Arsenal's season has again been plagued by the same old problem: a lack of defensive cover exposing them on the counter attack. Said problem has seen them concede 23 goals - the ninth best total in the Premier League and has left them with an unenviable record of five clean sheets in 19 games.
Arsenal then have a secondary problem regarding a lack of match winners. The Gunners play some pretty football but Alexis Sanchez aside, lack a killer instinct. Indeed, Arsenal have to thank their lucky stars their talisman turned down Liverpool to join them. Of the 34 goals Arsenal have scored this season, Sanchez has scored or assisted 16, meaning 18 goals have been spread around the rest of the team. The adage of a one man team is an overrated and misguided one in football but Arsenal have ran a fine line at times this season.
Yes, injuries have tormented Arsenal's starting line up at times, however, Laurent Koscienly aside, it is debatable whether any of their absentees would have altered the course of Arsenal's season much. For example, Olivier Giroud has never been a prolific striker for Arsenal and barring any dramatic changes to the way Arsenal play, it is unlikely Mesut Ozil would have performed to his enormous ability - especially after a laboured start.
1) Defensive midfielder
As expressed earlier, Arsenal's biggest problem is getting exposed on the counter attack. No game symbolised this better than the recent 2-2 draw against Liverpool. Not only were Arsenal fearful of the counter attack, it took them an age to retrieve the ball back thanks to a lack of ball winners.
According to Squawka, Arsenal have made a total of 14 defensive errors - the joint 4th highest. 4 of these mistakes has resulted in the opposition scoring - the joint 4th highest as well. Arsenal's resident defensive midfielder, Mathieu Flamini, has made two mistakes that have both resulted in goals. Furthermore, many of these mistakes tend to come from a lack of composure on the ball, leading to him being easily dispossessed.
Arsenal's other defensive midfielder, Mikel Arteta, is much more assured on the ball than Flamini but lacks his tenacity to get around the pitch. When Arteta plays, the opposition has more freedom of the pitch because he is not in their face making challenges across the pitch.
In an ideal world, you would fuse both Flamini and Arteta to create the ultimate defensive midfielder. Alas, you cannot. There are, however, a few defensive midfielders with this skill set. The most affordable would be Udinese's Allan. I wrote about the Udinese man back in October; he is a tenacious player that has consistently topped the tackling and interception charts for the past three seasons. He also has the ball playing skills to assist with Arsenal's style of play. At the age of 23, his best days are ahead of him and Arsenal need to react now or face a bidding war once his reputation matches his talent.
Failing that, AC Milan's Nigel de Jong would be an astute signing. The 30 year old is in his last 6 months of contract and with Milan following a trail of teams battling for the last Champions League place, it should not take much to convince him to switch sides. Despite leaving the Premier League for Serie A, de Jong is still very combative and played a big part in the Netherlands 3rd place in the World Cup.
Arsenal only have two centre backs and following Koscielny's injury interrupted season, they have been forced to overuse Calum Chambers in his secondary position or even draft Debuchy, a right back by trade, into the centre of defence. Adding to further instability at the back has been Mertesacker's poor form. However, as he has been the only centre back fit at times, he has been forced to play through a rough patch.
Quite clearly Arsenal are in need of a centre back; they should look no further than West Ham's Winston Reid. Reid's contract is up in just 6 months and the Gunners can get him on cheap. More importantly, Reid is quick and good in the air. In theory, he should make Arsenal less open to the counter attack and better their record on set pieces - something West Ham are renowned for. Rather cheekily, buying Reid would weaken West Ham who are a real threat to Arsenal's top four position.
A more expensive option would be Valencia's Nicolas Otamendi. The 26 year old has been a revelation for the La Liga club and has been the leader of a defensive that has conceded only 13 goals - a record equal to Real Madrid's and only bettered by Barcelona.
His greatest attribute is his proactive and willing attitude to intercept trouble at the first sign. A world class defender in the making, the only downside is Valencia have no need to sell him and Manchester United are rumoured to have to break the bank to do so (Otamendi's release clause is £50 million).
Arsenal have heavily relied upon Alexis Sanchez as a source of inspiration. After him, there is a significant drop in quality that is noticeable. Giroud and Welbeck are good but they aren't great players; meanwhile, Podolski has never consistently performed for Arsenal and the only thing consistent about Walcott is his injuries.
The success of the Premier League's top three clubs this season reveals a plethora of world class striking talent is needed if a club is to sustain a title challenge.
Arsenal have been continually linked with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Edinson Cavani for the past year, although with Giroud and Welbeck occupying the main striker role, Arsenal would be better served signing an auxiliary forward who can score and assist at a similar rate.
Out of all the players not to have been picked up by a big team, Roberto Firmino is the world's leading player in this category. Last season he scored 16 and assisted 11 for Hoffenheim - a combined figure better than Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Mueller and Franck Ribery; and only better by Marco Reus. This season he has scored 4, assisting 6. Firmino is a threat from any angle of the pitch and retains an uncanny resemblance to Luis Suarez in regards to his intense work rate - something Arsenal lack.
Firmino signed a new contract deal with Hoffenheim in the summer to ward off suitors. However, having been at the club for five years and at the age of 23, Firmino could be getting antsy about the opportunity to win trophies. It would be a big statement if Arsenal were to pull off a deal of this magnitude.
Were Arsenal to buy Firmino, it would firmly push Podolski out the door and possibly Joel Campbell too.