Arsené Wenger – Time to go? (Part 2)

by Cillian O'Neill

Yesterday we brought you Part 1 of Cillian O’Neill’s Arsenal assessment, and today he returns to give us his views on the current squad.

Goalkeepers

Most likely the summer will see the departure of Alumina. Fabianksi and Szczesny have proven this year that both are good enough to compete together for the number one spot. If any of the reserve or youth goalkeepers can make the step up to the third choice – great. If not we need to bring someone in there.

Out: Almunia

Defenders

We are covered at right back. Sagna has this season been as consistent as ever defensively and his crossing actually seems to be improving. If we can get a better back up than Eboué then I’d be delighted with it. I love Eboué’s attitude and character, and up until this year I thought he was a very good back up, but his displays this season have been very poor. I don’t think I’d like to see him leave the club, but he should be no more than a utility player for a number of positions and I wouldn’t like to see him getting more than 15 appearances next season.

Left back again I am pretty happy with. Clichy still isn’t the same player he was in 07/08 but this season has been an improvement on the last two years. If Gibbs can stay fit it will be an interesting battle between them for first choice left back next year. I doubt Gibbs can stay fit though, he seems to be a distant cousin of van Persie.

Centre back needs strengthening. Back in January when every Arsenal fan was screaming for a signing Wenger decided we didn’t need one because we had Djourou, Koscielny, Squillaci and Vermaelen, and Song could play there. As everyone but Wenger suspected it does not look like we will see Thomas Vermaelen again this season. We can’t afford to lose Song from midfield and Djourou is now out for the rest of the season. Wenger’s reasoning that you can’t have five players for one position is completely flawed as it is very rare all five of them will be fit. Wenger’s frugality has fatally crippled Arsenal’s season yet again.

Djourou missed the entirety of last season and Vermaelen looks likely to miss the whole of this season. Koscielny should be behind these. As far as I’m concerned Squillaci is another Silvestre, a stop gap that is more a hindrance than a help and he either needs to be sold in the summer or used a the very last resort. I expect Kyle Bartley to be involved next year and having heard reports on him from hugely impressed Ranger fans I’m happy enough to see him as fifth choice.

We need to go and splash big money on a centre back. I’m sure Wenger will argue that that will leave us with seven players competing for two positions but Song shouldn’t be considered a centre back, Bartley and Squillaci shouldn’t be considered an option aside from emergency situations and Vermalen and Djourou are very injury prone. Suddenly that’s Koscielny, Vermaelen/Djourou and a new signing competing for two spots which is ideal. No more Ligue 1 players no-one has ever heard of or journeymen looking for a final pay day. We need a centre back in their prime to put his head where you wouldn’t put a crowbar.

Neven Subotic who has been linked with us increasingly over the past 12 months is currently having a fantastic season with high flying Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and should be considered an option.

Despite his age and relative inexperience I am still disappointed we didn’t make a move for Simon Kjær in last summers transfer window. At only 22 he showed fantastic reading of the game as well as a real presence at the back for Denmark and if we had have shown any interest than surely a move to Arsenal could have been made appear more glamorous than one to Wolfsburg.

Another player that I feel we could certainly pick up relatively cheap is Real Madrid’s Raul Albiol. Limited to just 22 appearances so far this season due to the partnership of Pepé and the apparently evergreen Ricardo Carvalho ahead of him, a move to another club with the promise of first team action may very well interest him. At 26 he will bring experience and class as well as some much needed aerial presence to the side.

Mexés is available on a free in the summer so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wenger try and get him.

Out: Squillaci

In: Albiol/Subotic/Kjaer, Mexés

Central Midfield

I never want to see Denilson or Rosicky in an Arsenal shirt again after this season.

Two seasons ago Denilson appeared to be the real deal. Last season saw a worrying dip in form. This season he has been, quite frankly, an embarrassment. Those who defend him (down to about four people now) will constantly refer to his passing stats. The only reason his stats are so high is that he refuses to move the ball forward. If you’re trying to wind down the final ten minutes of a game you’re winning he’s alright to have, but when you want to go win a game there’s not one player in the Arsenal squad worse than him to have on the pitch. He slows the whole team down, and for someone who is supposed to play in that defensive midfield role, his tackling is shocking. Without Denilson in the team Arsenal average 2.04 points a game. With Denilson – 1.6. He needs to be moved on in the summer for whatever price we can get for him.

Rosicky is a shadow of the player he used to be. Gone are the incisive runs, the clever little passes and the 25 yard screamers. Instead we have a player who struggles to have any impact on a game whatsoever, has no turn of pace and has gone from being one of the only Arsenal players not afraid to have a pop from distance to trying the constant one touch passing at the edge of the opposition penalty area that comes off maybe 1/10 times. It’s a shame to see him come back from injury and play as he does now but there can be no room for sentiment at Arsenal right now and Rosicky is another player who needs to be discarded in the summer.

If you’re reading this Abou Diaby don’t think you’ve escaped my notice. You need to go too, but losing too many from that midfield in such a short space of time is a risk, especially if new signings can’t adapt in their first season. If they do though, Diaby should be sold in January. The leggy Frenchman can be brilliant, however for every brilliant game there’s a half dozen games where he is completely anonymous.

I have a feeling Henri Lansbury will be involved with the squad next season, not as a starter, but to play the bit part role that Rosicky did to so little effect this year.

Song badly needs cover. He can’t be expected to play every game and there is no-one in the squad at the moment capable of doing the job he does. We don’t play with a standard ‘Anchorman’ style defensive midfielder so there’s a wide range of players we could bring in here. Emmanuel Frimpong looked to be the answer to this problem in pre-season however a cruciate injury which saw him ruled out for the season put paid to those plans. Francois Coquelin who is currently on loan at Orient has been getting very good reviews butI’m not sure either is the answer. This is another area we need to spend big in, someone proven and capable of providing Song with actual competition for his position. Someone like M’Bia, Tiote, Annan, or even get back Lassana Diarra.

Someone capable of providing competition for Fabregas, Ramsey and Wilshere will be needed also as no-one can at the moment. This doesn’t need to be a huge signing, but someone capable of stepping in a doing a competent job on a consistent basis. Nasri can do this but if he is pulled back into midfield it means we lose a potent attacking outlet further up the pitch. I’d love to see Javi Martinez, Pjanic or Gourcuff brought in but they would demand far too high a transfer fee for Wenger to consider and unless Fabregas makes the move to Barcelona none are too high a priority on the list.

In: Coquelin/Frimpong, Lansbury, A high profile DM signing, a reasonably priced creative player.

All this is subject to Fabregas actually staying this summer of course, which I don’t think he will, but that’s a crushingly painful discussion for another article.

Wide Players

One thing that is noticeable of this Arsenal side compared to the Invincibles is a true lack of proper pace in the side. Back then Arsenal were a team who could counter attack at devastating pace as all our forward players had real speed. When you look at the Arsenal team of today though; Walcott and Clichy are the only two that have real pace to burn. Nasri is fast but not enough to employ it usefully against high lines and Arshavin can be like lightning when he feels like it. Fabregas and van Persie both have the abilities to pick a perfect pass or finish moves superbly but there are not many players that you will see either beating for pace. Because of this frequently we have promising counter attacks and man advantages wasted because our players have to stop the rush forward and cut back inside to look for a pass as they can’t get past their man.

Arshavin should go in the summer and Rosicky has to. Rosicky I’ve already covered in the passage above.

Arshavin has the talent to be an Arsenal legend, however he just doesn’t seem interested in using it. After a very exciting first half season and being an important player in his second season in the club everything had gone downhill since then. The Russian has seemed allergic to putting in any sort of defensive shift this season, which you could maybe accept if his attacking displays levelled it out. Despite Wenger’s insistence on his stats about his assists though Arshavin has frustrated Arsenal fans far too many times this season with his runs into dead ends, standing with his hands on his hips after losing the ball and complete lack of the vision that used to be so clinical. All of this leads me to feel Arshavin should go, however if he does that will leave us with only Nasri and Walcott as wide men and if Fabregas is sold Nasri may very well be required in the middle of the field so I think we’ll see Arshavin at The Emirates for one more season at least. I also reckon we’ll see Jay Emmanuel-Thomas involved with the first team next season. We still need at least one more signing in this area, again preferably a big one. Having been constantly linked with Eden Hazard of Lille for the past 18 months he is very much a player I’d like to see us sign. He would add serious pace to our attacking line and brings the ability to go by people at speed as opposed to trying to jink around players in tight space which is what the likes of Nasri and Arshavin bring to the side. Having just signed a new contract with Lille he would probably cost upwards of £20m, however big signings are what is needed to add to this group of players and if he’s available the money is there to spend and should be.

Rumours that Ashley Young may also be available are interesting too. He can play on either side or behind the striker through the middle, has a wicked shot and set piece delivery and again is pacy enough to complement Walcott on the other side. He will be 26 at the start of next season so is in his prime and may very well look to engineer a move to a bigger club if Villa can’t get out of their current poor league position.

We will also recall one of our youngsters currently on loan to cover the wide players. It may well be Lansbury expected to cover there and the centre but I feel one of  Pedro Botelho, Ryo Miyachi or Wellington Silva may be recalled if we can get work permits for one of them to cover these positions. Not the answer that we need to it is a very Wenger style solution and if they are to be nothing more than fifth or sixth choice most Arsenal fans won’t have an issue with it.

In: Hazard/Young, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Botelho/Miyachi/Wellington.

Out: Rosicky

Strikers

Unfortunately, I feel the time to keep relying on Robin van Persie as the main man at Arsenal is up. On his day a devastating striker, up there with the best in the world in this writers opinion, however a player who spends more time on the treatment table than the pitch every season cannot be considered as the pinnacle of the attack for a club as big as Arsenal.

The likes of Bendtner and Chamakh provide adequate cover but neither are match winners and neither should be considered good enough to lead the line at Arsenal. I’ve defended Bendtner to the hilt, but listless performance after listless performance this season has made me feel that it’s time for the Dane to move on. He undoubtedly possesses great ability, but he rarely goes and puts it out there on the pitch for the fans to see, usually we just hear how great he is in interviews. If rumours that Bayern Munich are interested for around €10m prove to be true then we should bite their hand off for that amount. He is a better player than Chamakh I feel but we have a better chance of moving the Dane on for a decent price.

I don’t want to see van Persie sold but his role within the team should be limited and as such he should only be considered second choice from next season onwards. I said it when he was sold and I’ll say it again, letting Adebayor go was a mistake. He is unplayable on his day and with him instead of Bendtner or Arshavin leading the line I feel last season may have ended in silverware. With the Togo international looking likely to seal a permanent move to Real Madrid in the summer it leaves Karim Benzema on the periphery of the squad with a manager who clearly doesn’t rate him and both Higuaín and Adebayor ahead of him in the pecking order. It would probably cost at least £25m to pry him from the Bernabéu but if he becomes available we should certainly express strong interest. If I were to have my choice of Madrid strikers I’d prefer Higuaín ahead of him but I can’t see the Argentinian being allowed to leave. Teams tend to play a very deep line against us so having a forward who likes to sit on the shoulder of the last man and rely on balls over the top isn’t really an option for us to try so unlike our wingers I don’t feel pace should be a huge factor in choosing a striker although it certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

Despite being one of the names most commonly touted about Europe for the past few transfer windows Sergio Agüero has remained at Atlético Mardid and is currently one of the vice-captains. With Atlético enduring a horrid season that may well see them finish outside the European places though there is a chance the Argentinian may become available. If he does there is certain to be a bidding war that will see him reach a price that we are unable to pay, but even registering interest in the player and making a formal bid will help Wenger to get across the point to the disillusioned Arsenal fans that he realises the squad needs the kind of strengthening that only big money can provide, and not the kind where we buy three youngsters from France who may be good enough for the first team in five years.

Realistic options we could get in aside from Benzema that are good enough to come straight in and lead the line are few and far between. Noises that were emanating from the club in January and last summer was that the young Brazilian Wellington is expected to take on that striker mantle in the years to come, but too many times have we been waiting on a player to come good to allow ourselves to be bitten by it again. I’m sure the likes of Cavani and Lavezzi will be linked with everyone and everyone this summer after both have had fantastic season at Napoli and either would be a welcome addition to this Arsenal team. Llorente, Lukaku, Nilmar and Neymar are more names I expect to be linked with us but I don’t expect to see any of them lining up in Arsenal colours next year.

I’d also like to see the young Mexican Carlos Vela brought back from loan next year. With van Persie he is without a doubt the most clinical striker we currently have at the club and he is yet to be given any sort of chance in the first team aside from Carling Cup games and the odd bench appearance. There are questions over his attitude and application in training, but if given a decent run of games I firmly believe he could cement himself a place in the first team as third choice striker as well as cover for the wings.

In: Benzema or another striker of that ilk, Vela.

Out: Bendtner

All that would leave the squad looking like this:

Goalkeeper: Fabianski, Szczesny, AN Other.

Defenders: Sagna, Eboué, Vermaelen, Djourou, Koscielny, Kjær/Subotic/Albiol, Bartley, Miquel, Clichy, Gibbs.

Central Midfield: Fabregas, Wilshere, Song, Ramsey, Diaby, Lansbury, Coquelin/Frimpong, M’Bia/Annan/Tiote/Diarra.

Wide Players: Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin, Hazard, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Young (if Fabregas leaves), Miyaci/Botelho/Wellington

Strikers: Benzema, van Persie, Vela, Chamakh

Looking at the size of that squad you would imagine that it would be undoable to have that many players vying for first team places but with our injury records having a squad of that size with players who can replace those injured and bring a similar level of play to the table is vital.

Fabianski has missed large portions of last season as well as this. Szczesny broke both his arms two years ago and is now out for a minimum of six weeks. Vermaelen and Djourou are both very injury prone and missing them both at the same time has cost us before and will cost us again unless we have depth at centre back.

Fabregas misses large portions of every season, Ramsey has just spent a year out of the game and we’ve no idea if he’ll be able to fulfil his true potential after missing so much. Walcott is perennially injured and regularly misses blocks of months at a time. Van Persie usually misses at least three or four months of a season if not more and Chamakh is still adapting to English football.

Out of those nine and the others we usually have at least two key players and any number of squad players in the treatment room. Every year Wenger takes the risk on keeping a small squad and hoping we don’t suffer too many injuries and every year it seems to backfire spectacularly, Song and Silvestre at centre back in the Nou Camp anyone?

To bring in the above players; centre back, defensive mid, two wingers and a forward will cost upwards of £90m probably, money Wenger will not spend. I know the above is something of a wish list, but I truly believe that if this Arsenal side is to win trophies we need at the very least three of those five signings to happen and all to be big money moves for proven players. Signing unknowns from Ligue 2 is all well and good when you have achieved success and are building for the future, but Arsenal need players who can come in and improve the team immediately, especially considering all their rivals in the Premier League are going to have the money to do so in the summer, as well as managers willing to spend that money.

To those crying for Wenger’s head I’m still going to hide behind the slogan of ‘Arsené Knows’, and insist that we do not need a change in manager. I do however feel we need the manager to change his philosophy on spending money and to bring in some big names that can give this stuttering squad the extra bite it needs to drag itself over the line when we hit our annual February/March patch of self-destruction.

10 Responses

  1. Harry Redknapp says:

    this is crap

  2. Fanagooner says:

    I do not see any reason why we should lose Niklas Bendtner!
    He’s been good this season and is a wonderful targetman.
    Chamakh should go for loan in Germany! Get some physique and come back…
    Denilson will be a great player, once he leaves arsenal, because he’ll play all games!
    Rosicky is not going to improve, he’s on the fall!
    I’d like to see Alex Song leave, because he misses most of our important games, and has been going forward way too much leaving the midfield unassisted!
    Next season if we could have Koscielny and Vermaelen in CB!
    And Yohan Djourou in DM! It would be great!
    Yohan says it’s his preferred position!

  3. Danish Gooner says:

    it doesnt matter what kind of players you
    apply as long as they play such one dimensional
    football.There have to be a watershed in tactics and a much needed plan B but it will only happen if Wenger decides to quit.

  4. suedonym says:

    Right, so all Arsenal need is a world class centre back, defensive midfielder and striker? Easy, that should be a piece of piss cos theres thousands of them about and they only cost about ten tob.

    “To do this will cost upwards of 90m, money Wenger will not spend”

    Or try money Arsenal don’t have? A company that made a loss in the last six months cannot afford to blithly splash out 90 million.

    “especially considering all their rivals in the Premier League are going to have the money to do so in the summer, as well as managers willing to spend that money.”

    What really? With Man City needing to wind down spending to meet Fair Play rules, Man U crippled by debt, Chelsea having just shed 70 mil, and Spurs likely pulling in the purse strings due to not qualifying for the CL?

    This so-called ‘solution’ is pure fantasy. Do you play Football Manager much by any chance? Arsenal fans need to give their heads and shake and marvel at the fact that in this age of ridiculously inflated transfer fees they still have a manager who miraculously delivers CL qualifciation and challenges for tropies year on year without breaking the bank, and does it playing open attacking football. Wenger is an extraordinary manager and those fans spoiled by his successs to the point where they are actually calling for his head want shooting. Believe me it’ll be a dark day for Arsenal when he leaves, and I wouldn’t be surprised if not long afterwards the fan pine for the days when Arsenal were still involved at the highest level of domestic and European competition.

    1. Cillian O'Neill Cillian O'Neill says:

      You’ve completely misunderstood me. I’m saying Wenger should under no accounts leave the club.

      I do feel he needs a change in policy though. Every year for the past 3 injuries have destroyed any chance of silverware in Feb/March. Quite simply we need a bigger squad and those who come in to replace injured first team players need to be good enoguh to do so. Not the likes of Denilson or Rosicky.

      Yes Arsenal made a loss this year. Of less than £3M. An average matchday at The Emirates generates over £2M and we had two less home games this fiscal year than the last so it’s hardly like the loss means we can’t spend money considering the size of our cash reserves as well as the insistence of everyone at the club that there is money there to spend.

      1. suedonym says:

        I’m not suggesting that you personally are calling for Wenger to leave, but there are certainly those that are, and most of my wroth is directed at them.

        However I still feel that you’re proposing an unrealistic knee-jerk solution. Arsenal haven’t fallen far short this year and over time this squad is only going to improve, unlike the squads of Chelsea and Man U. Trying to integrate a raft of highly paid superstars egos into the squad is going to be problematic to say the least (do you ever really get the impression that Arshavin is pulling in the same direction as everyone else?) and may well block the development of equally talented youngsters.

        Thats assuming that Arsenal can even afford to blithly spend 90 mil, I still dont accept is the case.

    2. Matt says:

      Well said SUEDONYM. The grass is always greener on the other side isn’t it but 16 years in the premier league, at the same club speaks for itself.

      I’d also say the financial fair play rules that will come into affect will hugely favour Arsenal as currently I think they are the only team out of the elite european teams (real, barca, mu, chelsea, inter etc) who actually meets these rules already.

      1 or 2 signings this summer would help but the 90m suggested is, as you say, pure fantasy.

  5. Thomas Levin says:

    In fact in an ideal world, were the majority of the Arsenal players are fully fit then as we can see, this team is very close to winning the trophies. Bit of a change in mentality and maybe one or two players could make the whole difference.

    Making a side capable of holding onto a win or having a better defensive strategy could be the different between 2nd and 1st.

    Arsenal Report have an interesting piece talking about the Wenger 10 year plan and adds alot of a positive gunners tinted glasses on it. But very interesting nevertheless.

    I was recently doing a post on the Belgium national side and one thing struck me straight away was how good one Fellaini would be for Arsenal. He wouldn’t come cheap costing Everton £15m and he is better with Premier League experience it be hard to get him for a reasonable price. But he is a presence in the air that will help out the central defenders. Great touch and can move the ball forward.

    Fellaini and a fit Vermaelan for a season would vastly improve this Arsenal side.

  6. Matt says:

    I would argue that Arsenal’s squad is in fact one of the best in the Premier League. Especially when you look at Man Utd’s squad. Yet Man Utd is first in the league and is still in the FA Cup and Champions League.

    Although I do think Arsenal need at least 1 but probably 2 or 3 big signings this summer (as you rightly say a centre back, wide player and striker would fit nicely) I don’t think there needs to be a massive overhaul of the squad.

    Fabregas should leave because the distraction of Barcelona is clearly affecting his form and the 40-odd million you would receive would be a welcome boost to the transfer kitty. Also, I would say Wilshere is now more than capable of filling in that playmaker role that Fabregas would vacate.

    Above all what Arsenal need is a Vieira-type player who can instill a sense of belief and confidence in this young squad that even when things don’t go to plan all is not lost until the final whistle.

    PS – If you really think Vela is the answer to your striking problems you really haven’t a clue. On loan spells at WBA and Bolton he as looked mediocre at best. I think Man Utd got the better of the young Mexican strikers. Instead of kicking Bendtner to the curb, you might want to think about selling Vela, if anyone will have him.

  7. Roberticus says:

    Hi Cillian,

    It is hard to pick holes in your arguments in this piece.

    I think, however, that one issue you address – the lack of pace in wide positions is a symptom of a more fundamental reality about how this Arsenal has changed compared to the Invincibles (or even the ’98-2000 vintage for that matter).

    Namely, the Invincibles stood off teams, did not press, invited them forward whereby they could recover the ball in deep areas and then launch those devastating counter attacks. This Arsenal (from about 2009 onward) play a much more static if elaborate game, parked inside the opponent’s half – an approach shared with Barcelona.

    Arsenal were able to field a steelier if less creative midfield because they played close to the defensive line and the wide-midfielders were the playmakers (much in the Brazilian fashion of 4-2-2-2, or similarly to Villarreal today) would move inside to compensate.

    You could argue I suppose that even just seven years ago the Premier league was a different species of animal; teams, even mid-to-lower table fodder played in a much more open manner, gifting Arsenal space between the lines, whereas nowadays the Gunners are almost obliged to draw teams out.

    To replicate the Invincibles’ style would entail not just a change in formation, i.e., dropping one of the three forwards in order to return to the more compact style of yore, but also a change in the entire model of play – sitting deeper, and with false pressing and launching.

    But with Wenger already halfway into this latest transition, this new model of play, would he be willing to do a volte-face and go back to his earlier style?
    Or would he consider it a defeat?

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