|ARSENAL NEED A MAJOR DEFENSIVE RESHUFFLE
Betfair: 6 March 2013
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Arsenal's problems have been numerous this season, though Christian Crowther suggests that their defence requires the most rethinking...
It's been Arsene Wenger's most testing season of his 16-and-a-half-year reign at the Emirates.
His side are facing the daunting prospect of missing out on a top-four finish for the first time, with their chances rated at 3.4 after defeat to Tottenham.
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One of the other things that became clear after the derby is that the current Gunners defensive unit could well be the shakiest ever assembled under the Frenchman. And it had all looked so promising at the beginning of the campaign as well.
Before the leaves had even begun to turn, Wenger and his new assistant Steve Bould - part of probably the greatest back four ever assembled - were busy earning plaudits for Arsenal's defending.
The Gunners' opening three Premier League matches all produced clean sheets, culminating in a 2-0 victory at Anfield.
So where has it all gone wrong? The answer is not straight-forward but requires a look at the individuals concerned as well as the formation.
For a start, the keeper is not good enough. Wojciech Szczesny is a fine shot stopper but his indecision in aerial situations and susceptibility to a mistake make him the first player to replace.
For too long, Arsenal have gone without signing a stand-out keeper and not since David Seaman have they had a truly world-class stopper between the sticks.
Then there is the back four. Wenger's great teams of the past were built around consistency of selection in defensive areas. However, this season, the longest consecutive run where Arsenal have named the same back four in the league is four games and this has only occurred twice, with two different line-ups.
Naturally, injuries have played their part this season with Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson all out for various periods.
But even though arguably their best line-up of Sagna, Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Gibbs helped win three Premier League games on the spin before Christmas, they've only lined up a handful more times in the top flight.
The two longer serving players in Vermaelen and Sagna have both looked shadows of their former selves this season, while Mertesacker's reading of the game does not make up for his acute lack of mobility.
Something which could aid Vermaelen perhaps is to relieve him of the captain's armband and play him only at centre back alongside the German international.
Laurent Koscielny does offer versatility which is important but his performance levels vary greatly, possibly through a lack of consecutive starts. However, the Frenchman is the best back-up they have available and deserves a place in the squad.
Gibbs and Jenkinson are both fine prospects and offer some degree of positivity, though the former's injury proneness is a worry.
There is huge room for improvement and Wenger needs to address this in the summer. Bringing in Nacho Monreal is a good start, though the Spaniard's real worth cannot be assessed just yet.
While they still hold a certain amount of value, Mertesacker and Sagna should be shipped out in the summer and replaced with quality players of a younger age if possible.
There is also a gigantic issue with defensive midfield which has a really detrimental effect in terms of leaving the back line vulnerable.
Wenger has not properly replaced Alex Song, who used to offer a firm protection to the back four.
It's imperative for Arsenal that they get someone in, such as a Javi Garcia or a Lucas Leiva, whose sole job is to break up play and protect the back four otherwise more trouble will lay ahead.
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