As we approach the end of the 2009/10 season one club in particular has more questions to be answered than any other. For the 5th season in a row Arsene Wenger finds himself competing for nothing before the end of April. The same conversations have been heard every year about buying big names and trying to blend his young protégés with experienced, world class performers.
This is the biggest summer of Wenger’s career and it is unthinkable for a manager with his credentials to go 6 seasons without any silverware. The invincibles will live long in the memory of Highbury faithfuls but how long can he bask in previous glories before the club decide on a change of direction.
Certainly there are positions he must look to strengthen the squad in but there is a more pressing issue he must address if Arsenal are to achieve the success both he and the supporters crave. The games at the Emirates against Manchester United and Chelsea respectively showed a gulf in class and a naivety which he can no longer blame on inexperience. The ease in which both sides soaked up pressure and hit them on the break is a failing of Wenger’s tactical attributes. The need for a top class defensive midfielder has never been as important as it is in modern day football. Positioning and organising are two things that Arsenal are crying out for and the emerging Alexandre Song, promising though he is, is not capable of standing up to the tests presented by the top clubs in Europe.
Their nearest rivals spent £18 and £24 million respectively on Owen Hargreaves and Michael Essien, they identified the need for someone to sit in front of the back four and protect the centre backs. Why then have Arsenal not addressed this situation since selling both Vieira and Silva, not to mention allowing Flamini to leave on a Bosman to AC Milan? Obviously there is a question of whether there is money available.
There are very contrasting views on this held by Arsenal fans, some claim to have seen their finances and say there is no money available whilst other say the complete opposite. The move to the Emirates has clearly affected the clubs finances but I find it hard to believe there is no money there after selling Adebayor and Toure to Manchester City last summer making a profit of £35.85 million.
Some of this money was spent on the Belgian Thomas Vermaelen who has had a very successful first season. He is a very good player with the ball but some of his positioning in the bigger games has been questionable. The centre back is 24 and looks to have a bright future ahead of him but what he and the rest of the young Arsenal players need is someone to go to and look up to at times of crisis. Wenger’s U-Turn in bringing back Sol Campbell reeked of desperation, although he has looked world class in comparison to the other option; Silvestre.
When you look at the Chelsea and United squads there are so many players the young starlets can go to in times of crisis. The look Wayne Rooney (who don’t forget is only 23) gave Nani at half time in the San Siro against Milan was one of frustration but he went and put his arm around the young Portuguese player as they walked down the tunnel. Who do the young Arsenal players turn to at times of crisis? When Arsenal were winning trophies there was Adams, Dixon, Vieira, Silva, and a few more.
If Wenger plans to compete with Chelsea and United next year for the Premiership he must bring in some players in the peak of their powers who will aid the development of the young players and also bring experience. He missed the boat with Senna from Villareal a couple of years ago but should be looking to bring in someone who can take control of situations and add to the blend of youth and technique he has at the club. The Arsenal fans display banners at the Emirates stating ‘In Wenger we trust’, that trust is on the wane, it is now his biggest challenge to prove those doubters wrong!