Arsenal: same old problems amid injury and transfer woe

Why are the Gunners still scrambling in the transfer market with a week left of the window?

Olivier Giroud
(Image credit: Getty)

However much delight Arsenal fans take in the downfall of Manchester United, they know their own team faces a season-defining game tonight as they take on Besiktas in the Champions League play-off.

Victory would propel the Gunners into the group stages of the competition for a 17th successive year, but defeat would consign them to the Europa League and throw the club's current problems into sharp relief.

It may seem early in the season to talk about "problems" at the Emirates, particularly with silverware in the trophy cabinet and several new signings on board, but after just two games of the season there are signs that Arsenal's old failings are still there. The fact that Wenger is still reportedly looking to sign a defender, a midfielder and a striker speaks volumes.

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Defensive cover

In Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker Arsenal boast one of the most consistent centre-back pairings in the top flight, but what happens when one, or both, is injured or suspended?

Almost everyone agrees that Calum Chambers, newly arrived from Southampton, looks like a good signing, particularly after some impressive displays at centre back, but his arrival coincided with the departure of Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona. It would be hard to claim that Arsenal are stronger with Chambers and without Vermaelen. At best it is a like-for-like replacement, not a strengthening.

Much the same can be said of the arrival of Mathieu Debuchy in place of Bacary Sagna and that of David Ospina in place of Luksz Fabianski. Full back Carl Jenkinson has also gone out on loan for the season, leaving Arsenal with six specialist defenders in their first team squad.

Last week Wenger admitted he was open to "any opportunity until the end of the transfer window to strengthen our defensive department in quality and number". But this week reported deals for Mehdi Benatia and Kostas Manolas have fallen through. The sight of Nacho Monreal at centre-back is not an attractive one but it could happen.

Midfield steel

There has been plenty of talk about the future of Jack Wilshere over the last 19 months. "Injuries have held up Wilshere's progress and the 22-year-old has twice been forced to explain himself to Arsenal manager Wenger after being pictured smoking," explained the Daily Telegraph last week.

Wenger has defended his player from criticism, but there is no doubt he has fallen behind Aaron Ramsey in the Emirates pecking order. That said, Arsenal's problem is not with creative or box-to-box midfielders but defensive players.

"Last season, Arsenal's problems at the back started further up the pitch," says the BBC. "There was little protection given to their back-line in the damaging defeats they suffered at the homes of their rivals in the top five, including Everton. Worryingly for Wenger, the same was true on Saturday, when Mathieu Flamini was the only truly defensively minded man in their midfield."

Mikel Arteta, brought in Wenger's last-minute spree in 2011 is now 32 and out injured for the Besiktas clash. There have been calls for Wenger to sign a midfield general like Sami Khedira or William Carvalho all summer. So far, nothing has happened.

Yet another striker?

Olivier Giroud revitalised Arsenal after coming off the bench against Everton and scored the injury time equaliser that salvaged a point for the Gunners, but there are fears that an ankle injury he picked up in that game will keep him out until Christmas. The Times is not alone in reporting that if he is sidelined Wenger will try and buy a new striker.

That seems like an extraordinary thing to do, given that Wenger has brought Alexis Sanchez and recalled Joel Campbell from loan this summer and now has nine forwards in his first team squad. At the very least it seems that Giroud's injury will stop Lukas Podolski leaving the club.

"Wenger has been more occupied with attempting to sign a central defender and a defensive midfielder in recent weeks," says The Times. "However, that he has been considering adding another forward despite the presence of Sanchez, Giroud, Yaya Sanogo, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott is evidenced by his rather phlegmatic response to Liverpool's signing of Mario Balotelli."

Of particular concern will be Sanchez's "unimpressive start" in a central role for the Gunners. Could we be in for a repeat of Mesut Ozil's trials and tribulations this season?

Injury crisis

Earlier this month the Gunners appointed World Cup winning fitness coach Shad Forsythe, part of the Germany set up in Brazil this summer.

"A series of injury problems last term raised question marks over the Gunners' training methods at their London Colney HQ," explains the Daily Mail. "Manager Arsene Wenger revealed last year how the club had started a review of their procedures following an accumulation of injuries that disrupted their Premier League title challenge."

However, Arsenal are, as ever, dogged by injuries in key positions even at this early stage of the season. Theo Walcott is still recovering from a knee injury sustained in January, defensive midfielder Arteta will be missing against Besiktas and Giroud could be out for months. Kieron Gibbs and Serge Gnabry are also injured and perpetual crock Abou Diaby is still not match fit. At least Koscielny is back for the Besiktas game.

Seat of their pants

Arsenal have shown resilience in their first two Premier League games this season. They scored a winner in injury time against Crystal Palace and came from 2-0 down to get a draw against Everton. Is this a mark of a new found toughness or an illustration of the Gunners inability to control a game?

"Wenger is right to take encouragement from their comeback, and [it is] also correct that they probably would not have managed to dig themselves out of a similar-sized hole in the past," says the BBC. "But there is a danger that, in weighing up whether to strengthen his squad in the next few days, he ignores the longstanding problems that mean they needed to."

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