Arrival of two major players during winter transfer window is something unusual for Arsenal. Has the club finally decided to do like its concurrent, lining up the players and spending millions each transfer window? Answer is probably more or less.
Newcomers, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would certainly improve the team. However it’s probably too early to say that Arsenal became a spendthrift. Firstly Mkhitaryan arrival was part of a deal including an exchange with Alexis Sanchez – presumably the best option for Gunners while the Chilian would have left anyway at the end of the season. Arrival of Pierre-Eric Aubameyang is more surprising because he was one or even the best striker in Germany (with Lewandowski).
With the difficulties that Arsenal has to face, mostly in the defensive area, this last transfer window is probably a good deal than anything else.
Here we will look at how Wenger has managed his team from the beginning of the season and why there are still a lot of work to do.
Looking at squad rotation from the beginning of the season is quite interesting and help us understanding how Wenger manage his team :
Fact that Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin and logically Petr Cech played all games this season show how Wenger want to find a team consistency. Like Chelsea 2016-2017 lineup evolution when they won the title (see picture above), constancy in squad rotation is something very important. Think about how Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or Bayern Munich managed squad rotation and you understand that is probably an important factor in the way these big teams win all that games during a season.
A word on the midfield
Despite weak performances from either Granit Xhaka or Hector Bellerin, Arsene Wenger keep them on the field from the beginning of the season.
For Hector Bellerin it’s understandable because there is not real substitute. In fact there were Mathieu Debuchy (now in St-Etienne in France) or either Calum Chambers, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding as a last resorts.
What is more doubtful is the midfield position. Granit Xhaka played all the Premier League games from the beginning of the season and there are lot of criticisms about that.
Offensively he scored one goals and give four assists which is quite good when you know it’s the more defensive player on the field after defenders.
In fact, it’s defensively that there are problems : Granit Xhaka often has concentration defects that cost very dangerous actions and sometimes avoidable goals.
Furthermore, with Coquelin who went to FC Valencia this winter, all that’s left as defensive midfielder is Elneny. This is all the more problematic as Elneny and Xhaka are still quite weak in defense.
Newcomers and tactical possibilities
With Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, there are plenty of attack lineups for Wenger.
The main problematic case is probably Alexandre Lacazette. With nine goals and three assists, Lacazette seems he’s not convinced Wenger to play the fulls season as the main striker.
Bought more than £60 millions the last summer, he will have to face the competition against Aubameyang, something even more difficult for the french with the view of the World Cup at then end of the season.
It’s true that Aubameyang has a different style, more in fast runs and finding spaces. However the two could played together, with either the french a bit lower on the field or outright Aubameyang on the left wing letting Lacazette ahead.
For Mkhitaryan it’s easier, mainly because he came in exchange with Sanchez and so he is just the substitute. He is in front of Iwobi in the hierarchy and have better adaptability to play either on the left or on the right wing. Therefore there are not complication for winger position, with a hierarchy probably in that order : Mkhitaryan – Iwobi – Welbeck – Nelson/Ramsey/Wilshere.
The choice of defense shape
What it was very surprising (in a good way) from Wenger at the end of the previous season is less clear nowadays. After starting with 3 defenders against Southampton the last season, Wenger use mainly this tactic until now.
However, he used a 4-2-3-1 scheme in some games this season. While it’s in away games that Arsenal lose many points, it’s interesting to see if there are some insights according to defense shape.
In fact, there are not. However, it’s a interesting to see that Wenger prefer to play with 3 centre backs during away game.
It’s difficult to say if the Arsenal 3 centre backs formations are more defensive than ones with 4 defenders: when they are with 3 centre backs there are in fact five real defenders on the field, with Bellerin and Kolasinac on the wings.
Like some experts pointed it out, Arsenal defensive problem doesn’t come only from the back but also from the midfield. Like we saw earlier, the midfield is composed by Xhaka and either Wilshere or Ramsey, whatever the defense shape. Here is probably the main problem.
With only few possibilities in the midfield, Wenger doesn’t have opportunities to find the good shape on this part of the field. A defensive midfielder will probably come during the summer transfer window, something needed from a long time on this side of London.