A disappointing draw at newly promoted Leicester may have preserved our unbeaten start to the season, but that’s four poor performances out of four now and serious questions are being asked as we approach the transfer deadline with massive holes still evident in the squad.
I will write more about our squad and transfer strategy tomorrow once the window shuts, because to be fair to Wenger and Gazidis they still have a few hours to get some players in. Maybe, just maybe, yesterday’s woeful display will shock Wenger and co into realising more investment is needed, but frankly I’m not hopeful.
The main talking point before the game was who would play up front. Personally, I thought it was a no brainer — Wenger had declared after the Besiktas game that Alexis had been signed to play as a striker, so he was the obvious candidate. But incredibly, Wenger put his faith once again in the raw, sub-standard Sanogo and he proceeded to fluff our best chances, shooting straight at Schmeichel when clean through and heading over from eight yards. He lacked coordination, his touch was poor and his barren run now stretches to 17 games without a goal.
Even his assist for our goal was unimpressive. He took an eternity to latch onto Cazorla’s clever chipped pass and decided to wait for the ball to come down instead of having the agility and touch to take it out of the air. By that time Schmeichel closed him down and we were fortunate that Sanogo’s tentative prod towards goal fell nicely for Alexis to despatch into the net.A couple of minutes later though, the home side were level when the injured Koscielny (whose ability to head the ball or even challenge for it was severely compromised following a clash of heads) allowed Ulloa a free header. I know it’s easy to say with hindsight, but Koscielny should have been substituted immediately following his injury, although whether the blame lies with himself, the medical team or the manager is unknown. Either way, it was a poor decision which cost us dearly.
For the rest of the game we had plenty of possession while Leicester looked to hit us on the break with their rapid back to front counters. Not long ball mind, although they were direct — they played some nice stuff in the final third and both Ulloa and Vardy had good chances to snatch a winner. For our part, Ramsey should’ve done better with a looping header and Sanogo missed a couple of chances as stated previously. But despite 22 attempts on goal, we didn’t really look like scoring and it is this lack of a cutting edge that cost us two points and raises serious questions about our strikers. Ulloa is a journeyman forward fresh from the Championship but looked head and shoulders above Sanogo.
I said after the Palace match that we won’t get away with starting Sanogo again and so it proved. He wasn’t the only one who had a poor game — in fact only Alexis, Debuchy and Szczesny emerged with any credit — but the focus is on him (perhaps unfairly) because the manager has made such a pig’s ear of assembling a decent set of centre forwards.
Wenger said this recently about the striker situation:
“If I give you the number of strikers I have at the moment it’s absolutely unbelievable. We have Yaya Sanogo, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Giroud who will come back during the season and I forget maybe one or two. Joel Campbell can play centre-forward as well and, of course, we can be successful.”
He is saying we have six players who can play up front and therefore don’t need anymore — Giroud is out, so we have five. On that basis, he is right. You need four strikers in a squad, so number wise we don’t need anyone.
But the problem is not the number of strikers, it’s the quality. Of the six he mentioned, only two can be relied upon right now to lead the line — Giroud or Alexis. That is shocking and is why we will struggle to score goals this season if we don’t sign a top quality striker today.
He has no faith in Podolski and was actively looking to sell him before Giroud’s injury, while Sanogo showed against Palace and Leicester that he simply isn’t good enough and won’t be for a very long time, if at all. Campbell doesn’t get a look in and Walcott is only effective in the centre against teams who play a high line against us — he lacks the guile and link up play to be a lone striker against a massed defence.
So basically we have one competent option at the moment — Alexis — and Wenger didn’t even pick him to play there against Leicester. I despair, I really do.
Wenger made a rod for his own back last summer when all he could come up with in response to our desperate need for a top drawer striker was Sanogo. It’s all well and good putting your faith in an untested, inexperienced kid, but if the gamble doesn’t come off and you are left short quality wise while £50-£70m sits untouched in the club bank account, there’s only one person to blame.
It needs rectifying today, but as usual, I fear Wenger has over-estimated the players at his disposal, put too much faith in the wrong ones and now he’s left it too late to fix it. Please, please, please let me be wrong.