First, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at home to vicious rivals, Spurs. Now, they’ve returned home from Portugal with their heads down and their Champions League future in doubt. Despite the beautiful, attacking football often on display, Arsenal continue to fall well short of a trophy-winning team.
With Wenger staring at a bare trophy cabinet for upwards of six years now, one should understand if patience started to wear thin should things continue to head in this direction. A “weak mentality” is Wenger’s diagnosis for the problems at the club, but who’s fault is it and what can be done to fix things?
Quite frankly, the blame rests squarely on Arsene Wenger’s shoulders. It’s been said on numerous occasions and by numerous people that, “You can’t win it with kids”, but this is a lesson that is yet to sink into Wenger’s brain. I understand that he’s put blood, sweat and tears into his long-term project, but that’s just it- the project will pay off in the long-term and realistically, if Wenger wants to win anything presently, then he needs to have a plan for now. The kids may be doing a decent job in some areas of the pitch, but other areas are found wanting. That said, how can Wenger successfully put things in place for the present?
Looking at the present squad, there isn’t that much to do, but what has to be done is crucial. There is no question that Arsenal dazzle in the attacking half of the pitch, but they flatter to deceive in the defensive half. Their two most recent games are cases in point. At 2-0 to the good at half time versus an initially plucky Tottenham, victory seemed certain. At the final whistle, however, the game was lost via a 3-2 margin. Versus Sporting Braga, Matheus was allowed to run freely across Arsenal’s half before pounding two nails firmly into their coffin. The first goal conceded was a simple long ball over the top of a poorly positioned defense. On the second goal, the three Arsenal defenders in question looked more like they were trying to get Matheus’ autograph rather than the ball.
The problem is clear. It’s not a “weak mentality”. It’s a case of having a weak defense. While Arsene Wenger scours the football world for some of the brightest and most wondrous attacking talents, it seems like he takes the best defensive talents for granted. Sebastien Squillaci, although experienced, as well as Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou are just not good enough to take Arsenal to where they need to be. Without doubt, Arsenal’s best defender is Thomas Vermaelen. They are really missing his presence at the back. Until he returns though, Wenger needs to go back into the transfer market and get himself some established central defenders. Another debatable topic is that of the goalkeeping position. Yes, Lukasz Fabianski has been doing okay lately, but is he truly the right ‘keeper for Arsenal or is he just the best ‘keeper at the club at the moment?
Wenger has a lot of faith in Fabianski and has supported him throughout his gaffe-filled Arsenal career and it’s good that he’s finding some form now. However, he is not the right No.1 ‘keeper for the club, although, he is the best option that they have at the moment. Szczesny is a good, upcoming ‘keeper and has impressed when called upon, but he is a year or two away from being completely ready for a consistent run in the first team. Vito Mannone is another bright, young talent, but he too is not yet ready for a run in the first team. Manuel Almunia has been found out. His run of form ended some time ago and his performances of late prove that he is not an ideal No.1 goalkeeper either. That said, what can Arsenal do about their goalkeeping situation?
We know of the strong interest in Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer. Schwarzer has proven to be a reliable and consistent ‘keeper over the years. He would add priceless experience to an Arsenal defense that needs it and he would be the first right step Wenger could take in solving his defensive problems. Not only that, but Schwarzer, given his age, would afford just enough time to Wojciech Szczesny for him to ready himself for a consistent run in the first team upon Schwarzer’s retirement. Schwarzer has also proven his credentials in European competition, as he was an integral part of Fulham’s run to the Europa League final last season. He is a decent option to consider for the short-term. Maarten Stekelenburg and Shay Given have also been linked with the club and they too would be decent options worth considering.
If Arsene Wenger takes the defensive aspect of the game a bit more seriously rather than merely hoping to outscore his opponents, then the team would certainly improve. Better options in defense would certainly take some pressure off of the likes of Alex Song and would soften the blow of losing Thomas Vermaelen to long-term circumstances. Yes, Wenger has a long-term project and I’m sure it will be successful given their decent collection of young talent, but he has to cater for the short-term too. At least, he has to do a better job at it. Failure to do so would see Arsenal continue to fall short until the young talents are finally ready to take the football world by storm.