If any Manchester United or Chelsea fan ever had any worries about Arsenal being a threat in the title race this season, they have now been well and truly quashed under a barrage of counter attacking genius from Wayne Rooney combined with a series of shocking defensive errors from Arsenal.
From the perspective of many football junkies (myself included) the Arsenal versus Manchester United game is one of the most anticipated days of the year. Two truly great clubs run by managers that have a passion for free flowing football and have served as the model of how to be continuously successful during a time where any exiled foreign politician wanted for human rights violations can try their hand in the transfer market.
However as time goes on and as these teams meet more and more often, it is becoming painstakingly obvious that the great rivalry of recent years is dwindling and that Arsenal are falling further behind their rivals. Never has this been more obvious than after their recent 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, this truly was men against boys. Every goal scored during the game was an indicator of United’s all round superiority; even Arsenal’s strike was greeted by a sarcastic cheer of pity from their fans who knew only too well that they had been beaten out of sight and didn’t deserve to score.
Nani had an embarrassment of riches in terms of who to pass to for the first goal, before Almunia did the hard work in electing to push it into his own net in a state of sheer panic and confusion. For the second goal Rooney managed to find space in between four Arsenal defenders and the oncoming goalkeeper to slot the ball home. However the gulf in class was emphasized the most when Gael Clichy was made to look like a rabbit stuck in the headlights by the run of Ji Sung Park, who proceeded to smash the ball in the bottom corner to make it 3-0 after just fifty minutes. The same was true of Chelsea’s second goal at Stamford Bridge with Frank Lampard appearing to strike the fear of God into the Arsenal back line before slipping it through to Drogba.
If these performances don’t tell Arsene Wenger that he needs to change his strategy and go out and buy some big name players then nothing ever will. Just a looking at the reinforcements United and Chelsea were able to bring on versus Arsenal tells a story. Berbatov versus Bentdner; a world class striker versus someone whose shirt number is double his career goal tally. Deco versus Aaron Ramsey; a Champions League winner versus a youngster just out of the Championship. If you want further evidence just look at the number of points Arsenal have taken off Chelsea and Manchester United in the past two and a half seasons- eight out of a possible thirty six. Young, quick, technically gifted players such as Alex Song and Denilson will win plenty of games against smaller clubs; this is shown by how far Arsenal managed to finish ahead of fifth placed Everton last season. However when it comes to playing against experienced greats of the modern game, such as Paul Scholes and Didier Drogba, much more is needed. You need character and know-how above anything else.
Arsene Wenger is someone who has done so much for English football that the FA should give him a free passport and beg him to stay, but it is time for him to swallow his pride and spend big. Trying to win titles with young players who have yet to develop is a wonderful concept, but one that is about as reliable as the mission statement of an Iranian nuclear power plant. A look back at some of England’s forgotten young superstars will account for that. Does anyone know where Bruce Dyer (England’s first ever million pound teenager in 1994) is playing these days? Answers on a postcard please.
A look back at previous title winning sides will tell Wenger what he needs to do. Names that spring to mind straight away are: Adams, Henry, Vieria, Anelka, Dixon, Bergkamp, Cole, Seaman, Pires, Petit, Overmars and Kolo Toure. These are players who were all huge contributors to Arsenal’s recent glory years. Some were experienced players like Seaman and Adams who knew what it took to win titles, and others were youngsters who had either come through the academy or were kids nobody had ever heard of with a point to prove after being shipped out for nothing by their previous clubs, like Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole. Combining young, hungry talent with older statesmen is a strategy that has delivered huge success time after time again with clubs all over the world, and will undoubtedly work for Arsenal once more if Arsene Wenger can get back to using it.
Nobody is sure as to why Wenger has refused to go back to the formula that has served him and others so well. Some say it is due to financial constraints put on him after the construction of the Emirates Stadium, some say it’s because behind even the most diplomatic men there is an ego and Wenger has long insisted that he will buy young players and young players only, and some say it’s because he doesn’t want to damage his young players confidence by forcing them out of the team.
Whatever the reasons may be they need to be overcome if Arsenal are to seriously compete for a Premier League title again. Wenger has done so much for English football and is rightly looked upon as a credit to our national game along with every single team he puts out. But as the recent economic downturn has proved, you can have all the credit in the world but it’s all useless if you refuse to put your hand in your pocket when it really matters.
Written By Kieran Lovelock