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All-out attack could save Wenger as Arsenal season teeters on the brink

The ESPN FC crew discuss Arsenal's failings and whether their top four hopes are over.

Arsene Wenger seemed to have a clear idea of how to solve Arsenal's defensive issues ahead of the North London derby.

"The best way to defend is for us to have the ball and to take the game to them," the Arsenal boss said last week, apparently falling back on the old adage "the best defence is a good attack."

He didn't exactly back up those words at Wembley, though. Instead, Wenger shuffled his formation into an unusually defence-minded 4-3-3 system where his shiny new attacking weapons were rendered completely useless.

In the end, Arsenal were lucky to only concede one goal and didn't create a proper scoring chance until the very end of the game.

The lesson must be this: As Wenger makes what could be his last stand as Arsenal manager, he should go into all-out attacking mode.

Enough of the back-three formation, or this weird experiment we saw at Wembley on Saturday. Wenger hasn't been able to sort out Arsenal's soft defence in 10 years, no matter what he's tried, and he's not about to find a magic solution in the next three months.

What he has been able to do in the past is play devastating attacking football, and he now has -- on paper at least -- the most devastating attacking players the Emirates has seen in years.

But what's the point of spending £56 million on a new striker and giving your top playmaker a £350,000-a-week deal if you're not going to make full use of them? Mesut Ozil has been in terrifying form of late but looked a shadow of his normal self when pushed out on the right flank against Spurs. Henrikh Mkhitaryan looked similarly forlorn and isolated out on the left flank, which meant Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had absolutely no service to work with the entire game (aside from Jack Wilshere's perfect pass when he was wrongly flagged offside).

Arsenal made massive financial decisions in January, staking the club's near-term future on the trio of Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang. And in their first big game together, Wenger seemed hellbent on making them as ineffective as possible.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang & Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Arsenal have a wealth of attacking talent that can yet save Arsene Wenger this season.

In some ways, you can understand why the Frenchman opted for a three-man midfield, with Mohamed Elneny deployed as extra cover for the defence in an attempt to neutralise Spurs' dangerous attack.

It would have made perfect sense if Elneny was a good enough player to tilt the midfield battle in Arsenal's favour and the rest of the team was good enough at sitting back and waiting for counter-attacking opportunities.

Spurs, though, proved that neither is the case, and Arsenal were fortunate indeed that things didn't descend into a Bayern Munich-style humiliation in the second half. And those of us who had watched the 5-1 rout against Everton and marvelled at the pace and movement of the Gunners' new attack were left scratching our heads.

This has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team all season long, but the January transfer dealings meant they were supposed to have turned a corner and found a new identity based on Wenger's traditional fast-paced, high-scoring approach.

Arsenal's basic problem this season, Wenger concluded after the Aubameyang signing had been announced, "is not only defensive, it's offensive. We did not score enough goals. That's our DNA. We are an attacking team."

Well, if he truly believes that, now is the time to show it. Let Ozil be Ozil -- play him centrally as a No. 10 where he belongs. Support him with Mkhitaryan and one more attacking midfielder -- whether it's Wilshere, Alex Iwobi or Aaron Ramsey -- and have that trio focus on getting the ball to Aubameyang in the box.

It's a simple plan, and given the immense gulf in talent and ability between Arsenal's attackers and defenders, it's the only plan that makes sense.

Failure to qualify for the Champions League could mean a premature end to Arsene Wenger's career at Arsenal.

These Gunners can't play for 1-0 wins. Petr Cech has been stuck on 199 career Premier League clean sheets since mid-December. He may not get to 200 for a while. Especially since Manchester City are next up.

In fact, Arsenal's next two domestic fixtures are against Pep Guardiola's high-flying side, which will probably be seen as a reason to emphasise solidity in those games as well. But Wenger can set up with three at the back or three in midfield against Guardiola, and it won't make a difference. City will score nonetheless.

Arsenal's only chance is to, in Wenger's words, "take the game to them."

In fact, it's how Arsenal should approach every game from now on -- especially in the Premier League. The Gunners are eight points from fourth place and need a perfect run over their last 11 games to have any chance of sneaking into the Champions League spots.

If they fail, Arsenal will have to think long and hard over whether Wenger should be allowed to see out the final year of his contract.

And if this is it for the Frenchman, it would be a shame to see him go out with a whimper. He owes it to himself -- and the philosophy he has maintained for more than two decades -- to go down swinging. Go for an all-out attack. It is his DNA.

Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.


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