Arsenal have been criticised of late for a lack of a central target man in the continuing absence of Robin van Persie, but on Saturday Andrey Arshavin stepped up to lead the line on his own and put in a classy performance.
Whilst Arshavin played in the central role, he is far from being the towering target man that many fans crave, yet his dynamic movement and dribbling ability meant that Stoke found it hard to pin down the energetic Russian. He played a key role in earning Arsenal the three points, winning a penalty (which Cesc Fabregas failed to convert) and scoring the opening goal as Arsenal cruised to a 2-0 victory. The manager stated that: “I don’t think he was a fanatic to play centre-forward but I am convinced because he has good body power and movement and good technique. He has intelligent movement and it worked today. He could have had two or three goals and overall he did very well.” Prior to the match Arshavin was characteristically outspoken, this time lamenting the lack of height in Arsenal’s team, citing it as the reason they have lost to their closest rivals this season: “Had we possessed a tall player then things would have been better for us. We had nobody capable of holding on to the ball.” This criticism may have been taken badly had Arsenal lost, but in light of an excellent performance and an overdue return to form for the Russian, it will instead be viewed as constructive.
With Arsenal’s well-documented lack of striking options at present and Alex Song’s suspension, the Gunners dropped their usual 4-3-3 formation in favour of 4-5-1 with Arshavin as the lone striker. The key to this formation working so well on Saturday was the variety of options provided by players bursting forward from the midfield five to support Arshavin. Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky, Emmanuel Eboue and Samir Nasri all regularly broke forward in support of the diminutive Russian. As such, Stoke were unable to cope with the attacking pressure exerted by the interchangeable midfield and found it difficult to track the runners into the box. This will provide a welcome option to Arsene Wenger in the weeks to come as he tries to reorganise his team in the continuing absence of Nicklas Bendtner and Robin van Persie. The pair’s presence, height and ability have been sorely missed in the last few games and rather than bemoaning the loss of the players, Arsene Wenger has been trying out new formations and personnel in an attempt to adapt to the loss.
During the week the manager openly admitted that he will try to sign a striker in the January transfer window. Arsene will be looking to sign a player to have the same kind of impact as Andrey Arshavin’s arrival last January. The manager admitted his admiration for Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko, but went on to state that he expected the player’s price tag to be too high for the Gunners: “I like the player… but they fly too high right now – price-wise.” This may be a frank and honest statement from Wenger, but it is certainly reminiscent of the build up to Arshavin’s signing. Wenger broke from his tradition of keeping his cards close to his chest and openly courted the Russian stating that the only stumbling block was the price. Consequently the player informed the club of his desire to leave, who in turn reduced his asking price – paving the way for the last-minute transfer before the window slammed shut. So for now, a move for the Bosnian is improbable rather than impossible.
Another reputed target, Marouane Chamakh, may be signed in January to arrive in the summer. The Moroccan’s contract runs out in the summer, meaning he is free to speak to clubs and agree a deal elsewhere six months prior to its expiry. With Bordeaux unlikely to sell their star striker with progression to the last-16 of the Champions League already assured, Wenger knows just how tough a task faces him in trying to sign a new striker: “In January you need to find a world-class player who has not played in the Champions League, so we need a very good Christmas.” Like so many at this time of year, Wenger will be planning his purchases and preparing his Christmas list, but he is more likely contemplating the January sales as opposed to the Christmas rush.