Why Danny Welbeck reminds me of Emmanuel Adebayor

The Leicester game…
…was the latest in a string of uninspiring performances that have formed our start to the season. After our convincing victory over Manchester City in the Community Shield, many expected us to make a fast start in the Premier League. Not so: we’ve looked leggy and listless much of the time.

Part of the problem seems to be that we are struggling to come to terms with a new system. At Leicester, we once again employed the 4-1-4-1 formation we’ve seen in recent weeks. Yaya Sanogo was installed at the point of the attack, with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil alternating in the wide roles.

It didn’t really work. Arsene seems certain that he wants to include Santi Cazorla, Ozil and Alexis in his first XI, but hasn’t quite worked out how. Personally, I think he ought to have kept faith with Alexis through the middle. After an encouraging display against Besiktas, this could have helped establish him as Arsenal’s new centre-forward. Instead, another opportunity was misguidedly handed to Yaya Sanogo.

At this stage in his development, Sanogo should not be playing for Arsenal football club. Judging by his late transfer business, Arsene Wenger has recognised that too. I’m not willing to write Sanogo off entirely — I did that with Alex Song and was proved wrong. However, at present, if you deposited him in to the third tier of English football, I’m still not convinced he’d stand out as impressive.

Danny Welbeck is a smart signing…
All the good things people claim to see in Sanogo, I see in Welbeck. He is quick, agile, powerful, and a very willing worker.

He reminds me of Emmanuel Adebayor when he first arrived from Monaco. It’s easy to forget now, but in those days Adebayor was a ball of energy, tearing about the pitch trying to make a positive impression. He was partnered with a Thierry Henry riddled with sciatica, and was charged with doing much of the Frenchman’s heavy lifting for him. Pay rises and plaudits eventually killed off Adebayor’s work-rate, but in the early days he was a real handful.

Of course, there was a trade-off for all that perpetual motion: he couldn’t really finish. Adebayor once conspired to miss two open goals in the same game, on a dark night away to Portsmouth. Welbeck has suffered similar woes in front of goal. Hopefully Arsene Wenger can give him the confidence and composure he needs to develop, as Adebayor did, in to an accomplished goalscorer.

I feel good about this one. Welbeck has all the raw attributes, and we have the ideal coach to oversee his development. He is a huge upgrade on Sanogo, and I expect him to make an immediate impact.

The lack of defensive cover…
…is genuinely difficult to understand. We’ve known we needed another centre-back for some time now. Many of us were calling for an additional signing in January. When Arsene Wenger sold Thomas Vermaelen, he admitted that he would need replacing. And yet nothing has happened.

I can only think that the unexpected progress of Calum Chambers threw Wenger’s plans a little. Speaking to The Guardian last week, he said:

Today we are in a position sometimes, if you always buy, you can never give a chance to a player. We take now the example of Calum Chambers. Calum Chambers played centre-back because I gave him the chance to play centre-back. If I had four centre-backs already because I had bought four, I would never have played him. And he would sit on the bench and play in the youth team.

I think contained in that quote is something approaching an explanation of what was going on in Arsene’s head. He doesn’t want to block Chambers’ path to the first-team.

However, that’s a crazy way to think. Even as fourth-choice, Chambers would still get plenty of game time, especially given his versatility. What’s more, he’s arguably not even ready to be the immediate back-up for Koscielny and Mertesacker. Impressive though he has been, his inexperience has also been evident on several occasions.

We were far stronger at centre-back last season than this. Not only did we have the experience of Vermaelen in reserve, but we also had Bacary Sagna to call upon as emergency cover. No-one can convince me that Nacho Monreal is a centre-half in the making.

Arsenal will need to be very lucky to get away with their lack of defensive cover until January.

Examining why Arsene Wenger doesn’t want to buy a striker

Well, here we are. Another season is underway. I initially wrote ‘well and truly underway’, but then deleted it. In truth, this period between the opening fixture and the transfer deadline always feels like an extension of preseason. The window ends, there’s a flurry of late deals, and then club football goes on a two-week break while some dull internationals are played. When we return in mid-September, that’s when it really feels like the campaign has kicked off.

That seems truer this season than most. The fact that a large portion of our squad is still recovering from their exertions in the World Cup means we’ve had an unusually slow start. Our performances have yet to impress, but fortunately the results haven’t suffered too much. We’ve shown fight if not fluency, getting late goals to pick up valuable points against Crystal Palace and Everton.

I’ve been in Edinburgh throughout August, but returned this week to see my first live game of the season. Arsenal got the job done against Besiktas, but it wasn’t easy. Mathieu Debuchy was certainly unlucky to pick up that second booking, but he’d been wobbling uneasily on a disciplinary tight-rope all evening. He must curb his aggressive streak if he’s to avoid more red cards in future.

Watching our side in the flesh, it became apparent to me that we are very much a team in evolution. The midfield, for example, appears to have been slightly restructured over the summer. Last season, Arsenal typically played with two men in a double-pivot, with Mesut Ozil floating ahead. Mikel Arteta would hold with Aaron Ramsey given greater license to break from deep alongside him.

This season, there’s been a slight shift in emphasis. Rather than the customary 4-2-3-1, Arsenal have been employing something more akin to a 4-1-4-1. There is a pure designated holding player, with two dynamic midfielders deployed further ahead.

This system was presumably implemented in part because of the available personnel. Ozil missed the start of the season, and Arsene Wenger had to find a way to accommodate both Jack Wilshere and Ramsey. This formation allows both those players to break forward, secure in the knowledge that an anchor man is on hand at all times to fill in.

However, Ozil’s return has not prompted the expected reversion to last season’s shape. Instead, the German has twice been positioned on the left flank. Against Besiktas, Ozil found himself ousted to the wing, with Santi Cazorla asked to play a busy box-to-box role in the centre. Last season, that deployment would have seemed improbable at best. Throughout 2013-14, Cazorla was routinely used on the flank in order to grant Ozil a free role through the middle.

Perhaps during the international break Arsene will take the opportunity to restructure his midfield once again. However, it’s also possible that he has decided that playing Ozil as a pure number 10 leaves his midfield too exposed. This summer, Ozil played predominantly as a winger for the German national team, and that experiment turned out pretty well for Jogi Low’s side. A hypothetical central midfield three of Arteta, Ramsey and Cazorla certainly has more energy and commitment to the defensive side of the game than one containing Ozil.

The remodelling of the team does not end with the midfield. In the past week, there has been significant evidence that Arsene Wenger plans to renovate his attack too. When Arsenal signed Alexis Sanchez back in July, I said I thought he’d been bought as an alternative to Luis Suarez – the brilliance without the biting. His future, it seemed to me, was as a centre-forward.

However, I did not expect him to be picked there so early on in his Arsenal career. In just Sanchez’s second Premier League game, he was named at the point of the Gunners front-line. That initial experiment failed, but Wenger was forced to repeat it in midweek having lost Giroud to a broken tibia. Against Besiktas, Alexis fared rather better. Not only did he grab the winning goal, but he also showed class and courage to hold the ball up against defenders who towered above him.

With Giroud confirmed as being out until Christmas, many Arsenal fans are incredulous that Arsene Wenger does not deem recruiting a new striker a priority. However, as far as our manager is concerned, he has already bought a £35m striker this window: Alexis.

For more than a year, Wenger has been chasing a mobile forward with a good pressing game. Wenger didn’t buy a striker last summer because he couldn’t get his number one target, Suarez. He didn’t buy a striker in January because a player of the requisite calibre and attributes was not available. This summer, Alexis came on the market, and Wenger moved quickly and efficiently to get his man.

I’m sure that in an ideal world Wenger would like to bed Sanchez in as his centre-forward over a period of several months. Giroud’s injury robs him of that luxury. Alexis’ evolution must be sped up, and the team’s with it. However, Wenger presumably reasons that there’s no point threatening that process by buying the ‘wrong’ type of centre-forward. If he has already decided that Sanchez, rather than Giroud, will be his team’s long-term focal point, why derail things by bringing in another square beg for his newly-carved round hole?

Of course, Alexis can’t play every game. But if our team is being rebuilt to accommodate a slighter, speedier forward, then Arsenal already have an ideal back-up in their ranks. Within a matter of weeks, Theo Walcott will be available for selection. When Alexis needs a rest, he seems the obvious player to step in to the void.

In the meantime, Walcott will flourish on the right flank. Alexis is more of a ‘false nine’ than a true target man. Against Besiktas, it was intriguing how frequently he dropped deep to collect the ball and join up with the midfield. On more than one occasion, I spotted Alexis furiously gesturing at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to dart in behind him. He will find Theo Walcott a far more willing runner. In combination, the pair could be devastating.

The possibility of fielding Walcott as a centre-forward ensures Yaya Sanogo will remain third-choice in the pecking order. What’s more, Wenger has Joel Campbell to consider. Many Arsenal fans spent the summer crying out for Campbell to be given an opportunity at Arsenal. Some of those same fans are now furiously demanding a new striker. You can’t have it both ways.

If it were up to me, I’d bring in an experienced frontman who guarantees 10 goals. Loic Remy, for example, is a proven Premier League finisher with an excellent record. I’d recruit someone of that ilk to add depth and experience to our options. If that meant sending one of Sanogo or Campbell out on loan, so be it.

Arsene doesn’t see it that way. Rightly or wrongly, he believes giving playing time to Campbell and Sanogo is a better investment of resource. What’s more, I suspect he envisages a restyled attack modelled around Sanchez and Walcott. Giroud’s injury robs him of a Plan B, but Plan A is still good to go.

I hope Arsenal will be active between now and the end of the transfer window. They still need another centre-back, and a holding midfielder would be handy too. With Giroud out, the first XI could do with an injection of height and power – if only to help them cope at set-pieces.

However, at this stage I’d be surprised to see another attacker arrive. Giroud’s injury doesn’t derail Arsene’s plans, it merely accelerates them.