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article imageArsenal showcase recurring issues despite being title favourites

By Tyrrell Meertins     Dec 27, 2015 in Sports
One week summed up Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal perfectly. After enjoying an impressive win over title rivals Manchester City Monday night, five days later the Gunners were blitzed by four-goals at Southampton.
Arsenal's win against Manchester City tipped many to believe they would possibly stroll away from the pack, only to spurn a golden opportunity to set the pace heading into the new year. Though a win against newly-promoted Bournemouth would guide the Gunners to the league’s summit — Leicester host Manchester City Tuesday night — there was a striking contrast between both performances this week.
Surely the results followed the “does anyone want to win the Premier League?” theme swirling throughout the league this season, but this was typical Arsenal.
This performance represented an Arsenal side we’ve criticized and downplayed in recent seasons, with the difference being, this year, despite their flaws and inconsistent results, they can lift the Premier League title for the first time in over a decade.
Monday’s win against City provided a sense of belief, yet Sky Sports analyst, Jamie Carragher was condemned by Gunners faithful on social media following his comments on the North London side.
“I wouldn’t necessarily think this season that Arsenal have gone to another level,” stated Carragher.
“To be honest, I think the other teams have dropped off and I think Arsenal have sort of maintained the level they’ve had over the last couple of years, but they’ve got to take advantage of these teams dropping off cause these teams next year will be back and better.”
This wasn’t just a bad night for Arsenal. We’ve witnessed the mental breakdowns, injury pileups, and feeble displays from Wenger’s side that's led the Gunners to several fourth place finishes, and it’s evident that identity still remains within the current squad.
Still, Manchester City’s away performances have exposed the weaknesses they failed to address in midfield and centre-back over the summer, Jose Mourinho’s collapse at Chelsea reached a point of no return, whereas Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United are merely lifeless in the final third. The gap between the supposed elite and the mid-table teams heavily decreased due to poor transfer activity at the top, yet Arsenal’s squad remained the same.
Petr Cech was the sole acquisition in the summer window, as familiarity within the squad has been pivotal. Still, there have been no signs of an improved Arsenal side. Wins at home against Bayern Munich and both Manchester clubs, based on compact defending and quick transitions offered signs of optimism, but poor Champions League displays, and losses to West Brom and Southampton prove otherwise.
But it was this week’s results that vividly illustrated Wenger’s Arsenal over the past decade.
At the Emirates, Mesut Ozil made great use of the vacant space behind Yaya Toure and Fernandinho in the opening half to hand the Gunners the lead. With City pushing men forward in the second half, Joel Campbell and Aaron Ramsey constantly surged into space behind the defence but couldn’t beat Joe Hart to extend their lead.
"We have a bit more maturity in the side now, which you could see in the game when we were under pressure,” said Wenger.
"That is positive. I believe that we have shown our talents of spirit, organisation and brilliance all together and that gave us three points.”
However, the performance at St. Mary’s was the antithesis — the Gunners’ attack was bland when forced to break down an organized Southampton outfit, whereas the defence was constantly exploited in transition. Ozil couldn’t find space beyond Jordi Clasie and Victor Wanyama, and Shane Long’s willingness to run beyond the Arsenal defensive line proved decisive.
Though, Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini failed to provide adequate protection to the back four, Long peeled off Per Mertesacker to score twice, and his battle with Laurent Koscielny resulted in the corner that led to a Jose Fonte goal. In every aspect, the contrast between both defensive displays was bewildering, and equally highlights the issues that have lingered around the club for so long.
Wenger’s men responded to a significant win over a title rival with possibly their worst performance of the season.
Five-days rest, and the privilege or knowing that other title rivals dropped points should have provided additional incentive to issue a statement to the league. But here, Arsenal were outworked, outfought, and outdone by a Southampton side in possibly the worst league form of the 20 teams in the division.
The one-point gap over City — that was a four-point gap prior to Boxing Day kick-off — is significant, as Manuel Pellegrini’s men are presumably favoured to battle the Gunners in May for the title. Where Pellegrini’s men have gained the experience in a title race of this nature in the past, the verdict is still out on the mental and physical strength of an Arsenal side that clearly lacks leadership.
Ultimately, this week’ results don’t define Arsenal’s title chances — Wenger still possesses the league’s most stable squad at his disposal, but it put places the current state of his side, and the quality of the league into question. While the January transfer window serves as a useful solution to the lack of depth within Arsenal’s squad, Wenger’s reluctance to strengthen his squad could be the difference-maker.
“That’s always the question you get,” Wenger said. “We have many players who are injured and will come back soon.
“Buy, buy, buy, buy is always the solution that people see. I think it’s true that we couldn’t score, but we conceded goals [against Southampton] and we have enough defenders.”
A win against Bournemouth would overshadow the meek display at St. Mary’s, but Arsenal still possess the same issues that have halted previous title charges. Frankly, it’s shocking that a team still lacking hunger, resilience, whilst displaying everlasting signs of complacency remains the title favourite in what many label the most competitive domestic league in Europe.
In that regard, perhaps Carragher is right. Arsenal and Wenger must take advantage of this situation because they may never receive a better opportunity to return amongst the highest echelon of English football.
It may truly be now or never for Wenger.
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