Lukas Podolski

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How is the New-Look Arsenal Shaping Up?

Arsenal has played six games this season (5 in the EPL, 1 in the Champions League) so I feel it is a good time for an assessment following the big changes in their lineup from last season.  Through the matches, Arsenal has won 3 and drawn 3.

After a few nervous 0-0 draws to start the season, the Gunners have come alive.  New signings Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have provided excellent goals and the team looks very strong in defense.  Abou Diaby has thankfully stayed injury-free and provides a large force in the middle of the team.  Long forgotten are the high-scoring Robin van Persie and the tackling of Alex Song who have seemingly been replaced with ease.  Theo Walcott has been relegated to the bench over his contract situation, but hasn’t been missed thanks to the good play of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Against Manchester City, Arsenal looked the better side although they did have to fight back for the 1-1 draw.  This match was their first real test of the season, and I felt they came through in exciting fashion, earning a draw away to the Premier League Champions.

One player that I feel is beginning to really add to the team is Carl Jenkinson: the young right back. He has had his share of growing pains, but against Man City he was terrific.  He repeatedly made forward runs and even got completely free in on the end line during the first half, beating Joleon Lescott and setting up a good chance.  He also provides good low cross, which resulted in a goal against Montpellier, and almost beat goalkeeper Joe Hart during this match.  Crossing has been suspect at Arsenal for as long as I can remember, so this is a valuable addition to the squad. I feel that Bacary Sagna may find it hard to break back into the team once he recovers from injury.

It’s not all great for Arsenal though.  Olivier Giroud has failed to take over the central striker role, and Arsene Wenger’s plan B, Gervinho, isn’t necessarily the answer either.  He scored two goals in the 6-1 drubbing of Southampton, and he got a tap-in for the victory against Montpellier, but he sure does make a mess of most his chances and was woeful against Manchester City, the first good defense he has faced.

He is a very unpredictable player.  He’ll get the ball and one simply cannot reason where he’ll go.  The only problem is that 95% of the time he is dispossessed.  He wasted a golden opportunity at Manchester City in the first half when he was free in on goal, and his first touch gave the ball right to Hart.

Personally, I feel that Lukas Podolski ought to be given more opportunities in a central role.  Perhaps place Gervinho back out on that left wing where his trickery and pace are more useful.  Podolski looks the man who can actually score goals in the Arsenal offense.

But what makes me most excited about this team is their defensive improvements.  This is not only evident in their back line, but in the overall defensive effort of the entire team.  Everyone looks far more determined to win the ball back, and rarely does the team get caught on a counter attack.  They have only conceded three goals through six games.  Therefore, I have high hopes for the season and feel that Arsenal could have a say in the title race come the New Year.

Arsenal’s Summer Transfers Suggest Possible Formation Change

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is usually cautious and slow during the summer transfer period.  He rarely makes big splashes in the market and prefers to recruit small name youngsters with big time potential.  This summer he seems to be singing a different tune and has already made two big buys in forwards Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.  This influx of strikers suggests to me that Wenger is prepared to divert from the current 4-3-3 formation in order to best use his new toys.

The 4-3-3 houses a lone striker with two supporting wingers on the flanks.  Clearly captain Robin van Persie is first choice for that role, but the club has suffered recently as he is depended upon too greatly for goals.  I think that the future of this Arsenal side may see the classic 4-4-2 makeup which gives Van Persie more support up top.

Both Podolski and Giroud could thrive as supporting strikers.  Additionally, Arsenal could ask Theo Walcott to join the foray up top.  Walcott has often times struggled on the wing since his delivery on crosses tends to be rather poor.  In a more advanced role, he could utilize his speed to make quick runs and get more looks at goal. Also he would have more opportunities to make smaller passes forward inside rather than big crosses from outside.

Arsenal has suffered from mistakes at the back and the 4-4-2 formation would also add more support for thwarting counter attacks.  With an extra body in midfield, more emphasis would be placed on defense and would strengthen the side.

Arsenal could better utilize their midfield players here too.  Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could well thrive in outside midfielder roles where they could be better placed to help the attack from ventures forward while knowing their compatriots are behind for support.

Jack Wilshire and Alex Song could well hold down the center and distribute from within while slowing down the opposition.  The 4-3-3 was a smart option when Cesc Fabregas was pulling the strings in midfield, but he is gone now and the formation needs to adjust.

I feel the general problem with Arsenal recently has been that the two wingers are often stranded and rarely make a difference in matches.  We have all seen the woes of Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, and Marouane Chamakh as evidence.

With their impending departures and the arrival of both Podolski and Giroud, I sense that Wenger is looking for a striking duo up top.  These players would have more of a physical presence in front of the goal and would take some of the weight off of Robin van Persie.  Both players are coming off of prolific years in Germany and France, and will be looking for ways to get on the field and score goals.  If they are left out wide, I fear they will be under-utilized.  Perhaps Arsene Wenger is set to alter Arsenal’s look to a 4-4-2 for the upcoming season.