Arsenal may struggle to stay in top four

by Willie Gannon

It has been a chequered offseason for Arsenal so to see how Arsene Wenger’s men cope in 2011/12, get yourself a Sky Sports HD package.

Under normal circumstances the old Gunners’ cry of “this will be our year” would be on the tips of many Arsenal fans’ tongues. However, the likelihood of Arsene Wenger leading his troops to the title looks to be about as far away as it ever has, if not further.

Since 2005, Arsenal has slowly slipped backwards every season. Their decline from greatness has even become something of a perverse form of Chinese water torture for many of the Gunners fans, as they are now significantly lagging behind not only Manchester United and Chelsea but Manchester City too.

For the last two seasons running, the Gunners has finished 12 points behind the eventual winners.

For the fans this is hard to take. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of the board, and maybe even Arsene Wenger, who all seem more than happy to see the North London outfit perform well in the profit margins. In short, there is a diametric difference between the fans and board.

In May, Wenger said that despite everything the season had still been a successful one for the Gunners. This of course, was the Frenchman’s last throw of the dice with his squad as he tried to psychologically stimulate his shell-shocked troops. When his words had no effect he eventually admitted that the 2010-’11 season had been the toughest of his career.

He said; “The last (season) was the toughest season in my career.

“Emotionally, it was very difficult because we were on a low and then you could see the last three or four weeks were very difficult.”

Arsenal only won three from 15 after losing to relegated Birmingham City in the Carling Cup Final. To put it succinctly, the Gunners season crashed a burned after March 1. Now, as we head towards the 2011-’12 season and turn over a new leaf, Arsenal should be chomping at the bit ready to go.

Instead, we have had to endure a summer of transfer speculation as players refused to commit their futures to the club and in doing so they have sapped the confidence of the club. And when you play a style of football where confidence is its very foundation, it means the following season is already looking like an uphill battle.

Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, arguably the clubs two best players have both stated their intentions to move on to try and win something while they still can. For Fabregas, that means his on/off transfer/love affair with Barcelona is back on the cards and realistically it should be wrapped up before the transfer window closes.

The problem for Arsenal here, and Wenger knows this, is that Barca have the required £40 million in their bank accounts ready for the deal. But they will drag the negotiations on as long as possible in order to reduce the fee by as much as possible.

This leaves the Gunners in an awkward place, there is no guarantee that the deal will go through so; do they replace Fabregas now with money they don’t necessarily have? And face his fee being negotiated down as a result of now needing to sell him.

Or do they wait until deadline day for the £40 million and hope to replace their captain with whoever is available? Because no matter which way you look at Wenger’s squad, there is no ready made replacement for the Spaniard.

Then we have Nasri, Eboue, and Bendtner’s potential transfers, before we even mention the departure of Gael Clichy to Manchester City or Denilson’s loan move to Sao Paulo in Brazil.

All is not well at the Emirates. Last season Arsenal was some way behind their rivals in terms of squad strength and there were numerous areas of the pitch that needed strengthening. Not one player of stature was added to the team last year and the Gunners found themselves slipping backwards. This summer has only seen two arrivals, Carl Jenkinson from Charlton and Gervinho from Lille for a combined fee of £11.5 million between them. Again, they both look like classic Wenger signings, but neither will improve the team enough for a title bid. And if you believe everything you read, Gervinho had already stated his intent to improve under Wenger before moving on to bigger and better things!

The more things change the more they stay the same

Like every season since 2003, Arsenal needs a top quality goal keeper.

In previous years the thinking was that if the Gunners were going to challenge for the title they needed to have someone of stature between the posts and since 2005 that has not been the case. Last season the goalkeeping issue was a major point of concern for football pundits and Arsenal fans alike and the lack of depth in that position was one of the deciding factors in the Gunners eventual 4th placed finish.

However, when all things are considered, Arsenal do not need that player this because they will not win the league. Many openly questioned the wisdom of selling Clichy to Manchester City without taking Shay Given plus cash but why bring in a top class ‘keeper when the rest of the team is not up to scratch?

His arrival would only stunt the development of Wojciech Szczesny. Last term the young Pole was one of the season’s great positives and he has done enough to warrant his inclusion for the foreseeable.

Defence was a problem last year and once again it will provide more than its fair share again. A quick glance at the Gunners squad reveals only six players of regular first team quality, and only two of those are full backs.
Thomas Vermaelan will return to bolster the defence and in all probability he will also take the captains armband should Fabregas decide to leave, while Sagna and Kieran Gibbs will provide the width on either side of the four man defence.

The only real question Wenger has to ask of his defence at the moment is who to go with between Djourou, Squillaci and Koscielny. Thankfully Squillaci seems consigned to the bench while a blind man could tell you to go for the reliable Swiss.

However, the haphazard Koscielny started both games in the recent Emirates Cup so the only real thing you can take from that is that Wenger isn’t sure about who to trust with Vermaelan and he may yet look to bolster his backline with a centre half of Gary Cahill type qualities, especially if he is nervous about dropping out of the top four.

That may come to pass if Spurs or Liverpool can strengthen significantly in certain areas, for Tottenham that means a new centre forward while the Reds will be looking to improve a one-paced defensive unit.

Midfield wise, the arrival of Jack Wilshere solved many problems but no sooner has the 19-year-old bedded in and it looks like his preferred partners, Nasri and Fabregas are both moving on. This will leave Wenger with significant ground to cover. Wilshere, phenomenal talent that he is, is still learning his trade and badly needs some experience beside him to help him out when times get rough.

Alex Song is not that kind of player, and if Fabregas moves on much will be expected of the Cameroonian in terms of leadership and most importantly, creativity. Nasri may stay and rotate with Aaron Ramsey or Abou Diaby but that will still leave the Gunners extremely light weight through the middle, especially if, as expected, Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin are positioned out wide.

So once again, midfield will be a problem area.

In the longer term, Wilshere’s arrival may mean Wenger could revert to a 4-4-2 away from the 4-5-1/4-3-3 that he has used over the last couple of seasons.

Up front, Arsenal fans will have great hopes for Gervinho.

The Ivory Coast international is not the most prolific of strikers, he only scored 50 goals in 160 games in France, a much weaker league, but he is physically strong, if not tall – he stands at 5′ 10″, and he may be just what Arsene Wenger needs if the Gunners are moving towards a more counter attacking style of football with van Persie dropping off as a link.

But when all is said and done, Arsenal has not improved enough to win the league and they still face the prospect of moving ever backwards again, if they lose certain players.

Arsenal’s most important player

The Belgian international has not featured for Arsenal in the EPL since making his 50th appearance for the club last August against Blackburn Rovers and since then a lot of water has passed under the bridge.

Manuel Almunia is no longer first choice ‘keeper, Gael Clichy has joined rivals Man City, and the clubs best two midfielders have stated their intentions to leave so Vermaelan does not return to a happy dressing room.

However, his level of assured performances and leadership skills could have a huge effect on the younger players in the Arsenal dressing room and the 25-year-old may just be the leader the club has been crying out for over the last six years.

If Wenger can keep his prized defender off the treatment table and make significant additions then Arsenal will have a great chance of progressing well in the cup competitions and perhaps sneaking past City if the Champions League takes too much of the Citizens’ attentions.

Arsenal’s player to watch

If Wenger does not strengthen his defence and midfield the 21-year-old from Warsaw will have an incredibly tough season. And even if Wenger does bring in the required reinforcements the youngster will still be his team’s last line of defence.

Wenger likes his “kids” growing up over the course of a couple of seasons before they are introduced as first team regulars, Szczesny will have to do that and more this year. So far he has only played 15 games for the Gunners but in that short time he has shown that is far more adept in the dark arts of goalkeeping that either of his chief rivals Manual Almunia or Lukasz Fabianski. A big season beckons, especially with Euro 2012 kicking off in Poland in June.

Prediction: 4th to 6th 

The Gunners have stood still this summer. Perhaps the paralyzing effect of Fabregas and Nasri wanting to leave has helped stay Arsene Wenger’s hand in the transfer window but instead of needing three to four players to challenge for the title Arsenal now face the prospect of needing five or six.

Confidence has been allowed to ebb away from the team, as their recent performances in the Emirates Cup prove, and if Arsene Wenger thought last season was challenging, well he hasn’t seen anything yet.

On their day, Arsenal is a match for anyone. Having only lost by the odd goal to Barcelona in the last-16 and having seen the EPL Champions Manchester United decimated by Barca in the final, hopes should have been high for the new season.

Instead there is a dark ominous cloud hanging over the club. A whopping 69 percent of Arsenal fans reckon that Arsene Wenger’s football philosophy takes too much precedence over winning trophies while 42 percent of fans feel that if the club finish the 2011-’12 season trophy-less that the Frenchman will have taken the club as far as he can.

There is no way around it, this is a make or break season for the club.

Spurs and Liverpool are hot on Arsenal’s tails while Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City can all either boast more experience, more money, or bigger squads.

For Arsenal to win the league they need three to four clubs to collapse while their own players go the season without any major injuries or mistakes. Looking at their defence and Robin van Persie, who averages 23 to 24 games a season, that just isn’t going to happen.

Fourth place should be guaranteed unless Spurs can add a Didier Drogba style striker to their forward line while Liverpool badly needs some wide midfielders and perhaps one or two defenders. Because if Harry Redknapp and Kenny Dalglish can do the business in the transfer market then this could be the first time since 1996 that Arsenal finish outside the top four.

Arsenal face Newcastle United on the opening day of the season so for that and all your other Premier League action, get yourself a Sky Sports HD package.

22 Responses

  1. Moses Watasa says:

    Forget about Arsenal finishing among the top four. Of-course, finishing fourth and feasting on profits is the undeclared objective of Arsenal’s power-men since 2005. But as it looks, 2011-2012 will be the season Arsene Wenger’s (and his Board’s) unsightly bare bums will be crudely exposed when the team finishes seventh. They will learn too late that sustaining even profits they love excessively requires some minimum investment in the squad. Wenger and the Board’s mentality is as sickening as it is maddening! I gave-up on this gang.

    1. Kieran Dunne says:

      Surely you dont believe this Moses.. If you are a disgruntled Arsenal fan, which I am, then I feel your pain but threre’s no need to be so negative.

      Providing we keep Nasri, and buy two more defenders, we are more than capable of a third spot finish.

      While this is not good enough, we simply cannot expect to punch above our weight in the transfer market as the MAnchester clubs and Chelsea do.

      More investment is needed, but not at the cost of financial ruin!

      Stay positive

    2. I don’t think I’d completely forget about Arsenal Moses, but with Fabregas going and thing not exactly being perfect, this could be a tough year for the Gunners.

  2. adrian says:

    well thats it arsenal are condemned to mediocrity for ever. I had better get down the bookies and see what price i can get on them being relegated this year.

    1. You’d get good odds for that Adrian.

      750/1 I believe.

      You might be better off with MUFC, MCFC, CFC, and LFC finishing in the top 4 at 11/4

  3. N5 says:

    If there is one thing you can learn from the above it’s that Willie Gannon and Moses Watasa are a pair of clowns.

    1. Neil Sherwin Neil Sherwin says:

      And if there’s one thing you can learn from the above is that some people’s only retort to a bit of negativity about their club is abuse.

      Might even put you with them in the clowns category.

    2. Cheers for the comment, but even clowns can be right the odd time.

  4. John says:

    Interested to know where you get your 69% and 42% figures from. Yes there is a small but vocal minority spouting ignorant garbage on hater blogs however, most Supporters I speak to are firmly in the pro Wenger camp.

    1. Those figures are from the Arsenal Supporters Trust.

      The survey was completed by shareholders, Arsenal Fanshare members, season ticket holders, red members, and overseas supporters.

      http://www.arsenaltrust.org/uploaded/astsurveyexecsummreport2011(1).pdf

  5. Kieran Dunne says:

    Firstly, I would like to highlight an inaccuracy made early in this piece.

    “In May, Wenger said that despite everything the season had still been a successful one for the Gunners” – This could not be further from the truth as is highlighted in the quotes you use shortly after. Wenger has also gone on to claim it to be his most dissapointing, frustrating and worst season he has since arriving in ’96. Strong words for a man famed on his evasive interview techniques.

    Secondly, I disagree, as will 99% of football fans, with you when you say that Arsenal do not have an immediate replacement for Fabregas. Step forth, Jack Wilshere. Also, Ramsey will feature heavily this year. You seem to suggest this as a reason for Arsenal hoding out for the £40 million. The simple reason for this being that Arsenal do not want to lose their skipper for less than his market value. Should he be put on the transfer list and sold elsewhere, he would surely command around £50+ with City or Madrid possible benefactors.

    Also, I refer to your suggestion that a majority of Arsenal fans believe Wenger prefers football over trophies. Where did you get these stats. The majority of Arsenal fans are pro-Wenger, hence the ‘In Wenger We Trust’ banner, with only a very small radical minority expressing anything otherwise. You will probably find that it is the same few who opposed a move to the Emirates; which has now proven to torpedo revenue and profits.

    Finally, I would like to point to the precedent that the mainstream media seem to be following in relation to Man City. You refer to them as having a larger squad than Arsenal with only 21 first team players (excluding shuned stars such as Bellamy etc). The total number of Arsenal’s current squad (prelim), stands at 33; including Myaichi, who’s currently awaiting a work-permit. Yes they may have the money but City will struggle this season.

    Two-reasons:

    1. Like Spurs last-term, they wll struggle to cope with two games in the same week. The relative lack of depth, something Mancini has spoken of, means that for them, it will be impossible to win the league in the same season as their inaugural CL venture.

    2. The distractions Balotelli and Tevez provide, for seperate reasons, will provide unwanted distractions at the club and coupled with the relative lack of Premiership winning experience, they will struggle to hold off Arsenal for third and maybe even struggle for fourth.

    This should not be seen as unthinkable as if you cast your mind back to Spurs qualifying for the CL for the first time, it was said that they would spend big and climb further. There were even muted suggestions that they might have challenged for the league.

    Starting to notice a very anti-arsenal objective at BPF which is dissapointing. You’s have a big following lads, try remain impartial and informed.

    Unfortunately this piece is the opposite, strewn with ill-informed “facts” and band-waggon hoping.

    1. Neil Sherwin Neil Sherwin says:

      “Starting to notice a very anti-arsenal objective at BPF which is dissapointing.”

      I genuinely laughed. Yes we are massive Arsenal haters and are tailoring our content in that particular vein.

      Dammit, you got us.

      And btw, it’s a blog; it’s meant to contain opinions.

    2. As you seem to have read the article Kieran you’ll know that we agree upon your first point.

      I disagree, as will 99% of football fans. Just because Jack Wilshere may take Cesc Fabregas’ position does not make him a ready made replacement.

      Is he as good as Fabregas? Of course not. That is the point I made. Arsenal do not have anyone ready made to step into Fabregas’ boots and keep Arsenal at the same level.

      The statistics are from the Arsenal Supporters Trust, whom I believe are made up of shareholders, fanshare members, season ticket holders, and overseas supporters.

      We’ll beg to differ on squad strengths.

      On the website being Anti-Arsenal.

      I beg to differ. You won’t find blinkered top 10 fan stuff on BPF. This is one of the few sites that doesn’t actually have an agenda other than producing well written football opinion.

      We don’t always agree but that is one of the great things about football.

  6. Kieran Dunne says:

    Might be slightly over-enthusiastic in the anti-arsenal jibe but this piece is incredibly ill-informed and inaccurate.

    What, may I ask, did you laugh at?

    The “whopping 69 percent of Arsenal fans reckon that Arsene Wenger’s football philosophy takes too much precedence over winning trophies while 42 percent of fans feel that if the club finish the 2011-’12 season trophy-less that the Frenchman will have taken the club as far as he can”? – coz I laughed too!

    Or the “Or do they wait until deadline day for the £40 million and hope to replace their captain with whoever is available? Because no matter which way you look at Wenger’s squad, there is no ready made replacement for the Spaniard.” Quite funny indeed. While Cesc will leave a huge hole to replace, one of Arsenal’s most successful periods last season was without Cesc and with Wilshere/Nasri in the playmaker role. Go figure.

    Also, I appreciate the fact that this may be a blog, but in my experience of journalism, and blogs, opinion pieces are written as so. I’m afraid this is not we’ve seen here. A pity, because, other than that, its a well written piece.

    1. “Might be slightly over-enthusiastic in the anti-arsenal jibe but this piece is incredibly ill-informed and inaccurate.”

      Sorry Kieran, but the article is correct and proper.

      The statistics you dismiss are as being ill-informed are taken from the Arsenal Supporters Trust Survey form end of season 2011.

      Just because you did not know about them does not mean they are spurious or made up.

      “Or do they wait until deadline day for the £40 million and hope to replace their captain with whoever is available? Because no matter which way you look at Wenger’s squad, there is no ready made replacement for the Spaniard.”

      Is there a direct replacement for Fabregas at Arsenal?

      Absolutely not. There is not one single player as good as the Spaniard at the Emirates and possibly the EPL.

      Wilshere is a replacement, not a direct one.

      Glad you thought the ill informed and innacurate piece was well written.

      But seen as we have established that your two gripes are wrong, well, that means it was just well written so.

      1. Kieran Dunne says:

        Thanks for the response Willie.

        In reply to your clarification on the stats, I will gladly withdraw the overally passsionate dismissal of bogus stats. However, the stats presented in your peice are still misrepresented in context.

        They contain no explanation of the fact that the questionnaires were sent to 850 members of the AST with only 382 responses , representing 45% of the membership. Not the entire Arsenal population by any strech of the imagination.

        However, I would still like to withdraw the accusation of the peice being inaccurate. More clarity was just needed.

        In response to my second gripe, and Fabregas, I feel, like many Arsenal fans that Wilshere is a direct, ready made replacement. As your co-editor Neil pointed out; blogs contain opinion, as do their comments.

        And yes I do feel your article was well written. I would not criticise your writing capacity simply because of differences or clarity issues.

        1. You’re a good sport Kieran, cheers.

          I realise that the AST questionaire isn’t gospel, most polls are just from that direct moment in time and many Arsenal fans were pretty unhappy at the given time.

          On Jack and Cesc, no doubt about it Wilshere is a fantastic talent and should by all accounts be a real world star someday, but for me he just isn’t there yet.

          Cheers for the comments and looking forward to conversing with you again.

  7. This will be a big year for the Gunners with Liverpool and Man City going large in the transfer market.

    One area where Wenger may have lost some focus is the need to bring in some defenders. Arsenal’s already shaky defence is short in numbers this year, and if Vermaelen gets injured they’re in real trouble for quality cover.

    Both Chelsea and Man Utd have four top notch centre-backs. With Samba, Cahill, Dann and Jagielka all available, i find it hard to believe Wenger hasn’t signed one or even two of them.

    1. I suppose Wenger not signing a defender could be read as the Frenchman showing faith in Koscielny and Squillaci

      -or-

      He doesn’t want to sign a good centre half because it would be an admission that his last defensive signings were wrong.

  8. sorin says:

    If they want to stay in top 4 they should invest in midfield. Nasri and Fabregas should leave because even if they stay they will not play at 100%

    1. No arguing there Sorin.

  9. Moses Watasa says:

    When i predicted that Arsenal wouldn’t finish in the top four, i took some stick from Arsene Wenger’s faithful “spokesmen”. I wonder if today (24th August 2011) the same Wenger “spokesmen” still believe Arsenal will finish fourth! Nasri, Fabregas, Clichy etc all gone – but it’s business as usual for Wenger + Board – telling us how they are “working hard” to strengthen the squad. They are spewing this garbage and fungi well aware that the transfer window closes in seven days. And well aware that with two EPL matches played, Arsenal have yet to score a goal and face a major beating at Old Traford this week-end. I dare Wenger’s “spokesmen” to call me a clown again!

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