A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

The Problems with Arsenal

Written 8/12/2009 as a rant about Arsenal!

The fact that Arsenal putting together back-to-back wins in the Premiership being considered an accomplishment is an indication of the troubles that have surrounded Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in the 2008/09 season so far.


Arsenal’s fantastic but yet surprising 2-1 victory over Chelsea being followed up by a nervy 1-0 win over mid-table Wigan, just shows the difficulties Arsenal have had this season in keeping up their usually impeccable standards.


Cesc Fabregas was handed the captaincy before the Chelsea clash and it may be no co-incidence Arsenal have begun to string together victories under his leadership. The switch may have come about under acrimonious circumstances as Gallas was punished for speaking out of turn about the clubs players by being stripped of his armband by Wenger. Even so, it was inevitable that Fabregas was to be given the chance to lead Arsenal at some point in his career and it may have an encouraging affect on the rest of the season.


I do feel that Gallas will stay at the club, to the end of the season at least if Wenger’s words truly reflect his intentions. William Gallas is a great player and maybe giving him the captaincy was not the right decision in the first place, and Wenger may have moved to rectify this when he had the chance. Gallas is 31 years old and desperate for silverware before his time is up, which may indicate his swiftness to publicly criticise the young team, whereas Fabregas is the perfect symbol for Arsenal football club. He is young, hungry for success but understands the Wenger’s policy perhaps more than his ex-Chelsea colleague.


However the on-the-field problems at Arsenal this season run deeper than who holds the captaincy. Many feared with Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini leaving in the summer that Arsenal would be weak in the middle of the park. The modern game seems to favour an anchorman style defensive midfielder and it appears that Wenger has not settled on who will play that role and partner Fabregas permanently. Abou Diaby, for all his comparisons to Patrick Vieira, is far to injury prone at the moment. Denilson plays as if he is trying to hard to make an impression and isn’t yet ready for regular first team football. Alexandre Song has improved considerably in the past season or two but concerns still appear over his quality. Jack Wilshere is coming through the ranks rapidly but his game needs work before he can begin starting league games, which overall leaves this position uncertain.


Another lingering question occurs in defence. Manuel Almunia has done enough to deserve his place in goal and Bakary Sagna and Gael Clichy are attacking wing-backs that slot perfectly into Arsenal’s style but it is in central defence where doubts remain. Wenger felt he had enough of Senderos’ mistakes when he loaned him out to A.C. Milan in the summer leaving just Gallas, Kolo Toure and Johan Djourou as Arsenal’s recognised central defenders. Mikael Silvestre has since been brought in to plug up that gap but questions have to be asked to why Wenger didn’t bring in a replacement of better quality. Arsenal’s financial restraints appear to be behind them, as Chairman Peter Hill-Wood all but publicises, however the manager seems unwilling to spend big to aid the team.


It could be Wenger’s worry of keeping Arsenal in financial stability whilst other clubs open up to debt, or part down to his philosophy that you don’t need to spend big to succeed. Arsenal are in their third season at the Emirates and even the most skeptical fan would not have envisaged such a talented team not picking up any major trophy in that time.


It boils down to bad luck with injuries, a small squad and a developing side contributing to their unsuccessful few seasons. Arsenal looked assured and in a steady position to take the title last season, before Eduardo’s horrific injury culminating in nine months out of the game and two dropped points for the Gunners, not to mention William Gallas’ destabillising sit down protest at the final whistle.


Arsenal have missed creative edge on the wings this season as Tomas Rosicky has yet again found himself on the treatment table. He is now joined by the impressive Samir Nasri who had a wonderful start to the season, capped by his outstanding performance against Manchester United in which he scored two goals. Theo Walcott, too is out for at least three months in another breakthrough season for him, which was highlighted by his three goals for the national side against Croatia in September. With these key wingers out, an Emmanuel Eboue’s return to the fold against Wigan best described as shocking, Arsene Wenger has serious problems with squad depth.


Arsenal are not in crisis, the dressing room is not in turmoil and the board are as confident as they can be that Arsene Wenger will once again place the Gunners top of the domestic tree. It’s just a worry now for Arsenal fans if and when this will actually happen.


It’s well documented that Arsenal’s great youth system is always churning out the next star, and in recent times this has even begun to involve young British players too, a cause for celebration for everyone. It is just whether these young players can keep Arsenal up with the league’s strongest team while they are still effectively learning their trade, be it thick and fast.


The young players at Arsenal are always given a chance, principally in the Carling Cup and this year was no different as Wenger’s young charges made the Quarter Final. The Third Round saw Carlos Vela and Jack Wilshire announce their outstanding potential, both playing key roles in a 6-0 annihilation of Sheffield United. An impressive feature of the win was that seven British players played their part, a huge improvement on previous years and something that Wenger has clearly been looking to rectify.


The Fourth Round saw the same side defeat Wigan 3-0, practically remarkable bearing in mind the under-par recent premiership victory. This time it was Englishmen Jay Simpson who broadcast his precocious finishing abilities with two well taken goals, with Wilshire and Vela featuring strongly again.


The future certainly does look bright for Arsenal, as they have a midfield dynamo in Jack Wilshire who has been keenly backed by Bob Wilson to play for England. Arsene Wenger has claimed that Carlos Vela can be “world-class” and Jay Simpson’s recent contract talks suggest he too is highly regarded. Aaron Ramsey has feature quite consistently for the first team but he too is only 17 and the exclamation from Ryan Giggs that he is the man to build future Wales teams around justifies his talent. With these hugely talented domestic players, as well as the other exciting young stars such as Gavin Hoyte, Kieren Gibbs, Marc Randall, Henri Lansbury and Fran Merida all under the watchful gaze of Arsene Wenger it seems Arsenal can be dominant for years.


However, how many times in recent years has Arsenal’s youthful promise been exaggerated, only for these players to come in, do well but not stop Arsenal faltering to recent achievement being limited to just FA Cup glory in 2005. The young teams humbling at the hands of Burnley in the Quarter Final undid all their excellent work in the previous two rounds and proved that these young stars were not invincible. It points the theory that Arsenal flatter to deceive when push comes to shove.


Where are is previous seasons it was argued that Arsenal drew to many games, this is constructive criticism compared with the teams new habit of losing. Five defeats already this term is two more than they suffered the whole of last campaign and is no where near title-winning form and although just two draws and nine wins have helped keep them involved in the title race, realistically it looks like being a tough season for Wenger’s team to stay in the top four, let alone push for the title.


With the serious threat of Aston Villa breaking the top four mould, and the inevitable chasers such as Portsmouth and Everton a few wins away from that position it looks like Wenger is going to have to start spending money in the transfer market to stop his squad from reaching thread-bare whilst keeping up with perennial leaders Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. With the sleeping giants Manchester City ready to be awoken in January with a flurry of spending backed by their owner Al Mubarak likely to rival Abramovich’s initial flutters.


Arsene Wenger is not, as many of the papers claimed a few weeks ago, in any way likely to lose his job. So why he doesn’t spend money on experienced players to improve the balance of the squad is a real question. Quality players do not disrupt the harmony of a squad, if they are the right players they add to it.


And whilst I am saying for one minute that Arsene Wenger should re-think his football beliefs, which do border on genius, it seems that Arsenal could be dominant if they did purchase a few class players to correct some of the imbalances in the squad.


February 22, 2009 - Posted by | Football

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