Monday, November 30, 2009

After the Chelsea Defeat, How Far Are Arsenal From Challenging For The Title?

Arsene Wenger must be wondering what he has to do after Chelsea and Didier Drogba produced a masterclass in efficiency, intelligence, and ruthlessness at the Emirates as they ripped Arsenal to shreds and in effect, ended the Gunners slim chances of becoming Premier League Champions.

Just like last season, the Gunners' tilt at the title has come un-done before December, and now Wenger and many of the Arsenal team must sit down and just like last season when Chelsea destroyed the Gunners 4-1 the recriminations will begin.

As ever with Arsenal, there are more questions than answers. The manager doesn't escape either.

Arsenal are now in danger of going five seasons without a trophy. The buck has to stop with Wenger.

While Arsenal may not spent as much as their nearest rivals, they are still an incredibly rich team, and have the fourth highest wage bill in the EPL. Their choice to spend more on wages than transfers has been a wise move, as it has enabled the Gunners to out-bid rival teams for up and coming youngsters.

The Gunners' policy of signing young superstars from around the world has seen them create a young exciting team, but it has come at a cost.

1) It sends a message out to fans and rival clubs that Arsenal are a selling club.
2) They rarely sign experienced players.

Wenger is central to this policy at the club, and the fault at not replacing experienced players like Flamini and Adebayor with similar players, falls to him, and him alone.

The Gunners have the potential to challenge for the league, but they are at least four players short of a Championship winning team, and, unfortunately, those four positions are the most important.

Arsenal have a weak spine.

It leaves them weak against teams like Chelsea. You may say that they won't face teams of that stature every week, but that's not the point. The Blues are the best team in the league at the moment and currently set the standard, and that is what you should aspire to.

The position of goalkeeper was always going to come back and haunt Wenger this year. His confidence in Almunia is admirable, but the Spaniard is far from being the ideal in his position. He has been with Arsenal since 2004 and has never been regarded as being good enough for a title challenging team. It is worth noting that Arsenal have not won a trophy since before Almunia signed, not that it was his fault.

Wenger's signings as backup have been poor, especially when you consider that far better 'keepers have been available over the last five years. So Wenger must be questioned on why he has stuck with a goalie, that would only be regarded as backup quality by their title rivals, for five years.

Defence is also somewhat of a problem. In Sagna and Clichy, Arsenal possess two of the best full-backs in the league, but there is little in the way of cover.

Arsenal's problem area at the back is in central defence. Thomas Vermaelan has come in from Ajax, and has done ok so far. He has scored a couple of goals, which is always nice, but his main job is to keep them out. The Gunners have so far conceded 18 goals in only 13 games, so the signing might be as good as once thought.

He does, however, look better than William Gallas. The ex-Chelsea squad member has become an Arsenal first team player, and is irreplaceable when compared to the reserves at the Emirates. But his character has always been questioned, and he is not a player who takes responsibility for either his or his teammaters games.

To progress, he must be replaced in the first team, as a backup player he would be superb, but he is not made of the stuff of a title winning centre half.

Johan Djourou, Phillipe Sanderos, and Mikael Silvestre should all be moved on sooner rather than later. They are good enough to play in the Europa League, but not at a team with Arsenal's ambitions.

Midfield is an awkward one. On his day, Cesc Fabregas is the best midfielder in the world, but he needs good support; he can't do it by himself. Fabregas is the kind of player that makes others play, rather than him driving the team on, so good support is essential.

Alex Song is regarded by many as being an "invisible wall," but going forward he offers almost nothing and becomes invisible himself when the Gunners attain the ball. However, a player of his ability is needed in the side as Fabregas' strengths are not defensive.

When you look at the players who could partner Song and Fabregas in the middle, the list is full of superb footballers. Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Aaron Ramsey, and a few more spring to mind, all are exquisite players, and not one of them could even tackle a good dinner.

Point being that Wenger has gone with Denilson lately because he is the most balanced midfielder Arsenal possess and he must play Song because Fabregas isn't too hot in a battle either, so straight away Arsenal are lacking.

The easiest way out of this midfield conundrum that Wenger has gotten himself into is to replace Song with a more experienced more balanced player. A player who could contribute going forward as well as aiding Fabregas in his defensive duties.

The balance that such a player would give Arsenal cannot be underestimated, it would ease the pressure on Fabregas to produce, and would give Wenger far more options than the one or two that he currently has.

It is little wonder that Wenger tried to sign Xabi Alonso two years ago, only for the board to refuse to go to Liverpool's asking price of £15 million, from their original bid of £13 million.

The forward line is another area where Arsenal lack real quality. Robin van Persie is a sublime player, but he is somewhat injury prone and only averages around 25 EPL appearances a season. His backup of Niclas Bendtner and Eduardo are good squad players but lack the presence or quality that a title chasing team require.

Wenger’s refusal to replace Emmanual Adebayor has now come back to haunt him. By placing all his eggs in one basket with Van Persie, he has committed a cardinal sin.

The Dutchman will now almost definitely miss the rest of the season, and now Arsenal look like they have no goals in them.

Gunners fans may point to the fact that 17 outfield players have scored this year, but Van Persie is the focal point of that attack, and his running off the ball creates as many chances for his team mates as his actual assists. Neither Eduardo or Bendtner have the nous or intelligence to even come near the Dutchman’s skills.

One must also worry about Eduardo at this stage of the season. December is upon us and he has yet to play the full 90 minutes, which is worrying when you consider that he returned to full training last season.

On the plus side, Bendtner does have potential, he does not have the ability to become a target man in the true sense, nor does he have the speed of mind or feet to provide the kind of penetration that a player like Jermaine Defoe would provide, but he does possess a good touch and is excellent with his back to goal, and that is exactly the kind of player you would want if you wish to bring the very best from Fabregas.

In short, Arsenal are currently short four players, and given the funding available to Wenger it is hard to see him having the money to buy one never mind four of the kind of players that he needs to win the league.

Now, winning the Champions League...that’s something else entirely...