I should warn you before I start it’s going to be a pretty long post today. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover what with the captaincy issue, another poor result and the fact that I’ve pretty much been sleep-walking through the entire last week. Headaches will do that to you.
Anyway, it would be great if you could read through the entire post before commenting and leave your opinions on what I have to say. Here goes nothing…
Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester City was certainly one of the more cringeworthy games I’ve had the displeasure of witnessing in my eleven years as an Arsenal supporter. Mistakes in defence, toothless attacking and a severe lack of communication and teamwork were on display for all to see. The result and performance clearly showed that this Arsenal team are struggling to fulfill the potential their performances promised last season.
In the first half our players were swimming up-stream a little bit but I thought they were doing so admirably. We defended reasonably well and worked hard despite a distinct lack of skill and composure when in possession. I thought that if the boys could just get to half-time at 0-0 they would take heart from their efforts and go on to win the match.
Alas, is was not to be as Stephen Ireland capitalised on a mix-up between Gael Clichy and Mikael Silvestre to fire City to the half-time lead they deserved. From that point on our young side was never in it as City ruthlessly exploited our lack of leadership, depth and confidence; the three weaknesses that have hindered Arsenal’s progress in the first third of this season.
It is an understatement to say that it is imperative that the weaknesses in our side – a lack of leadership, depth and confidence – are addressed by the manager as soon as possible. The first by naming an appropriate new captain, the second by making a signing or two in January and the third by ensuring that a new captain and new players have a galvanising effect on the squad.
Although I have been strong defender of William Gallas over the past two seasons I want to make it clear that I absolutely agree with Arsene Wenger’s decision to strip the French defender of the captaincy and leave him out of the team against City. Gallas’ comments were unacceptable and he deserved to be punished the way he was. The big decision that the manager has to make now is to name an appropriate successor.
For me there are two possible choices and Wenger faces a tough decision to pick between them. The first is the man who captained the side against City, Manuel Almunia. The second is Cesc Fabregas. The older Spaniard is a decidedly easier option than the younger one, but my opinion is that if the manager wants to see an immediate change in his squad’s mentality and togetherness then he needs to bite the bullet, take a risk and give the armband to Fabregas.
He might only be 21 but the signs are there that Fabregas already looks more of a captain than Gallas or even Thierry Henry ever was. He is the squad’s best player, a fierce competitor and much closer in age to the majority of first-team players at the club. His appointment would have an immediate positive effect on the players Wenger is pinning his hopes for trophies on, players like Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri. Fabregas’ appointment would be a positive choice by Wenger and a clear admission that the manager is prepared to turn over a new leaf and contemplate his approach to his side.
Fabregas’ appointment will not solve the problem of the squad’s lack of depth, however. The only way that Wenger can rectify that problem is by bringing in new players when the transfer window re-opens in January. And while I’m sure there are some of you that would like to have five or six players shipped out and replaced with big-name signings I honestly feel the manager needs to bring in just one or two players to boost the quality of the squad sufficiently enough to challenge for the title.
Put simply, the manager needs to bring in an aggressive and defensive-minded central midfielder to play alongside Fabregas in the middle of the park as well as an experienced central-defender to replace Gallas if he leaves in January (or perhaps even if he doesn’t). Up front I think we’re fine, out wide I think we’re fine and although he cops a lot of criticism, I’m more than happy to keep Almunia in goals if he continues to play as consistently as he has over the past two seasons.
Defensively we’ve been a shambles this year. Wenger has played something like nine different centre-back pairings this season involving Gallas, Toure, Djourou, Silvestre, Senderos and Song, which is really quite ridiculous. My opinion is that the squad needs to have four quality centre-backs to function correctly and I believe we have that if Gallas can deal with his demotion appropriately and get back to what he does best, defending.
That may be easier said than done though and I wouldn’t be against the manager looking towards someone like Christoph Metzelder from Real Madrid or Naldo from Werder Bremen to provide quality, experienced cover for Toure, Silvestre and Djourou. Selection-wise I really feel that the manager needs to pursue with Djourou for the rest of the season. He’s been Arsenal’s most consistent centre-back in the early part of the campaign and deserves to become first-choice purely based on merit.
Although defence is a concern the purchase of a ready-to-go defensive midfielder needs to be the manager’s top priority come January. Denilson is not a defensive midfielder, Song is not really performing at the moment while the manager seems to be frustratingly allergic to playing Abou Diaby in a more defensive role. The lack of a reliable, hard-working and aggressive defensive-minded midfielder is hurting Cesc Fabregas and it needs to be rectified. A Claude Makelele-type player is not the answer, a Mathieu Flamini-type player is and if no-one fitting that description is bought during January then I honestly feel we’re going to have a hard job finishing fourth.
It has been argued that bringing in new players would hinder the progress of those already at the manager’s disposal and to a certain extent, I agree. But the problem comes when the players just aren’t performing. How long can Wenger wait for players like Denilson and Song to develop? Wouldn’t it be better for him to have a quiet word with them to let them know that their performances have not quite been good enough but make it clear that the door is open for them to be recalled when they improve? I think it would.
Until new players can be brought in there are a few changes that the manager could make to improve the results and performances of his side. The big one is handing Fabregas the captain’s armband while the others revolve around particular team selections.
I’ve mentioned previously that players should be picked on merit and as often is realistically possible, only in their best positions. At the very minute that means playing Djourou at the back, playing Song or Diaby ahead of Denilson in the middle and Vela ahead of Bendtner up front. In saying that I don’t think Denilson or Bendtner are bad players, just that there are better options available to the manager at the moment and they don’t really deserve to maintain their place in the side. It might be harsh, but it’s best for the team and the club.
I’m not going to shirk around the fact that this is not a fun time to be an Arsenal supporter. Nobody likes to watch their side lose or perform the way ours has at times this season, especially given the promise they showed as a unit last time around. But step back for a moment and realise that there are plenty of clubs’ supporters who feel this way the majority of the time and you can appreciate the privileged position we have been in for so long as Arsenal fans.
It might be worth me saying here that despite the difficult period the club is going through I remain optimistic and positive about the future of the club. Despite his flaws we have an experienced, intelligent and loyal manager at the helm who undoubtedly deserves the chance to sort out the problems that he currently faces. Furthermore we have a group of players that – with a change in leadership and one or two additions – have the quality to challenge for the Premiership and Champions League titles in the near future. Let’s hope they can sort out their issues and get the ball moving forward once again.
Just before I go I want to fire a quick reminder message to everyone who comments on this blog.
Let me make it clear that I’m extremely proud of community that has formed on the Arsenal FC Blog. The comments that are left are consistently well thought-out and the respect shown by all is to be admired. But as with most sports blogs, people have a tendency to act impulsively and forget their manners when things aren’t going particularly well for their side.
I know that everyone will have their opinion about what should or shouldn’t be done at Arsenal but I just want to encourage you all to treat each other with respect during this less-than-enjoyable time. After all, just because someone has a different view than you doesn’t mean you should criticise them for it.
Anyway, I’ve covered an awful lot of ground and said quite a bit in today’s post. Now it’s your turn. Fire away!
Have your say on Arsenal’s difficult situation by leaving a comment.