Losing one key player after another to rival clubs has become one weird old cycle for Arsenal Football Club these days.
Not as though they like it, but it has become a largely unavoidable part of the functioning of the club over the last few years of the Arsene Wenger era.
And if there is anything that all of it is down to then it is the club’s inability to win any major trophies ever since the Invincibles era so painfully breezed past.
While Arsenal fans are well within their rights to condemn a player if he joins a rival club, but it is hardly ever the player’s fault.
If a club isn’t winning, there is little point of staying there. Especially if the player is as prominent as Ashley Cole, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie or Alexis Sanchez himself.
And as Alexis prepares to don the red of Manchester United, a host of questions will be clambering across an Arsenal fan’s mind.
They would certainly range from whether they’re profiting from selling the Chilean and roping in Henrikh Mkhitaryan to ascertaining who has got the better deal at hand.
It is never wrong to do so and with Borussia Dortmund’s star marksman Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang also possibly heading to The Emirates this very month, the prospect of watching Arsenal attack will force many into licking their lips.
Although, Sanchez’s qualities and nous had whetted the appetites of many during his statistically fruitful stay at the club, the prospect of having Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil in the same side is very much exciting.
On paper, it seems to be one of the best attacking combinations in the Premier League, if not the world.
But one thing that Arsenal fans must ask themselves here is this: “When was the last time Arsenal had a less than exciting attacking line-up?” or “When don’t they look good going forward?”
Rather, it must be a question that Arsene Wenger must be asking himself every time he buys a forward. An Aubameyang, a Mkhitaryan, a Sanchez, an Ozil, a Lacazette or a Danny Welbeck as well
Over the last many years, Wenger’s sides have oozed grace going forward. They always seem like a team that can blow away any side in the world on their day.
The intricate passing, the irresistible movement on and off the ball and the final finish are an obvious joy to watch whenever Arsenal click.
Wenger takes pride in preaching a style of football that is attractive, lifts people off their seats and entertains the fans. And there’s no problem with any bit of that.
The side may have the innate ability to enthral, but what always seems to let the Gunners down and exposes their soft underbelly is the other side- the defence.
And it would be fair to say that if there is anything that has let the club down and has made Arsene Wenger’s position rather untenable in recent times is the lack of a defensive assurance, despite the presence of an enthralling attack.
A well known quote from the years gone by is typically reminiscent of what defending means to a top team.
Sir Alex Ferguson once said:
Attack wins you games, defence wins you trophies.
The pragmatism from this quote is the reason why a lot of teams win titles. And quite usually so, teams with a better defensive record finish higher up the table. It is obvious that you need to score a high amount of goals as well.
Arsenal’s fiercest rivals Tottenham are an excellent example of how being excellent defensively sets the tone for the side. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs have boasted of one of the best defences in Europe.
They had the best defensive record last season and they finished second. In the 2015-16 season as well, they had the best defensive record and they finished third. It laid a solid foundation for the side to do well and to finish higher up the table.
If not for the solid defence, Spurs would not have scored as many goals as they did. Chelsea, last season, had the third best defensive record in the league and it wasn’t a surprise to see them lift the Premier League title.
The Leicester side of their miraculous 2015-16 campaign saw them notch up the second best defensive record in the league.
The case of Manchester United though, proves that just having a great defence would never win you the Premier League.
Last season, Jose Mourinho’s side had the second-best defence in the league and despite that, they finished sixth.
Under Louis van Gaal in the 2015-16 campaign, United had the best defensive record along with Tottenham.
What separated both of them was the goals; or the lack of them.
For Arsenal, the problem has never been goals. They seem to score enough goals to propel them into the top four or even higher up. They’d score even more if a solid defensive foundation backs them up.
They conceded more goals than anyone else in the top six last season, but scored only eight goals less than would-be Champions Chelsea and nine less than would-be second finishing Spurs.
All of it is a clear impression of the soft underbelly that the club has. If they are good going forward, they leave themselves exposed at the back.
They’re very vulnerable to conceding everytime they play an open game and look to attack. This usually transpires whenever Arsenal play a big club.
They fail to peg the defensive holes and lose games. And the key to finishing in the top four is making sure that you don’t lose to teams around you.
And Arsenal fail to get results against the other top six sides. Defensive laxities are a massive reason for that.
The lack of leaders is one thing that is being talked about a lot over the recent seasons and it would be fair to say that Wenger has never invested in players with steely grit and iron-willed determination; someone others can look upto when things aren’t going right.
Sanchez was someone who had that determination of never giving up and boasted of an incredible work-rate, but there is hardly any other player who can win games on the basis of character rather than mere technical superiority.
And even now, quite the same is the case.
Arsenal have not signed a single central defender this season, bar the recent acquisition of young Konstantinos Mavropanos from Giannina and he too will be used in the reserves side for the time being.
They have the worst defensive record in all of the top six and are sixth in the table.
They might have scored as many goals as Chelsea and only four less than Manchester United, but it all comes down to which side is more well-rounded, not pragmatic.
And while they may have let a leader and a unique workhorse in Sanchez leave for a rival, Arsenal will look like a very attractive proposition with all of their riches up front.
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang brings to the plate the promise of goals and that would obviously increase their goalscoring output. But that hasn’t mattered to Arsenal. It is the other side of the game that is the reason for their struggles.
There is talk of defenders like Jonny Evans and Wenger would be stupid not to sign him this month, if he is available.
If he doesn’t go for the former Manchester United, it would be another classic example of how the Frenchman is in a dire need of letting go of his inhibitions for the sake of making his side a better one.
It might be a case of letting go of what he holds dear or what has made him the legend he is today, but you can’t win things until and unless you are flexible in your approach.