By Simon Glanville
Arsene Wenger – Arsenal legend, highly-rated manager, stubborn persona. It’s the latter of those three traits that once again could cost Arsenal silverware this season.
Wenger’s Arsenal have always played the best football in the Premier League, teasing teams with their fantastic fast-pace, flowing football. But, as yesterday’s game at Chelsea once again proved, their defensive frailties and lack of cutting edge in front of goal has cost them time and time again.
The Gunners were much the better side for large parts of the game at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but their hosts taught them a clinical lesson. Arsenal had a number of chances to go ahead early on, but were made to rue not opening the scoring when their nemesis, Didier Drogba, neatly converted Ashley Cole’s centre. Drogba has now scored thirteen goals in as many games against Arsenal, and you sensed his opener yesterday would prove to be vital.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Arsenal and it was no surprise when Alex added a second late on after a powerhouse free-kick left Lukasz Fabianski with no chance.
In fairness, Fabianski had little chance with either goal yesterday, but he is one of the weak links that Wenger continues to back time and time again.
“I am personally convinced he is a world-class goalkeeper, potentially, and of course when you have that potential you want to transfer that into competitive games,” said Wenger recently. This is the sort of statement that would worry me if I was an Arsenal fan. Fabianski has made mistake after mistake when filling in for number one Manuel Almunia, and there is only so many times you can give players another chance. The Pole is by no means ‘world-class’ and has not shown anything to warrant that sort of label. Having belief in your players is a great thing for any manager, but perhaps Wenger’s judgement is being clouded by hope rather than fact.
His first-choice shot-stopper, Almunia, also has question-marks hanging over his ability. Wenger obviously has reservations of his own after trying to lure the experienced Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer from Fulham this summer. Wenger, though, decided not to pay the Cottagers’ asking price and kept the faith with his current pool of goalkeepers, a decision that may well prove costly.
An experienced and assured goalkeeper installs confidence in his defence, something the current Gunners back-line could do with. The old guard at Arsenal had the likes of Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and David Seaman, a sound and extremely solid defensive unit.
But this current Arsenal side often makes mistakes at the back, looks vulnerable and lacks a real leader. The Arsenal defence is now a weak link compared to the best in the division when Adams and Co. were around.
In central midfield, although Alex Song does a job, there is no hard man in the Patrick Vieira mould. Vieira is not an easy man to replace but Wenger has stuck with his young prospects rather than bringing in an experienced midfield anchor.
Arsenal have not won a trophy for the last five years, and throughout that time Wenger has pleaded for patience due to the fact his squad is so young. By now, his team should be delivering results, but the same problems are affecting them.
Teams no longer fear Arsenal, especially when playing them at home, and it seems that the Gunners can only play football their way. Sometimes - at places like Stoke and Blackburn - you have to be up for a battle but it seems that Wenger’s side lack the bite required. Chelsea play some great football but can also get their hands dirty when required, the reason that they currently top the Premier League table.
Even at the Emirates, the visiting side know that they are likely to get chances, giving them the license to ‘have-a-go’. West Brom’s recent victory at the Emirates was a shock result, but you almost expect Arsenal to slip up a number of times along the way.
There is no doubting that going forward Arsenal have some of the best talents on the world stage. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Andrei Arshavin would slot into nearly every other clubs starting eleven. But without a steady and assured defence behind them, Arsenal are going to continue to make hard work for themselves.
Fabregas and Van Persie were absent against Chelsea and it showed. Frank Lampard was missing for the hosts but that wasn’t a problem; Chelsea have ready made replacements itching to show what they can do.
The likes of Fabregas and Van Persie must also be wondering if it’s time to move on. Fabregas, in particular, has been strongly linked with a move back to Barcelona and you can’t blame him for wanting to go to a club where winning trophies is almost a foregone conclusion.
Arsenal also have some fantastic young talent, notably Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, but to aid their development Wenger should have added experience in the summer. I firmly believe that the Gunners need at least three experienced pro’s to challenge for the Premier League, but I don’t see Wenger going and getting them.
Even if he breaks with tradition and breaks the bank in January, it is likely to be too late to make a difference this year. Arsenal fans may love Wenger but is it acceptable for a club like Arsenal to have no silverware for five years?
And how long will the trophyless-run go on? Wenger has repeatedly pleaded for patience from the Gunners’ faithful, but that patience is beginning to wane. NOW is the time to deliver.