Club Focus – Arsenal – A spectacular brace from Nasri sends the Gunners top

Often Arsenal mesmerise the opposition with their approach play, only to be foiled at the last by a misplaced pass or timely interception. Saturday’s match largely highlighted this all too familiar trait, but for Samir Nasri’s superbly taken brace, which took his tally to 11 goals in 13 starts this season, and handed the Gunners three points and with it league leadership.

At times, Arsenal’s scything attacks were the embodiment of Arsene Wenger’s footballing philosophy, but again the result was not as comfortable as it should have been given the team’s early dominance. Addressing concerns over the side’s form at the Emirates in the wake of three home defeats in the league, Wenger’s men started at a high tempo and quickly seized the initiative. Nasri’s nimble footwork and emphatic finish provided the breakthrough, but again profligacy ensured that the Gunners were pegged back before the interval. Rather than psychological barriers, it appears the cause of Arsenal’s struggles at home is altogether more straightforward.

Arsenal have been defensively poor this season, conceding more goals than either of their closest rivals, Manchester United and Chelsea. The absence of Thomas Vermaelen has undoubtedly had an impact, but the key issue that often goes overlooked is that the defence does not get enough cover from the midfield. This is particularly so at home where the need to entertain at the Emirates prompts the men in red to adopt a somewhat cavalier approach in order to break down the massed ranks of the opposition. As a result, the midfield screen in front of the back four is often insufficient or absent altogether.

Alex Song is charged with the task of anchoring the midfield and had an outstanding campaign last term, establishing himself as a key component in the engine room of the Arsenal’s midfield. This term he has added goalscoring to his repertoire, netting some important strikes, none more so than his last-minute winner against West Ham, yet, for this addition, he has lost some of the effectiveness that made last season’s breakthrough so impressive. He rampages forward, shirking his defensive duties to find himself as the player furthest forward. This is acceptable when chasing a result in the dying minutes of a match, but his lack of discipline could yet cost the side dear against stronger opposition.

As the manager notes: “This is where the race starts and we are in a good position to start the race. If you look at the fixture list – Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham – they all play each other this month. It is a defining moment in the season.” The Gunners are indeed in a strong position, but have displayed enough to raise concerns as to their defensive solidity. Arsenal were fortunate to call upon two moments of brilliance from Nasri to defeat Fulham, and despite his sparkling form, if defensive problems are not addressed ahead of festive clashes with their title rivals, the Gunners’ spell at the top may be short lived.

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