The Emirates Stadium had a very cavernous feel to on Tuesday night as Arsenal trudged off the pitch — and it had nothing to do with the sheer size of Gunners’ behemoth playhouse. The cavernous feel had more to do with the result against Manchester United that left Arsenal players and fans wondering where the team was headed. What was hours before a bustling hub of hope, belief and determination, was now a place where those same hopes and silverware dreams went to die for another season.
As dramatic as that might sound, Arsenal’s loss to Manchester United last weekend put Arsene Wenger and the entire squad on red alert. The Frenchmen, who was usually upbeat about the club’s future, painted a grim picture for many by saying, “It’s the most disappointing night I’ve had [as a manager] because I felt the fans were really up for a big night and to disappoint all those people who stand up behind the team really hurts.”
After claiming that his current squad could be good, if not better, than Manchester United’s “golden generation” back in February, things have seemingly changed over the last couple of months. Two results over the past week have now put Arsene’s young squad back in the crosshairs of a question that so many of us had on our minds for the last year: Where does Arsenal’s young team go from here?
Look, we all know the squad is bursting with talent. From Denilson and Clichy, to Fabregas and Vela, it’s more than safe to assume that Arsene Wenger has built a foundation for the club that any manager in the world would be proud of. But looking at the youth of the team it’s easy to see that one glaring piece is missing: veteran players.
Andy Jackson — a colleague of mine here at Soccerlens — penned a great piece back in March on the future of Arsenal’s young squad. If you look at the names, it’s easy to see the club’s future is vested in 19- , 20- and 21-year-old youngsters that are still growing. But like most successful teams, you still need a group of older players to keep the younger players in-check and on the right path.
Like the great Arsenal teams on the past, they all had at least one or two players that took the youngsters under their wing and helped mold them into proper footballers. Viera and Henry come to mind of later as players that some of the youngsters — namely Cesc Fabregas — looked up to. I can almost guarantee you Fabregas wouldn’t be the player he is today without the tutelage from players like Henry.
Toure and Gallas seemed like obvious players to take over this role, yet both have for various reasons, not lived up to that duty. Arsene is right when he said at the end of last week prior to Chelsea match that “magic money” doesn’t always conjure success in the Premier League. Chelsea are finding that out with a team full of older players that are near or past their prime.
Arsenal’s young group of budding stars were built on Wenger’s eye for talent and a fantastic scouting group. But looking at the way the club seemed to hit the proverbial over the last couple of seasons, it has become very clear that a couple of older players could do some good for the team. A player of Xabi Alonso’s calibre and experience would be perfect fit for Arsenal. The Spaniard has been there before and has the experience to help in the difficult situations.
Blowing up Arsenal’s young squad — as some pundits and fans have screamed over the last day or so — isn’t the answer. What they need is a couple of older players who have been there before to help them get over and move on from difficult defeats like the Manchester United match, get through the rough patch during the League season and find another gear when they feel they’ve hit the highest peak possible.
Arsene can make that a reality this summer with a couple of key signings. Forget going abroad looking for talent; the key player (or players) needed to push this team to the top are in the Premier League. With a couple older signing this team could live up to their billing as the second “golden” generation.