Titles aren’t won in a week, but they can certainly be lost – Just ask Arsene Wenger
By Thomas Watt.
This season Arsenal have been written off more times than Premiership footballer’s supercars, but have always managed to keep themselves in the title hunt. They may not have been able to cope with the physical approach of Chelsea, or the combination of good form and fortune that Manchester United had against them, but Arsenal have remained arguably the most consistent side in the league for the majority of the season.
2009/10 could well have been a vintage year for the men from North London, but the past three weeks have exterminated all hope of silverware for another season. This is an unquestionably talented side – a team that is a couple of wins short of greatness – but what is it going to take to push them that extra step, and will they have the time to do it?
The most obvious solution would be to add quality to the squad. There have been increasing calls over the past few seasons for Arsene Wenger to spend some of the cash he always insisted was available to him, and bring in quality additions to the squad. Certainly, Arsenal have a considerably lower net spend than their rivals, and it is perhaps of some surprise to learn that the Tottenham squad which all but ended Arsenal’s title push, cost some £100m more to assemble than Wenger’s charges. The manger insists that money will be spent this summer, but with a transfer window likely to be skewed by the World Cup, adding the required quality to take the club to the next level may be more expensive than the frugal Mr Wenger would appreciate.
Potential targets have already been highlighted. It is no secret that Arsenal have lacked an out-and-out goalscorer this season, with Van Persie sidelined for so long. Wenger’s sides have always had that focal point, whether it was Adabayor, Henry, Anelka, Djorkaeff or Trezeguet, and it has been missing this season. The side have performed admirably in front of goal in the absence of a recognised goal poacher, but the top scorers in the league this season have been Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen. What a difference another hitman capable of double figures would make.
The man most likely to fill this role is the Bordeaux forward Marouane Chamakh, of whom Arsene Wenger has long been an admirer. Chamakh is a French born Moroccan forward who appears to be just the sort of forward Arsenal have been lacking. Strong in the air, combative in and around the box and with a tireless workrate, Chamakh could well prove to be the perfect foil for Robin Van Persie, should the latter manage to stay fit for any length of time.
The only worry for Arsenal fans is that the young Morrocan is not an out and out goalscorer. His style and presence may create more goals for others, but he has never had a better return than 13 goals in a domestic campaign. Le Championnat may be a more conservative league, and strikers may find opportunities more scarce than in other divisions around Europe, but the chances of him troubling the top end of the goalscoring charts remain up for debate.
While a powerful hitman is likely to be top of Wenger’s shopping list, there are other areas of the side that will need to be strengthened if titles at home or abroad are to be realised. Wenger has long shown faith in Manuel Almunia, and there are certainly far poorer goalkeepers than the Spaniard in the Premiership. Even so, in comparison to their rivals – Van Der Sar, Cech, Reina, Given – there is a question mark over the goalkeeping position.
Joe Hart has had an excellent season at Birmingham, and will feel he is better than a place on the bench at Manchester City. A move for the young Englishman could well be a possibility. Wenger has long been an admirer of Craig Gordon at Sunderland, who despite an indifferent year, has been in superlative form in recent months. Rumours have also circulated about possible enquiries about AZ’s Sergio Romero, Sebastien Frey of Fiorentina, a potential swap deal for Gianluigi Buffon or a move for German number one Rene Adler of Bayer Leverkusen. There may be little or nothing in the various rumours, but the sheer number of names, and the frequency with which they are linked to the club, suggests there will be a new Number One at the Emirates next season.
There have been questions about the Arsenal defence for several years now, and eventually Arsenal are going to have to find a capable Centre back to fulfil their ambitions. Thomas Vermaelen has been one of the shrewdest signings of the season, and has taken to life in the Premiership immediately. William Gallas has experience of winning the title, but will be 33 years old by the time the new season starts, and may yet move to Italy. Neither Sol Campbell or Mikael Silvestre can be seen as long term options for the position, if they remain at the club beyond the end of the season.
Brede Hangeland may be the target of renewed interest, as Arsenal clearly need a physical presence at the back. It has been an almost self fulfilling prophecy that Arsenal cannot deal with the physical approach of some sides. While this is clearly not the case, one only needs to look at the damage inflicted by Didier Drogba whenever the sides meet, to see how beneficial an imposing presence at the back would be. Ryan Shawcross may have been another option, but any hopes of a move to Arsenal may be dashed by a combination of an inflated transfer fee, and a certain tackle on Aaron Ramsey a few months ago.
While the side could well be close to greatness, there are warnings which Arsenal will need to heed. The most alarming is the continued speculation about the future of captain Cesc Fabregas. It seems to be a case of “not if, but when” the Spaniard will return home to join Barcelona, and Arsenal fans can look forward to the usual mischief making from the Spanish press this summer as the Barca presidential elections are due in July.
The money that any transfer would create would certainly fund several top players, but Arsenal’s best chance of success remains building around him rather than in place of him. This situation may well be echoed in that of others. Next season may well be the last chance for This Side to achieve things together, before the lure of other challenges and/or frustrations at a lack of silverware force players into considering their futures. Robin Van Persie will be 27 next season, Andrei Arshavin will be 29. Long term success may require immediate results.
Certainly, major surgery is neither required, not will it be performed. Arsene Wenger has made team unity a cornerstone for the successes he has enjoyed at the Emirates, and he has had great success in replacing players once they decide to move on. Over the past few years Arsenal have always started the season as the team “most likely to” drop out of the Top Four places. There has never looked like being any danger of this, but it has also been very difficult to measure what progress has been made year on year.
This season Arsenal looked like they were closer to being league title winners than they had in some time, but also looked at times as if they were further behind Chelsea and Manchester United than they have been in fifteen years. If they can shore up their defence, and add another attacking threat they could well be on the brink of lasting success. This side is more than capable of becoming the best in Europe, but the clock may be ticking.
What do you think Arsenal need to add to their squad in order to win trophies? Please leave your comments below…..
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