How quickly things change in top flight football; just a few weeks ago Arsenal were being hailed as potential title challengers as they leapfrogged Manchester United into second in the table. Their weaknesses were then exposed though and since then Arsenal only sit in fourth due to a last gasp Tim Howard penalty save against Tottenham. The last few weeks have shown us that Arsenal do not have the right team or mentality to mount the title chase the supporters want and Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to deal with his team’s problems will only inhibit the team. Wenger has to get past his stubbornness and improve the team and here’s how he can do so in five steps:
1. Sign at least two big, strong players to give the team a more physical edge. It’s an obvious weakness and Andrey Arshavin has already highlighted it to the world; Arsenal’s starting line-up against Stoke this weekend featured no player over six foot and, whilst the team won on this occasion, this can be a serious disadvantage – this was shown at Stoke last year for example. Whilst a big striker is always nice to have the two positions Arsenal most need a physical player in are in central defence and central midfield. A big man at the back is necessary to repel big, strong attackers like Didier Drogba. Shift Gallas to full back and play Vermaelen with the new boy. Brede Hangeland was linked with the club in the summer – he’d be perfect! And the midfielder? Arsenal’s best success came with Patrick Vieira, who stands at 6 foot 3, in the middle of the park dominating opponents. No current Arsenal midfielder compares in terms of on-field presence. It’s a link many Arsenal fans aren’t happy with but Yaya Toure would be a good option to boost the midfield if he does become available from Barcelona.
2. Sign a striker – one with proven goalscoring ability, not a youngster or a man who’s only succeeded in a weaker league like Eduardo did. Robin van Persie’s out for the season, who can replace him? Bendtner? No. Vela? No. Eduardo? No. Wenger’s always reluctant to splash out on players, particularly older ones, but a goalscorer is a necessity. Why not take a chance on an unwanted man like Ruud van Nistelrooy or Klass Jan Huntelaar? Van Nistelrooy’s got proven Premiership experience whilst Huntelaar’s scored goals in every league he’s played in. A new frontman is a must.
3. Learn to sit back and defend a lead – too often do Arsenal throw away leads because they’re eager to play their opponents off the field and they get careless – just look at the game against West Ham for proof! Defensive tactics should be employed in the latter stages of the game to prevent the opponents from stealing something from the game and Wenger must stress this. Bring on an extra midfielder for a winger or striker, just shore up the team to prevent mishaps.
4. Wenger himself needs to change his attitude – gone are the days when he protected every player with claims of “I didn’t see it” when a red card went against Arsenal. Wenger has been very critical of the team after a number of games this season and their poor results are due to his failings as a manager rather than the players’ inability to perform. Wenger has been brilliant for Arsenal but he’s becoming more stuck in his ways with age, he has to return to experimenting with different on-field options and actually inspiring his team. Nothing’s more morale-boosting to a team than your manager roaring you on rather than standing on the touchline with his arms folded.
5. Lastly, and we’re going back to the need for signings here, a goalkeeper has to be considered. Almunia’s well liked by a number of fans but the fact remains that he is a poor shot stopper. Look at Premiership statistics and you’ll see that Almunia’s saves made is considerably less than most other ‘keepers in the Premiership and often teams score from having one shot per game against him. Vito Mannone hasn’t looked awe-inspiring either so maybe it’s time to properly replace Lehmann now rather than keeping the faith with his, frankly not good-enough, deputy.
Arsenal in general have a squad capable of challenging for the title but there are these flaws. The fact that three of these weaknesses are in terms of players available to the squad is a damning indication of the weakness of Wenger’s dealings in the transfer market – as good as some acquisitions have been, it’s not enough and Wenger has to be willing to buy quality players more often like he did with Arshavin. The only way to keep up with teams who are spending big money on top players all the time is to buy some of your own. Wenger’s got to back down from his stubborn ways and do this or there’s no way forward under his guidance.