Arsenal played football on Monday night. A simplistic, banal statement, but one with effect. Arsene Wenger isn’t a manager known for his chess-like mentality and drive to outfox his opposite number. His teams play football, in the purest sense.
Arsenal’s 3-0 win against Newcastle at the Emirates offers some insight as to what could have been this season. The team need surgery; without question they need a centre-forward. But for all the talk of a mid-to-late season implosion, Arsenal are still only seven points off first-placed Liverpool. Wenger’s side have fallen, but they’ve fallen in the absence of three crucial players, three players who need one another to function properly and get this Arsenal team going.
Mesut Ozil looked liberated against Newcastle, as if the six weeks off had done him a world of good. For the first time in the German’s career, he’d gone without a winter break. Ozil’s ability as a player was targeted after the turn of the year when the real culprit is actually the congested fixture schedule. There was little remorse and acceptance that £42 million goes no way to strengthening the body of a player who is used to a mid-season break.
But on Monday night, Ozil was spectacular. His goal and assist were punctuated by wonderful showings of individual class. Yes, players like Ozil are bought to turn teams into title challengers and subsequent winners, but they’re also bought for the pleasure of fans, a showcase of the brilliance of a footballer.
Arsenal look destined for fourth place now, even if Everton win on the weekend against Manchester City, it will be nothing more than a delay of the inevitable. But that’s part of the problem. An FA Cup, provided Arsenal beat Hull in the final, will not mask that fact that this team have much more to offer.
Arsene Wenger showed great restraint over the past two transfer windows in avoiding the vast financial resources available to him. Ozil arrived for a record-breaking fee, but Gonzalo Higuain should have been in tow, as well as a central midfielder, not a couple of freebies in Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini.
Arsenal have generally had little problem in dispatching the weaker teams in the league this season.
The problem has been in transferring that confidence and ability to a higher level. Arsenal will always have injuries. The issues faced at the club are unlikely to be eradicated under Wenger – a sharp criticism of his handling of injuries since the move to the Emirates. But the manager can ensure that convincing wins aren’t just limited to games against the likes of Newcastle.
Arsenal need investment. The opportunity is there to get more out of this team. As well as building confidence and enhancing the club’s reputation, investment in higher quality means periods of rest for the team’s key players.
There was a freshness about Arsenal’s play on Monday night, something that can only be offered by the involvement of players who are mentally and physically rested. Olivier Giroud has been worn down throughout this season, appearing in the majority of the team’s games, but he looked energised against Newcastle, willing to work, never down on past misses in front of goal. He worked because the sharpness offered by Ozil and Ramsey gave him the impetus to do so. He was rewarded with the third goal.
As was the case in Arsenal’s 4-0 win away to Hull, the win against Newcastle offered a reminder as to what this team are capable of. This team aren’t the finished article yet, but investment, wise investment built on careful planning and speed of execution, will see Arsenal closer to the top next season than they currently are.