Two seasons ago, there were two curses that struck the Arsenal team. One, we always conceded the first goal, and two, it was always an absolute screamer. Time and time again Lehmann would be beaten by a thirty yard thunderbolt.
Last season, the blinding goals dried up, before picking up again this season. We now only concede two types of goal – from corners, or from distance.
Is it any coincidence that in the season where those long rangers weren’t getting us down every week, we had a midfielder who harried their players into rushing everything they did, and increased the speed of the game to a point that left most of the opposition behind?
There is no mistaking the quality of Geovanni’s goal two weeks ago, but watch it again and you won’t see anyone making his life more difficult. Again, when Grant Leadbitter scorched one into Almunia’s net from 25 yards last week, Song had first given it away and then instead of making a challenge, stood off just ensuring he wouldn’t commit a foul.
Although Flamini may have prevented one or both of those goals, there is no point bemoaning his departure – he only broke into the side with a year left on his contract and had every right to move on in the summer, and through no fault of Wenger or anyone else. These things happen. But what we need to do is assess who can step into that role, because it made a massive difference while he was filling it so expertly.
Early season, it seemed Denilson was the surprising choice. He has added a bit of bite to his game over the last six months, but his positioning does still let him down, and he doesn’t add speed to the game at the moment, which is a little odd for a Brazilian. If Cesc were injured, he would surely move forward into the Spaniard’s role, a more natural fit for him.
As for Song, does anyone know yet whether he is seen, long term, as a central defender or defensive midfielder? It seems a different direction is taken every time the decision has been made. If he is to play that holding role, he certainly needs to add drive to his game, he is a little too lackadaisical to play like a pitbull. Diaby, whenever he is fit, could be accused of the same.
Vieira, Gilberto, Flamini – we’ve had a good run of holding midfielders over the last ten years, but right now we don’t have a natural successor. Aaron Ramsay looks the right sort, but is far too raw to be called.
The question for Wenger is whether he adjusts the structure to match the personnel. Cesc is as willing a runner as we have, but stuck in the Bergkamp role as he was last weekend he cannot control the centre of the park. Without him there, we lack energy. The alternative would be to push Toure forward, but that hits our second problem – a lack of cover in central defence.
Right now, as I see it, we have no Flamini, so the onus is on those that remain to raise their game as he did last season. Song can tackle and he can create, but he needs to play with more fire if he is to protect our sometimes shaky back four.
Because if we keep letting Premiership players time to take aim from 25 yards, we’ll be out of the title race by Christmas.