Arsenal sit fifth in the Premier League, a sight that fans should probably get used to. Despite a draw at Stamford Bridge earlier this season and being on level points with fourth place Chelsea, Arsenal’s form this season against the rest of the “big six” as well as their history in those big games, suggests that Champions League football is going to be a thing of the past, not the future.
That is a reality that the organisation simply must realise because it is the biggest reason that both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will leave for nothing in the summer.
To prepare for their inevitable departure, to improve their chances of competing for the top four, Arsenal must look improve in the January transfer window and plan now. They can’t replace the talents of Ozil and Sanchez in January, but they can start to piece together a new Arsenal side that fixes some of the flaws we have seen in the Ozil-Sanchez era.
Arsenal have been productive with the ball, if a little less consistently creative, without Mesut Ozil in recent weeks, but they have been far, far more defensively stable. The well-worn line about Ozil is that for as gifted an attacker as he is, he is too lazy or unwilling to track back, making him such a defensive liability that it undoes all the chances he creates.
I don’t fully agree with that. But since it seems Ozil is definitely on his way out of the Emirates, why not try to improve on his weakness while maintaining his strength?
In Ozil’s absence, Aaron Ramsey’s talents have been able to shine in a more advanced role. As the string-puller for Wales, Ramsey has always displayed the ability to bring teammates into play and pick out killer passes, he’s also shown off more than impressive timing in his runs into the box to get on the end of crosses and pullbacks.
If Arsene Wenger is brave enough to utilise Ramsey in the advanced midfield role on a full-time basis remains to be seen, but we have already seen the issues that a pivot duo of Ramsey and Granit Xhaka has had, so if Granit is one of your deeper playmakers, advancing Ramsey seems to be a reasonable option.
Of course, replacing Ozil in the squad is a must, and while some of the youngsters have impressed the likes of Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are more likely to act as Alexis Sanchez replacements than central figures.
Arsenal have needed a true anchor in midfield for a long, long time, and the influence of Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante in recent years should be more than enough to convince Arsene that he needs to finally get one. Now Arsenal won’t be able to get Casimero or Blaise Matuidi, but someone like Porto’s Danilo Pereira would allow Ramsey to be the creative force for Arsenal at last.
The reason Alexis Sanchez has been such a brilliant player for Arsenal is that he brings the kind of close control, dribbling, and willingness to run at defenders that the team has been lacking for so long. While he can pass and move like the rest of the squad, his ability to turn and run a defence added another dimension to the team.
While Reiss Nelson has been getting glowing reviews he is still young, and youth is very inconsistent. However, you only have to look across north London to see the rewards that belief and investment in homegrown talent can bring. Harry Kane was never slated to be one of the best strikers in the world, and Dele Alli was never touted as a brilliant attacking midfielder, but that’s what they are because Spurs were willing to give them time in the first team and commit to their growth as players, the same goes for the likes of Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier.
Finding someone who can bring that same X-factor as Alexis is vital, if it’s Nelson then Arsenal have to start mixing him in sooner rather than later with the first team, if they want to bring in a Breel Embolo or try and pry Kingsley Coman with the promise of first team action then that would be a good plan as well.
Whatever happens, barring a stunning run of form until Christmas, Arsenal must start planning for next season now, or run the risk of becoming further detached from the top of the table.
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