Heading into the new season, it is becoming a distant memory the last time that Arsenal fans celebrated their team winning silverware. You have to go all the way back to 2005, when Patrick Vieira’s last kick of a ball for the club from the penalty spot claimed the FA Cup. The victory was part of the most successful period of the Gunners history, including two doubles and the legendary Invincibles of 2003/2004.
If you had told me during this time that Wenger’s team would go on a barren run not winning anything for the rest of the decade, I would have thought you were mad, but that’s exactly what has happened.
Obviously there has been chances for Arsenal to win trophies, losing the 2007 league cup final, and being 14 agonizing minutes away from lifting the Champions League in 2006. The move to the Emirates stadium has meant that big money signings have been at a premium, which has led to a policy of youth development, yet to bare real fruition.
The more experienced players including Arsenal legends Henry, Vieira and Pires have all left the club, being replaced by players such as Song, Denilson and Bendtner. There’s no doubt that these players will have big futures in the game, but relying on youth over experience has cost Arsenal in recent years.
Arsenal’s inexperience has been evident in games against the two best clubs currently in the country, Chelsea and Manchester United. Time and time again Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney have terrorized the Arsenal back-line, with the team unable to deal with the skill and power of these type of players.
Big games have been lost by the inexperience of the players, including throwing away a 4-2 lead in the dying minutes against rivals Spurs, letting Messi run havoc in the Champions League Quarter-Final last year and being blown apart on the counter attack, with goals by Rooney and Pienaar at the Emirates last season just two examples
There were plenty of reasons for the clubs demise last season. Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas missed a huge portion of the season with long-term injuries, and if you take any clubs best two players out of the team of course it is going make a major difference. You could clearly see how Liverpool struggled without Torres and Gerrard and the difference between Manchester United without Rooney was clearly evident.
Going into the game against Barcelona at the Nou Camp Arsenal had to make do without Fabregas, Van Persie, Song, Gallas and Arshavin. I’m sure Barcelona would have struggled without Xavi, Messi and Iniesta. Despite these injuries, there was a massive lack of depth with the team compared to what others had in reserve. In defense Gallas and Vermaelen looked solid for most of the season, but injuries to both saw a massive hole appear in the side.
At one point in the season Arsenal faced Man Utd and Chelsea without a first choice striker, which showed the extreme bad luck the team faced with injuries and a lack of options.
Going into the new season, injuries permitted, the Arsenal attack looks strong, but it is defense that is the biggest problem. Goalkeepers Almunia and Fabianksi made a number of high profile howlers last season and neither can lay claim to being Wenger’s number one. An experienced and solid keeper is needed and it looks as if the Australian Mark Schwarzer could come into the team and do a job for the next two or three years. There has been links to keepers Joe Hart and Sebastien Frey but whether or not these two keepers are available is another issue.
Center back is now a big problem, with Silvestre, Gallas and Campbell all leaving on free transfers. Clearly none of the three were as good as they used to be and fans will not be too disappointed to see them elsewhere, as long as sufficient back-up is brought in. Frenchman Koscielny has joined from Lorient and if he plays like Vermaelen did in his first season he’ll have proved to be a shrewd signing by Wenger.
At the moment Djorou is the only other central defender at the club and at least one more experienced player is needed. Again the club have been linked to numerous players including Everton’s Phil Jagielka and German defender Per Mertesacker, both of whom would be welcome signings. Possibly another position worth looking at would be the defensive midfield anchor role, which truthfully has not been filled since the days of Gilberto and Vieira.
Player’s such as Flamini and Song have played that role in recent years, but there has always felt like something is missing from the team. Of course a player like Yaya Toure would be perfect for the role, but few teams can compete with the millions of Manchester City. Felipe Melo seems like another good option, and after a poor first season in Juventus, the club may be willing to let him leave.
Obviously there is still speculation that Fabreagas will be on his way to Barcelona, but it seems more likely that a deal may be done for the Spaniard next season due to Arsenal’s unwillingness to sell their captain and the Catalan club’s current financial problems.
Fans will always have their say about who their team should or shouldn’t sign and at the end of the day it is the manager’s job to decide who he feels can strengthen the side enough for a potential title challenge. As things stand, Chelsea and the Manchester sides look best equipped to land the major honors this season as Arsenal and other teams around them like Liverpool have plenty to do in order to repeat past glories.
With the help of two or three new signings, some good luck on the injury front and a good start to the season, Wenger’s side could be well placed to end their recent trophy jinx.