When Arsenal won the double in the 97/98 season we had Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour on the wing. Overmars was a “proper” winger who was always looking to get at his man and get to the byline. Parlour was maybe more suited to a central midfield role but he often did the same on the other side. When he came inside he often did with great effect as he popped up with many a great goal. Overmars scored 25 goals in around 100 appearances for the club, 1 goal every 4 games.
During the double winning season of 2001/02, and the unbeaten season of 2003/04 we had Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg and they were key members of the team . Please look at the statistics of these two players in their best years at the club.
For a midfield player to score 15+ goals in one season is fantastic and as you can see these two did this on many occasions. Together they were lethal and a key part of our successes after the millenium. There is no doubt we miss players similar to those Pires and Ljungberg were for us. Reyes came in but certain events determined his career with us was cut short. Right now we do not have a real natural winger in our side and it makes a key difference.
Wenger has moved Eboue to right midfied this season and for me it has not worked. He blows hot and cold and has not really put two good performances together in a row. He is very predictable and very often his final ball is very poor. He has been converted from a right back where he was not the most convincing defender. Sagna has come in and made our defence far more solid but Eboue has not had a similar effect on our attacking play. He has delivered some good crosses at times and linked up play well but there is one thing he is clearly lacking.
A winger needs to chip in with goals. I have shown the stats of Pires and Ljungberg and their contribution to the side. This season Eboue has started in 19 first team games and scored no goals whatsoever. He scored more goals for us from right back! He has had quite a few shots I can recall, most of which ended up high and wide. I can remember some good moments where he has contributed to our goals: against Newcastle he delivered a good ball to Adebayor who scored. He linked up well with Bendtner as the Dane made it 7 against Slavia Prague. That was against a team that made Theo Walcott look like a world beater!
Cristiano Ronaldo has 20 goals already this season. I know it is rare to find a player who will have this amount of goals by January, especially if they are a winger. It is a major part of any wide player’s game and the ability to arrive into the box is key. Mikel Arteta has 12 goals in 87 league games and in a team at the level Everton were that is not bad. Arteta also makes things happen with his direct playing style. Arjen Robben got around 20 goals in 90 games for Chelsea which, on the face of it, is not amazing. However, whenever Robben was on the ball I was scared something was going to happen and often it did. We do not have a player who other teams fear when they are running at them. I can not imagine a full back being too scared when they see Eboue starting on the right.
We have Alex Hleb and Tomas Rosicky in the squad too and when they are both fit (how likely is that?!) they can make a lethal trio with Fabregas. They chip in with the odd goal and give Fabregas room to get forward to get goals as well. If you look yesterday at the performance you will notice we became awfully narrow in the second half and this is a real problem with naturally central players out wide. When teams come at us this works but when they sit deep I feel it causes us trouble. Look at the Pompey game, Spurs and Chelsea games where it was hard to break a team down when they packed the defence whenever we came forward. Many people will point to 16 shots in the game against Birmingham but look at them closely.
I have said so many times that although we may have lots of shots – how many of those were rushed half chances and from distance? If you look at it Bendtner had two speculative shots from outside the box, Cesc had 1, Sagna 1 and even Clichy had 2. They may have been shots on goal but they were often rushed with little space to work.
Wingers stretch teams and give strikers space in the middle so these shots are far less pressured, in far less congested areas and someone like eduardo can do well with such. That is why we are far more lethal when teams come at us – because our strikers have more time and space in front of goal. Wingers play a part in dragging the full backs out. Yesterday Kelly and Quedrue/Parnaby were able to hold their positions in the box and therefore create a blockade to goal.
If you have a winger that likes to get chalk on his boots and get past the full backs then room is automatically created in the box. Players are drawn across to cover and the defence is moved about. It is these moments that cause misunderstanding in the defensive ranks and chances open up on a more regular basis. I hate to do it, but really one has to look at Manchester United right now. They have Ronaldo and Giggs on the wings with Nani able to play there also. They get wide and like to beat players. They open up gaps in the middle for Tevez and Rooney to exploit. As soon as a man is beaten it causes havoc. We simply do not have players who do this. Hleb can beat a man but he takes too long on the ball and regularly moves inside as he loses his man. Man Utd look to force and widen the play and did so to great effect as they beat Newcastle 6-0.
What I am saying is that we need a natural winger in the squad. We have not replaced Pires and Ljungberg. There is room for Hleb or Rosicky in the side on the left or right. However I feel it is a risk having them both in the side in a 4-4-2 formation when we are forcing the game against a team who has parked the bus. They both cut inside and we don’t get that much width. In our best seasons under Wenger our wingers have got wide and stretched teams and left space for strikers like Henry and Bergkamp to flourish. Reyes was brought in to do this job and his stats read like this:
He did not get many goals but he did create many. Eboue has not done anything like this and Reyes had potential to do well for us. One goal in 5 was not brilliant but he did create room for others and liked to keep wide. Tomas Rosicky has a pretty similar record goals wise but far less assists.
A lot more has been expected from Rosicky and I hope he can get 10+ goals this season. 6 last season was poor. The problem with Rosicky is that he has never been a prolific goalscorer, his best being 6 goals in a season for both Arsenal and Dortmund. Another worry is his fitness. And what about Alex Hleb?
Hleb’s goal tally for Arsenal is worse with a ratio of 1 in 10. That is not good enough at all. He has 5 goals this season but for a man playing behind the main striker, I would expect more. His assist levels are ok but does he have more in him? He has never scored more than 8 in a season but he gets into good positons for Arsenal and should have more.
It seems that neither of these two players are going to score an awful lot of goals for us and I think we need someone in the midfield who will. I have mentioned him before and Ronaldo has 20 + goals in the last two seasons, with this one only half way through. His overall record is one goal every 3 games which is exactly what we need. I know a player like Ronaldo only comes around once in a blue moon but there are players out there with similar ability and I feel we need to buy one.
Wenger has tried Diaby on the left but his is never going to work. He is a central midfield player and looks lost on the wing. I do not think Eboue can prosper on the wing and Walcott has lots to learn before he is ready. Hleb and Rosicky do not get enough goals right now to warrant a start together all the time. We relied on Fabregas an awful lot this season but now his goals have dried up we rely solely on our strikers. We need more.
Wenger must open up the chequebook said player needs to have pace and the desire to get wide and go at his man. He needs goals in him and Wenger will want someone that can fit into our play as well. I wonder, what do people reckonreckon regarding who to sign? Wenger has money to spend, we know that but is he willing to spend it. Is our own Kieran Gibbs the answer. It is a lot to expect of such a young guy so early in his career. Carlos Vela has impressed in this position while in Spain. I would like us to sign Arteta but I doubt this will happen.