, conceding a whopping 20 goals in their four away games against the rest of the league’s top five teams.

This campaign has been a little better in that sense—conceding just six goals from three of those aforementioned matches, drawing two of the matches—but they’ve yet to notch that elusive win against the big boys. On the cusp of a game at Manchester City, where the Gunners’ will look to further conquer their flagship away day blues, it seems as though Wenger may have stumbled across a system and some personnel that should serve his side well in these kinds of contests.

Detractors of this hypothesis will quickly point to the Londoners’ meek surrender against Southampton recently, but had it not been for a pair of rudimentary errors from Wojciech Szczesny—who has subsequently been dropped—they were well equipped to take something from the game. But there’s been subtle indications that the tide is turning for Arsenal and suddenly they’re resembling a bit more of a cohesive unit.

Admittedly, it’s not a process that Wenger set in motion out of free choice, rather a shift that’s come out of necessity. The club’s injury crisis has been well-documented this campaign and men you would typically bracket as nailed-on first-team players—Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil to name a selection—have been stricken by the eminent fitness hex that engulfs the Emirates. But that could be to Arsenal’s benefit as they look to down the champions.

In recent weeks, this Gunners team has oozed an increased sense of unanimity. So often this season, they’ve resembled a side that’s accommodating for opponents and lacking the determined defensive edge that sets a top side apart, but in recent weeks—whisper it quietly—the embers of that trait has been there. Looking at the likely XI for Arsenal’s trip to the Etihad, they should be stoked further this weekend.

Polished talents like Ozil, Ramsey, Walcott and Wilshere are indisputably fine players. But the men who have been drafted at the nexus of this Arsenal team to replace them—Tomas Rosicky, Francis Coquelin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla—seem to have a little more needle to their collective make-up, giving the Gunners more of a fundamental defensive foxus.

Rosicky and Coquelin are not players that the Emirates faithful would have foreseen as their holding midfield duo at the start of this season—especially with the array of midfield riches available to Wenger—but they pair have shown signs of blossoming as of late.

Rosicky, for all his back-turning-on-free-kicks antics is an intricate, creative midfielder who loves to get stuck in and track runners. And while he is by no means a long-term solution, Coquelin is player that’s of primary defensive mind-set, something the Gunners have been lacking in this area of the pitch for a long time.

Cazorla may not be the most ferocious in his off-the-ball work, but the aforementioned twosome have provided a decent foil for the Spaniard and he’s benefitting hugely from a sustained run in the team in his favoured position. Oxlade-Chamberlain is another who is relishing a prolonged spell in the side and his dynamic vertical forays have given Arsenal some much needed industry on the right-flank.

Of course, there is Alexis Sanchez too. He’s been rightly revered for his magnificent efforts in dangerous areas of the pitch, but the Chilean has shown an infectious and insatiable streak to his play this season. The former Barcelona man resembles a kid on a playground, bristling with industrious vim and unashamedly desperate in his desire to get a touch of the ball anywhere on the pitch.

To see a player with the quality he possesses on the ball and such admirable application off it—only Mathieu Flamini has made more tackles for the Gunners this season—is rare and while plenty hypothetically lament what predicament Arsenal would be in without Sanchez, the Chilean’s efforts raise the game of those players around him. At tough venues like City, that’ll be critical to the Gunners taking a positive result.

Of course, you have to look at things from the champions’ perspective too. If the likes of David Silva and Sergio Aguero find their form come Sunday then they have the incision to cause any side major problems. But even though the Gunners were flying high at the top of the table coming into this fixture last season—a game which they embarrassingly lost 6-3—they look better prepared this time round for what remains a very stiff challenge.

Wenger, renowned for his staunch stubbornness when it comes to his various principles, could very well revert to type this weekend, especially with the likes of Ozil and Walcott approaching peak fitness. But it’d be intriguing to see how a potential Gunners XI that’s bristling with energy and endeavour but a little short on technical flair get’s on at the Etihad. Maybe the Frenchman has learnt some long overdue lessons.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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