Arsene Wenger Gambled On The Fitness Of His Defenders This Summer. And It Backfired.

In this week's Premier League review, we examine Arsene Wenger's transfer market prowess, Brendan Rodger's latest cheery outlook and more.

Arsene Wenger’s Transfer Failings Are Costing Arsenal Dearly

With about five minutes of Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Arsenal remaining, The18 started typing words such as “robust,” “hard-working,” “resolute” and “winning ugly”. Then Arsenal did what Arsenal invariably do: concede a late goal from a set-piece.

As a 90-minute showcase of Arsene Wenger’s transfer market deficiencies, and the knock-on effect it has had on Arsenal’s structure, the game at Anfield was near-perfect: 

  • The majority of Liverpool’s most promising attacking play came down the Arsenal right, where inexperienced centre back Callum Chambers is only trusted as a right back 
  • France’s first choice right back Mathieu Debuchy has been forced into a central pairing with Per Mertesacker, covering for the untrusted Chambers and the injured Laurent Koscielny 
  • To accommodate Debuchy, Mertersacker is playing on the left of the central pairing, instead of his preferred right-sided position
  • Lo and behold, Liverpool’s 95th minute equalizer came as Chambers lost Martin Skrtel, while Mertesacker cowered like a small woodland animal in fear of its delicate life. It was the eighth headed goal Arsenal have conceded this season (only Burnley have conceded more)

By selling Thomas Vermaelen this summer without signing a like-for-like replacement, Arsene Wenger effectively gambled Arsenal’s season on the indefatigability of his two remaining senior centre backs. With Koscielny having played fewer than half of their fixtures so far, that gamble has backfired spectacularly. 

So how many points has Wenger’s defensive blind spot cost Arsenal this season? We reckon at least 10: enough to have Arsenal just two points behind Man City in third. Perhaps more importantly, how many more will Wenger’s transfer obstinacy cost them? The Frenchman says he will buy in January: “Without any doubt. If we find the right player we will do it.” 

But will he actually buy “the right player?" What Arsenal need is a seasoned centre back to provide cover and competition for Mertesacker and injury-prone (at least this season) Koscielny. They require somebody with Premier League and international experience, who’s a proven performer at the top level: someone such as Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar, say, or Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin. 

In other words, not 21-year old left back and “potentially a future centre back” Tyrone Mings. We feel your pain, Arsenal fans. 

Football 101

Harry Kane scored his 12th goal of the season in all competitions for Spurs on Saturday, as Burnley’s defence was caught out busily appealing an offside decision rightfully not given against Christian Erikssen.

Despite the abundant wisdom that pours from the pages of The18 on a daily basis, there probably isn’t a great deal we could teach a gnarled group of professionals such as those who ply their trade at Burnley. But we can impart these words of instruction, passed on to us by a barely competent, possibly drunk and definitely uninterested school teacher at the tender age of 5: play to the whistle. 

Another Brendan Rodgers “Outstanding Performance”

"It was an outstanding performance, and there's no doubt we deserved to win the game. Our performance today was better than when we won here 5-1 last year.” So said Brendan Rodgers after Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Sunday.

65% possession, 27 shots on target and yet only a point mustered against a poor Arsenal tells you everything you need to know about Liverpool’s season to-date. While one can argue about the effectiveness of all their passing and possession (Manchester City, for example, completed more than twice as many final third passes as Liverpool this weekend) one cannot deny that Liverpool created a hatful of at least half-decent chances: last season, one suspects Luis Suarez would have filled his boots.

As we’ve said before, however, Suarez wasn’t stolen from Anfield. The Liverpool transfer committee received cold, hard cash for the Uruguayan and their reinvestment of his £75m transfer fee (and more) has simply failed to deliver a commensurate return: the promising youngster Own Goal continues to be Liverpool’s joint top scorer in the Premier League this season.

We’ll leave you with this: In the first 17 Premier League games of last year, Luis Suarez alone scored more goals (19) than Liverpool’s players have mustered between them so far this season (18).

Blue Christmas

For supporters of two teams in blue this Christmas, there are decidedly different outlooks:

Chelsea fans will polish their baubles warm in the knowledge that seven of the last ten teams to be top on Christmas Day have gone on to win the title.

Leicester City supporters will embrace their crusty old relatives burdened with the awful truth that only two teams have been bottom of the league at Christmas and gone on to avoid relegation.

Happy Holidays, one and all.

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