There’s little doubt that the race for the top four will be heated for the remainder of the season. With 3rd placed Manchester United (43 points) only separated from 7th place Liverpool (38 points) by 5 points, there are not many signs pointing towards a predictable finish at the top of the table. That being said, Arsenal has all the keys it needs to qualify for the Champions League next season, with the convincing Francis Coquelin and promising signing of Gabriel Paulista to help the Gunners close in on the top English contenders.
By now, it’s no secret Arsenal’s struggles this year can primarily be blamed on defensive inconsistency. After letting in an unacceptable 3 goals to Stoke and Anderlecht, several late tallies to Manchester City, United, and Liverpool in three very winnable games all in just the first half of the season it was clear to anyone, including Arsene Wenger, that defensive security was imperative. But with Sanchez firing on all fronts, Giroud practically scoring a goal per 90 minutes, and numerous players returning from injury Arsenal should be set for the 2015-2016 Champions League, right?
Wrong. The shining Chilean has practically carried Arsenal this whole season, and his form is due a dip by now. Worse, it appears that the Arsenal Injury Bug has bitten him, and he missed out on the Villa victory. The point is, Arsenal cannot let Sanchez carry the weight of the whole team, and others need to step up to take the pressure off the South American’s shoulders. Meanwhile Olivier Giroud, though boasting a particularly pleasing goal record this campaign, is not a world-class striker, and doesn’t have the sole ability to save Arsenal’s season. Still, the returns of previously-injured Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry, and the soon-to-be-healthy Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, and Oxlade-Chamberlain make Arsenal’s attack seem amusingly dangerous, with Theo Walcott, speaking of the “Invincible’s” offensive proponents, even claiming that the current “attacking force… does beat it.” But while the Gunner attack should be attractive to many North Londoners, Arsenal’s defense remains the topic of most attention.
Thanks to Arsene Wenger, Francis Coquelin, who has been Arsenal’s best defensive midfielder this season by far, was pulled from a rather un-inspiring loan spell at Charlton. Not only that, Gabriel Paulista, of La Liga’s Villareal, was cleverly scouted and signed in exchange for a necessary Joel Campbell loan.
These two additions have looked impressive recently, as Coquelin, for example, averages more interceptions, clearances, and a higher average match rating than now second-choice veteran DM Mikel Arteta (WhoScored.com). Plus, Coquelin’s physicality, especially when compared with Arteta’s slowing legs and increasingly fragile body, provides a needed tangible boost in a rather slight Premier League team.
Gabriel as well, is a welcomed inclusion to the squad, as his pace and intercepting ability should see Per Mertesacker to the bench once enough English is learned and sufficient chemistry is strengthened with preferable centre back Laurent Koscielny. This should relieve many, as it is always quite alarming for any Gunners fan to watch Mertesacker try to even hinder any quick opposing counter attack, let alone witness Nacho Monreal or Mathieu Debuchy attempt to cope outside of their natural positions when a first-choice centre-back is injured.
Indeed, these two squad additions are set to sure up Arsenal’s defense for the rest of the 2014-15 campaign, and if Francis Coquelin keeps performing surprisingly well, Gabriel should prove a solid center back once he adjusts to the English game. Arsenal’s previously-lacking defensive ranks have been addressed with Francis Coquelin and Gabriel Paulista, and if the Gunners keep their recent win streak and consistency alive, the top four is unquestionably within sight.