Is there a team in the Premier League as frustrating as Arsenal? As a fan this is a particularly subjective view but it certainly seems that way with this modern-day Jekyll and Hyde collective. After a terrific win in the North London Derby, the Gunners have drawn their last two games, failing to build on the momentum that should have been created after such a high-profile victory.
So why the consistent inconsistency? Well it could be argued it’s a fragile mentality that exudes from the manager who has overseen dozens of players come and go, with pretty much the same frustrating result, over the past few years. Ironic, then, considering how quick Arsène Wenger is to praise his side’s mental strength in public.
The quickest, less complex and perhaps most valid argument however, is that it’s the playing staff, or at least lack thereof. Even the most staunch Gunners fan would admit that the squad significantly lacks depth; worryingly all over the pitch. Therefore investment in January is essential if the club want to remain at least near the top. Personally I think they’ll still finish 4th, but some way off the two Manchester clubs, which is infuriating when the gap could have been closed with better business in the last few transfer windows, as Arsenal have undoubtedly regressed rather than progressed having seen key players like Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas move on to pastures new.
Wojciech Szczesny has only recently returned to the line-up and has improved the side a great deal; largely because of the far-from-dependable presence of Vito Mannone between the sticks for the majority of the season; a player clearly not good enough for this level. The manager has in fact publically admitted that he tried to shift both Mannone and the mysteriously injured Lukasz Fabianski in the summer, but to no avail. I appreciate there’s not a great deal he can do when there’s no takers but, regardless, it’s not acceptable that a Championship-quality keeper should be next in line for the number one jersey at a team that should be challenging for the Premier League title.
Julio Cesar was strongly linked with Arsenal before his switch to QPR, and the player himself admitted he was close to moving to the Emirates. Whilst a move to Loftus Road offered a hefty pay packet and a guaranteed starting place, surely the allure of playing in the Champions League outweighed that? Why did Arsenal not fight harder to secure his signature? Or at least someone in that mould. His performance against the Gunners for QPR proved that he’s still very capable, and he would have been an ideal signing; providing a wealth of experience having won the Champions League amongst other honours. He could have been the man to keep the relatively raw Szczesny on his toes for the next couple of years; thus pressuring him into improving. At the moment, the Pole is the undoubted number one and the pressure on him, and lack of competition is somewhat concerning.
Defensive performances have improved with Szczesny back in the side and the defenders at Wenger’s disposal, on paper at least look very favourable. Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, and the much-improved trio of Per Mertesacker, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson, all of whom have come on leaps and bounds, are all fine individuals, suggesting minimal reinforcement is required in this department. Although question marks linger remain as regards to Andre Santos’ ability, and with Gibbs’ bad injury record, it’s not inconceivable that Arsenal could be looking at left-back options this January. Despite some comical defending at times, generally speaking Arsenal have had a meaner backline this year and that will only improve with time as players become more accustomed to one another. I’ve always believed that, at centre-half in particular, partnerships and mutual understanding are imperative: Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand for example didn’t click instantly, but they’ve developed a rapport over a number of years to become one of the most respected partnerships around; albeit they haven’t played together in a long time.
In midfield, there are big problems. Although the trio of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla sounds mouth-watering, one could perhaps argue that the players are too similar, or that the balance isn’t quite right. Against Tottenham it worked a treat but that may be because the opposition were playing with ten men for the majority of the match. Earlier in the season, when Arsenal were playing their best football, Abou Diaby was in the side, and in scintillating form. What makes him unique is his ability to carry the ball, move box-to-box and drive at the opposition, in an almost, dare I say, Yaya Toure-esque fashion. Wenger did not replace Alex Song because he had faith in Wilshere and Diaby returning from long-term injuries. The fact the latter has succumbed yet again proves this was a somewhat foolish act, and the Gunners look light on bodies in the middle. He had his flaws but there’s no doubt Arsenal are missing Song at the moment, or at least a similar player capable of bringing something to the table.
Due to the lack of options, Cazorla and Arteta have been overplayed and consequently, their performances have suffered. The return of Tomas Rosicky perhaps means that Cazorla can be rested occasionally but Arteta particularly is tasked with being the glue holding Arsenal together, with no opportunity for being rotated. Francis Coquelin is talented but far from ready to step up. Without the necessary backup, a serious injury to Arteta could derail their season to an even greater extent. Another defensive-minded midfielder simply has to come in during the January transfer window.
Meanwhile, Thierry Henry has again been mooted as a potential target, having enjoyed a successful return on loan last season. But does it smack of desperation? I appreciate the sentimental value of his return and am not necessarily against it, but is there really no other forward out there better than a 35-year-old plying his trade in the MLS? A striker is certainly needed to ease the burden on Olivier Giroud as, like Arteta, he has no real competition behind him with Marouane Chamakh currently about as much use as an inflatable dartboard. I’m not saying Arsenal should or realistically can go for broke and try and buy someone like Falcao or Edinson Cavani but another top-quality forward should be high up on the list. Henry, for all that he can still evidently offer, should not be the number one target. With Gervinho off to the African Cup of Nations again, I don’t see why Arsenal shouldn’t be greedy and try and sign their all-time top goalscorer as well as another striker rather than as an alternative. As far as I’m concerned, and as the Manchester clubs are demonstrating, there’s no such thing as having too many top-drawer forwards.
Of course, it’s highly unlikely, nay, impossible, that Arsenal will amend all these issues in January but things need ironing out sooner rather than later. With a lucrative deal re-negotiated with Emirates coming into effect, in addition to the funds the manager apparently already has at his disposal, there’s no excuse for not investing significantly in the transfer window. Without wanting to sound melodramatic, Arsenal may not qualify for Europe without it, and the long-term effect of that could be catastrophic.
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