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Premier League: Arsenal's 'false nine' formation fails to ignite before Olivier Giroud's intervention at Everton
Arsene Wenger was forced to scrap his 'false nine' formation just 45 minutes into its first outing on Saturday. Will he admit another striker is needed to boost Arsenal's options? Matthew Stanger reviews the 2-2 draw with Everton...
Last Updated: 23/08/14 8:56pm
"A team is life and life is movement. That means the team doesn't stand still, we move forward and improve. We have a good opportunity on Saturday to show that we have moved forward and that we are stronger than last year."
After a sluggish first half against Everton, Arsene Wenger could be forgiven for feeling that the more things change, the more they stay the same at Arsenal. The Gunners had won every match in the Premier League since their 3-0 thrashing at Goodison Park in April, but on their return to the scene of the crime signs of progress initially appeared as false as the manager's striker-less formation.
This was the first time Wenger has tested a 'false nine' system following the arrival of £35m forward Alexis Sanchez, but the experiment lasted only 45 minutes before the anonymous Chilean was replaced by Olivier Giroud. In a first half that saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain strike all five of Arsenal's attempts - and all off-target - Sanchez had fewer touches than every outfield player other than Mathieu Debuchy.
Despite Sanchez's quiet display, it was a surprise to see him hooked at the interval as Wenger renewed his faith in Giroud. The Frenchman struggled to make an impact in the midweek draw with Besiktas, but against Everton Arsenal's real No.9 proved the perfect Plan B as his introduction helped to change the game. With Giroud now offering a focal point for the attack to build around, Arsenal became much more direct, probing the Toffees' defence before rescuing a point in the last eight minutes.
This desire to fight to the end, which was also apparent against Crystal Palace on the opening day, will provide encouragement to Wenger amid a slow start to the season in terms of his team finding their rhythm. However, the manager will also be concerned that simple lessons have not been learned in the five months following Arsenal's last meeting with Everton.
In packing central midfield with Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini, Wenger showed a level of respect to the hosts that was perhaps missing when the Toffees threatened to pinch the Gunners' Champions League spot in the spring. On this occasion, Everton would not be allowed to breeze forward without resistance and surge into an early lead. At least that was the plan.
Instead, the same Arsenal flaws were revealed, with Mesut Ozil switching off in the 19th minute to allow Seamus Coleman to sneak in and open the scoring. The second goal was unfortunate - Romelu Lukaku appearing to foul Per Mertesacker in the build-up and Steven Naismith benefiting from a close off-side call - but Wenger will be more worried about his team's weary start in one of the toughest away trips of the season.
Despite defensive concerns being revived, the biggest issue for the manager to address is a lack of cutting edge which saw Everton hold on until the 90th minute and Palace survive to the 92nd. Wenger has made clear his intention to persist with his current striking options - awarding Yaya Sanogo a starting role at home to Palace and against Manchester City in the Community Shield - but watching the Gunners in the first half on Saturday, he may have doubted that decision.
His resolve will be further tested by news of an injury to Giroud, who appeared to turn his ankle in the closing stages. "We have a big game on Wednesday - I hope we haven't lost Giroud," said Wenger afterwards. "It doesn't look good."
With the Frenchman possibly facing a period on the sidelines, and the early trials of a false nine formation not proving a success, the focus returns to Wenger's insistence that he doesn't need another striker. It seems such an obvious missing piece of the jigsaw for Arsenal and, if the Gunners are to prove they are stronger than last year, Wenger may be required to adapt his original plans.