Club Focus – Arsenal – Gunners struggling at both ends of the pitch

For the second time in a week Arsenal found themselves chasing the game with 10 men. Rather than a bizarre dismissal reducing their numbers, this time misfortune fell on Johan Djourou – as heavily as the Swiss landed on his right shoulder.

Djourou’s dislocated shoulder rules him out for the remainder of the season, leaving the Gunners with only Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci as established centre halves. The French pairing have hardly inspired confidence in their previous outings together and even emergency centre back Alex Song is currently sidelined. Djourou’s pace and physical presence will be sorely missed in the run-in and should injury or suspension rule out either of the French duo, Arsenal would be bereft of defensive cover leaving a potential baptism of fire for Ignasi Miquel.

Behind the unproven central defensive pairing is Arsenal’s No 1, albeit in squad number rather than stature. Less than two months ago Almunia appeared set for the Emirates exit, but injuries to Polish pairing Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski mean the Spaniard is back from the brink. Despite his return coinciding with ultimately disappointing results, Almunia has performed well since returning to the fold and will have a point to prove having been deposed earlier in the season.

At the other end of the field Arsenal have only registered two goals in their last four games, with one of those courtesy of an own goal. Robin van Persie was unable to convert his chagrin into chances, his grievance into goals as the Dutchman represented Arsenal’s main, if not solitary, goal threat. Around him, the Gunners have many able technicians, yet their application is wanting. For a side once renowned for their dynamic running from midfield, Arsene Wenger’s men lack runners beyond the man in possession. In a wider sense Arsenal’s problems are off the ball rather than on it.

Arsenal do not work hard enough without the ball and try too hard with it. For all of the neat approach play and one-touch passing, the side has lacked a cutting edge in recent showings. In contrast, Saturday’s opponents Manchester United scored with their first attempts in either half to secure a 2-0 win. The Gunners’ free flowing football is at times breathtaking, but a lack of options off the ball makes it easy for resolute defences such as those of Birmingham City and United or organised teams such as Bar

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