By Ben Giber
After the form Arsenal has showcased in their recent Premier League outings, it seems we have the ability to secure consistent success. The resurgent form of several key players in the squad combined with Van Persie’s world class ability all contribute to that impression. However, Arsenal supporters should remain only cautiously optimistic at best.
While recently watching Arsenal play, it feels as if I am stuck in the movie Ground Hog Day, as the same match seems to play out again and again. The squad fall victim to sloppy defending or an inability to generate an end product and go behind, only to embark upon a comeback that begins slowly, ending with wave after wave of attacks, until culminating in a last gasp winner.
When confronted with a four goal deficit against Milan, there still seemed to be a belief surrounding the team that the tie wasn’t over. During the game, Koscienlny’s towering header, Rosicky’s perfectly placed finish, and Van Persie’s smashed penalty all encouraged that belief. The anticipation of a fourth goal set my adrenaline pumping in the way that only a knockout tie can and as attack after attack flowed forward, I was preparing to explode into a frenzy.
The same scenario continually ran through my head; a chance falls to Van Persie, who comfortably tucks it away as the Emirates erupts into celebration and my house becomes a cacophony of shouting and elation.
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That chance came and went. No glorious celebration was to take place. Abbiati’s outstretched hand had stopped Van Persie chip, and every Arsenal fan’s dream scenario was put on hold. After Chamberlain and Walcott succumbed to injury, my hope began to wither. Looking at the Arsenal bench, Chamakh and Park were preparing to enter the pitch. Surely hope was now lost, as the probability of those two producing a meaningful chance are similar to the odds of Wenger himself scoring a goal.
Herein lays Arsenal’s chief problem. Looking at the club’s first choice lineup, it would seem as if Arsenal is one world class midfielder from being one of the top sides in Europe. The character and quality of the current team has been showcased recently. However, the setbacks in Arsenal’s season that occur when injuries and dips in form plague the squad need to be addressed. When analyzing the premier league sides capable of winning the title in years past, it’s abundantly clear that they have had strong benches to turn too.
Manchester United has its “golden generation”, a group of players who are experienced winners and can be trusted to secure victory for their side. A classic example of their effectiveness took place when Ryan Giggs scored against Norwich in the closing stages of the match to won the game for United. Arsenal lacks an old guard to call upon, but there are reinforcements available in the transfer market that would create a reliable bench.
Recently, Arsenal has been linked with Alessandro Del Piero and even Walter Samuel. These players are both proven winners, and would help to change the stigma surrounding Arsenal.
Sometimes it almost seems as if Arsenal has created a culture around the club that favors sustainability and personal relationships with players over championships. Wenger tends to hold onto players that are not producing enough for the club in the hope that they will rediscover their best form. The emergence of Rosicky into the first team picture in past games has shown the potential of this approach when it pays off. This case is the exception, not the rule.
In the movie Moneyball, a baseball manager develops a ruthless relationship with his players, eliminating dead weight from the team until it is capable of competing for a trophy. The manager analyzed every aspect of how each player contributed to the team, in order to create the team he desired.
The same type of relationships would benefit Arsenal. Rather than making a statement of their intent by purchasing an extremely expensive world class player, Arsenal’s management must communicate with Wenger and be merciless in deciding which players help the team and which players don’t.
While Wenger will hate to see any of his purchases in the transfer window fall through, this will send a message to every player in the squad. The team has been built to win and compete at the highest level, and anyone who is affecting the squads’ productivity can be sold. This approach also involves reshaping Arsenal’s bench when these players are sold.
The sustainability of the club can be maintained because no massive wages will have to be spent on the most expensive players. The time has come to announce Arsenal’s intention to truly compete domestically and in Europe by revamping the squad and providing the strength in depth that Wenger needs to carry the team throughout the season. If this can be accomplished in the summer transfer window, the rest of Europe will surely stand up and take notice.