Following a 2-1 defeat at Bolton on Sunday, Arsene Wenger had the look of a defeated man. And for good reason. Despite plenty of promise, as the season unfolded the same old Arsenal deficiencies stood out. Sure, the Gunners continue to play with a style and panache that, with the exception of that little outfit in the Catalonian capital, hardly another team on the planet can match. But, Arsenal’s glaring defensive warts stand out. Thus, for a sixth consecutive season, the Gunners will not be adding to their trophy case.
So now what? With Arsenal essentially out of title contention with just a handful of games remaining, where does Wenger go from here as he looks to retool the Gunners for next season? The obvious answer is that he should look to add a quality central defender, or two, and a goalkeeper. But that may not come cheaply, which is why a more drastic approach is needed. To start with, Wenger should sell his captain, Cesc Fabregas, and use the proceeds to strengthen the squad’s overall depth.
With the emergence of Jack Wilshire, Wenger can afford to sell Fabregas, who has made no secret of his desire to return to his roots and suit up for Barcelona. Along with the teenage sensation, Wilshire, the development of Samir Nasri has been considerable, making him an ideal candidate to fill the position of Fabregas in the attacking midfield role for the Gunners. While filling in for Fabregas on several occasions this season, Nasri has appeared very comfortable in that position, and his goal-scoring has improved enough to the point where he is capable taking on a more substantial role.
By contrast, Fabregas has been a disappointment this season, and his lack of full commitment has hurt the Gunners. He continues to not be very durable (missing significant time due to injuries), and his goal-scoring form has dipped this season. What’s more, Wenger simply can’t afford to have his captain, supposedly the team’s leader, making controversial comments off the field, and essentially playing with one foot out the door, while waiting for a move to Spain. Surely this is not good for the psychology of the team.
As usual, from a purist perspective, the Gunners were a joy to watch many times this season. But a lack of leadership on the pitch, little in the way of resolve in crucial situations and far too many defensive lapses cost Arsenal on numerous occasions during the 2010-11 season. After his team were essentially eliminated from title contention after conceding a second set-piece goal to Bolton, even the stubborn mastermind himself had to admit his team’s faults.
“We still lack something that is called maturity, experience or calmness in important situations”Wenger said on the team’s website.
While it is true that the Gunners are young, simply blaming his team’s failures on a lack of maturity is a bit of a cop-out. There’s more to Arsenal’s disappointment than just the youthful absence of composure.
Throughout the season (twice against arch-rival Tottenham, at home to Liverpool, at Newcastle, at Bolton), the Gunners lacked defensive resolve late in matches. Too many last-minute goals allowed meant too many points dropped in the standings.
“I am convinced we are a very good footballing side. We have not been stable enough defensively”Wenger admitted. “We were too frail defensively during the season.”
Clearly at certain positions the Gunners simply don’t have the quality that other top European clubs do. Aside from Thomas Vermaelen, who has barley seen the pitch for months because of an Achilles problem, the Gunners just don’t have enough talent at central defender. Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, or even Manchester City, all have more talented options in central defense. Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci are not good enough to win titles with at the back and if Arsenal are serious about claiming silverware this needs to be addressed.
Lastly, the goalkeeping situation at Arsenal has been laughable for several years and clearly Wenger no longer has faith in Manuel Almunia (although it remains a massive mystery why it took him so long to come to this conclusion). Rumors of Pepe Reina, Maarten Stecklenberg and Maneul Neuer have been reported on occasion, but surely none of these options, or anyone who compares to them, will come cheaply.
Which is yet another reason why Fabregas must be sold. The money his sale would bring in would add to the reported £40 million already available to Wenger this offseason. And he and the Gunners must finally admit, success nowadays doesn’t come on the cheap. It would be a drastic move, but unless Wenger wants to spend another season trophyless, the Arsenal captain must go.