Truth behind lack of more home goals
Lack of personnel to unlock tight defenses.
Arsene Wenger may claim he has often deployed an audacious 4-3-3 formation this season but in reality it is more of a cagey 4-5-1 set-up – with a packed midfield and a lonely front-line – since the likes of Denilson, Wilshere, Fabregas, Ramsey, Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri, Walcott and Arshavin do more passing, dribbling and crossing than shooting.
Walcott and Arshavin do possess a know-how when it comes to hitting the back of the net, but their lack of stature means they are more suited to moving on the flanks to make any impact in the game. Going through the center will see them hushed by a big defender.
Indeed, the same goes for Fabregas, Rosicky, Nasri and co who have all had decent goal-scoring records during some point in their career, but in football, not all goals come from trickery. Cleverness is enough to bang in goals in a less physical league like La Liga, but to be a consistent goal-scoring midfielder in the Premier League, like a Frank Lampard (who is not your average lightweight dribbler), physical force is required along with all that brilliance.
The ability to win headers, the ability to chest and control down long passes even with strong defenders breathing on your neck, the ability to not be bullied. That’s physical force. How many non-strikers have that at Arsenal?
It is fair to say that amongst Arsenal’s midfield options in the entire squad, only two men, Alex Song and Abou Diaby, have any manly presence in midfield. Even so, the former’s services are better used in defense than attack while the latter’s inconsistency has seen him fail to make the most out of his imposing presence in midfield.
The bottomline to all this is that, Arsenal’s attacking armoury of midfielders and strikers is largely made up of assisting specialists rather than goalscorers – a bunch players who can set up a goal better than score one themselves.
In this case, the unfortunate truth is that the only genuine strikers or frontmen in the squad are Marouane Chamakh, Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner. That’s it.
What’s even more unfortunate about that fact is that Nicklas Bendtner – whose finishing ability is of half quality anyway – is nowadays deployed mainly as a make-shift right winger.
And in the case of Marouane Chamakh, you have a target man who is good in the air, has great foot work in linking/holding the ball up but literally plays backwards when upfront. He rarely runs at defenders – often chooses to pass the ball back to a midfielder instead- and has a ‘Hleb’ about him when it comes to rarely shooting the ball or kicking it too weakly when he ever does.
Those factors leave Van Persie as Arsenal’s only potent striker, but that does not mean he can do it all by himself upfront. Indeed, the Dutchman’s lack of pace when sprinting with the ball means he is not the ideal target for through-passes. Also, his tendency to create chances sees him drop back into midfield too often, leaving his team toothless upfront.
Now considering the fact that Wenger’s midfield options are mostly made up of near-midgets or lightweights who have more trickery than power or height, Van Persie (who doesn’t always stay in the box) is often the only target on crosses in Wenger’s ‘4-3-3’ but really 4-5-1 formation.
That ‘more midfielders/less strikers’ set up has actually worked fruitfully in away games where opponents are obviously more willing to come out and attack in front of their fans. But at the Emirates Stadium where most visiting teams are defensive-minded, more bodies are needed upfront for Arsenal to break down that wall of defenders.
Yes, Arsenal have thrashed teams at home before with one man upfront, but those goals might have been more and less barren draws would have come if there were more heads and shoulders to aim at in the box.
Why pack several midfielders behind the ball when you are at home and supposed to fire more balls home?
Maybe less of that 4-5-1 formation and support from Chamakh or Bendtner for Van Persie upfront, and we may not see little Nasri busting his head in trying to win a header in the box (Blackburn) or Walcott crossing to no one but a defender.
Passing your way through the middle of a defense is sublime when it works, but it is too predictable for an opponent eager to stop you. Service from the wings will be the next and easier option and that will require having more targets in the box to cross or cut back to.