After years being undermined by a suspect defense, Arsenal's problems this season are due to a blunt attack. The Gunners are owners of the Premier League's best defense, but are struggling to find the right combination and balance up front.
New signings Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have struggled to replace the prolific qualities of Robin van Persie. That is stifling Arsenal's scoring potential, as is a lack of continuity.
Manager Arsene Wenger has not yet settled on his preferred combinations along the forward line. As much as Giroud, Podolski and the wildly inconsistent Gervinho have struggled individually, they showed promise as a trio earlier in the campaign.
The three-man produced some effective combination play up front. However, they have only been picked together four times this season.
One of those three occasions proved a success in Arsenal's 3-1 away win over West Ham. The game saw Giroud net his first and only English Premier League goal, following a precise cross from Podolski.
Against Montpellier in the UEFA Champions League, Giroud and Podolski again combined. The France international cushioned a nice pass into the path of Podolski, who coolly finished an intricate attacking move.
Gervinho scored the winner shortly after, demonstrating the movement that sets him apart from Arsenal's other attacking options. He drifted in from the right, making a run across the front and through the middle of Montpellier's back four.
Despite these efforts, Wenger has flip-flopped between an attack with Giroud at its apex and one that lets Gervinho roam the middle as a false 9, consigning Giroud to the bench. These are two very different styles of forward lines and each dictates how the rest of the team build its attacks.
A front with Giroud as its focal point, demands greater levels of link play from the midfield, both from wide and central positions. That's the only way to take advantage of Giroud's strength and ability to hold up the ball and direct play into the path of late runners.
However, when Gervinho leads the front, Arsenal's attack is based more on quick and varied movement. It relies more on passes behind a defense or through gaps, in the absence of a natural target man.
Wenger's revolving selection policy has hindered the efforts of Giroud and Podolski to adapt to the Premier League and Gervinho's attempt to transition to a new position. For instance, Giroud's performance against West Ham seemed to herald him turning the corner after a tough start to life with the Gunners.
It also pushed Gervinho back to a wide berth. However, another stuttering performance from Giroud, this time against Norwich City, sent him back to the bench against Schalke 04 and called for Gervinho to again take up a central role.
Wenger's most difficult task might be trying to find room for three players who all seem best suited as central strikers. Forcing a player into a wide role, didn't really work for contract outcast Theo Walcott and Podolski and Gervinho are facing similar struggles.
Arsenal's misfiring attack is also not helped by a supply line reliant on only one man. The Gunners' chances for scoring are utterly dependant on the play and ideas of Santi Cazorla.
The problem, as Norwich and Schalke proved, is when Cazorla is crowded out in midfield, the supply line is easily cut off. Strikers such as Giroud are then reliant on a series of crosses into the box, something that is certainly not an Arsenal strength.
Arsenal need another flair ball player to dovetail with Cazorla. That would split the creative load and improve the speed and flow of the Gunners' forward passing and off the ball movement.
The return of Jack Wilshere can help and if Walcott could ever learn to use his direct pace correctly, he would help the forward line better stretch opposing back fours.
Wenger's adherence to Arsenal's current 4-2-3-1 formation, only makes room for one central striker and is contributing to some of the struggles experienced by Podolski and Gervinho. A narrower 4-3-3, or a 4-4-2 could give Gervinho and Podolski the chance to roam more often into the areas where they do the most damage.
It could also encourage greater movement in a currently tightly-packed midfield and foster creative contributions from more players, easing the growing burden on Cazorla.
Whatever the formation, Wenger has to decide what his preferred attacking combination is and more importantly, stick with that choice and give the players involved time to build a rapport. Arsenal's season and their mode of play depends on that choice.855726