There has been plenty of post-game analysis and reaction to the North London derby on Sunday between Tottenham and Arsenal. Arsene Wenger has admitted that the side are now in difficulty when it comes to qualifying for the Champions League, Andre Villas Boas has counter-compared the trajectory of the two great rivals while there has been an inquiry into the awful defending that allowed Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon to run clear through on goal and effectively win the game for Spurs within a matter of minutes.
But for me one of the most telling statistics has to be the one pointed out by Twitter statistics resident OptaJoe:
20 - Arsenal attempted 20 crosses from open play against Tottenham today, but only one found a teammate. Issue.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 3, 2013
Just one out of 20 crosses attempted by The Gunners made it toward a team-mate. A quite appalling statistic but it got me wondering. When was the last time Arsenal had a genuinely good out-and-out winger?
This season Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski have played out wide but both by trade are front-men; and it shows. The amount of their crosses that come in from the full-backs is also high but none of their current batch seems to hit the requisite target; that’s if there even is any.
The fact is Arsene Wenger has not really utilised wingers in the past. The best team of his tenure played a 4-4-2 and utilised attacking midfielders such as Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg on the inside flanks. Back then they would just cut teams apart and any approach down the wing would actually involve the player, you know, taking on their man; crossing the ball just wasn’t something Arsenal needed to do.
Marc Overmars was probably their last decent out-and-out winger but even he was asked to forge a more central position under the tutelage on Wenger.
In the current Arsenal side these players, such as the Ljungberg, Pires, Wiltord and Overmars’ of before, are simply not at hand and the 4-3-3 system Wenger has adopted in recent years has simply not worked.
The fact remains that against quality opposition Arsenal do not have the ability to cut through the defences without using the more central talents of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla so when the ball is forced out wide teams have no qualms with the likes of Bacary Sagna ‘’whipping in’’ a preventable cross.
People can complain all they like about transfers or the manager but the fact is it is both. Wenger is constrained to not buying the necessary quality while his tactical decisions over the past few seasons have simply played into the opposition’s hands.
Do you feel the wide-problem is essential to Arsenal’s current demise?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald