Bradford loss shameful, but opportunities remain for Arsenal

By Chris Jenkins (@ByChrisJenkins)

 

OK, the Bradford loss was close to a new low. Maybe not as low as that loss to Birmingham City in the 2011 League Cup final, but awfully close.

 

Still, amid all the chaos, dissent and soul-searching that has played out on social media this week, one thing seems to be going largely unnoticed: Most of the rest of the Premier League stinks, too.

 

Stinks. Bad. A steaming pile of mediocrity.

There’s United and City, then a slight dropoff to Chelsea’s never-ending soap opera.  With budgets being what they are, those are the only three teams with a realistic shot at the EPL title.

 

Then there’s Everton, where David Moyes is working miracles on a shoestring budget because he’s a hell of a manager with a couple of really good players and a stunningly good team-wide commitment to disciplined defense. Can they keep it up? Hmm.

 

And what’s left after that?

 

A huge opportunity for Arsenal to save its season, that’s what.

 

Yes, the Gunners are off to an unimaginably awful start. They’re also two points out of fourth place.

 

So while there certainly are serious questions about Arsenal’s big-picture strategy for success that need to be sorted out, including a long-term eventual succession plan for Arsene Wenger, there’s also absolutely no reason Arsenal can’t finish fourth again this year and retain its place in the Champions League.

 

And while this might sound crazy coming off an uninspired loss to a fourth-division team, it really won’t take much to fix.

 

One of the most discouraging things to watch about Arsenal this season is its midfield, where the passing hasn’t been particularly crisp or creative and not enough scoring chances are being created.

 

It’s especially frustrating because in theory, that’s the Gunners’ biggest strength; they were decent in midfield last season, they added Santi Cazlorla in the offseason and Jack Wilshere is back healthy.

 

So what’s the difference? Just a theory here, but I think this is where the lack of a big-time striker is hurting Arsenal the most.

 

The next time you watch Arsenal, watch how the opposing team is defending them – especially when the Gunners are in possession in midfield.

 

They’re being choked. No time, no space. A player receives the ball and has a defender hounding him right away.

 

Why? I’m no coach, but my best guess here is that opposing defenses can afford to apply pressure in midfield largely because they no longer have to worry about a top-notch finisher like Robin van Persie making them pay on the back end.

 

Add another striker or two in the January transfer window, and watch how much things change.

 

Pair Giroud with Demba Ba, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar or Fernando Llorente up top, and defenses suddenly have to think twice about pressing up high or in midfield. That creates more time and space for midfielders, more scoring chances – and, now, better players to finish those chances off.

 

And this is where the awful start, especially the Bradford loss, might come in handy. For Arsenal, the January transfer window can’t be another last-minute rummage through the bargain bin. When the window opens, they have to be ready to fork over the transfer fees – and player wages – it takes to pull off a deal for a top-line player. With the pressure mounting on Wenger and Arsenal’s management, they might be tempted to break character. And they should.

 

In summary: Yeah, it’s bad for Arsenal. But there’s a window for fixing it, and it’s about to open.