Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Misfiring Gunners!

Arsenal FC are trophy-less for a third season in a row and have now failed to win the Premier League since the remarkable run they had in 2003-04. As Arsene Wenger has sought to move from one generation of players to another, the success that he enjoyed with the former group of players has deserted him. Is this due to Wenger’s follies or plain bad luck? I would put it down primarily to the former.

Any comparison between the two set of squads, i.e. the one in 03-04 and the present one always revolves around the names of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell. An examination of statistics will reveal that it is the absence of Robert Pires that has cost them most dearly. If one were to analyze the situation by considering one player at a time it will be seen that the goals and overall contribution of Pires has quite simply not been replicated by any player in the present squad. Without question, the presence of Vieira, Henry and Campbell were vital to Arsenal’s past successes, but Wenger has in some manner or the other been able to replace these players.

Cesc Fabregas no doubt is very different from Vieira, but together with Flamini the pair has ensured that the former Gunners’ skipper has not been missed as dearly as it was believed he would be. Fabregas is one of the finest talents in Europe and clearly along with Ronaldo, Messi and Kaka has the footballing world at his feet. He possesses great passing ability and comparisons with Paul Scholes in my opinion are not too far off the mark. However I believe, it is Mathieu Flamini who has been the revelation for Arsenal this season. He is one of those traditional box to box players and he combines superb energy levels with excellent tackling ability and a more than decent passing range. Flamini acts as a great foil for Fabregas and together they have bossed many a midfield battle this season.

Moving on, Thierry Henry along with Eric Cantona has been the best player ever to have played in the English Premier League and one would have only imagined when he departed that Arsenal would have crumbled without their talismanic striker. But Emmanuel Adebayor who by no means has anywhere near the talents of the great Frenchman, has scored 24 goals in the Premier League this season which is no ordinary effort. Before succumbing to the horrific leg injury, Eduardo da Silva showed that his finishing ability was of the highest class and that Henry would probably never be missed. Sol Campbell who was such a rock at the back for Arsenal during their glory days had pretty much gone off the boil when Wenger decided to sell him. The entry of William Gallas however has ensured that a compact central defensive partnership with Kolo Toure is unharmed. Therefore it can hardly be commented that the likes of Henry, Campbell and Vieira have been missed by Arsenal. The full back positions have also been adequately covered with Gael Clichy taking the place of Ashely Cole and the highly impressive Bacari Sagna replacing Lauren. Robert Pires however is one player who Wenger has not been able to replace.

Pires is one of the most technically perfect players to have played in the Premier League and his effectiveness is evinced by the fact that for a midfielder he scored a goal in almost every third game. Apart from his goals he has regularly been at the top of the assist charts and he possesses a big match temperament which not many are blessed with. Aliaksandr Hleb for all his prettiness on the ball is no Robert Pires. His tally of 7 goals in 89 Premier League appearances more than showcases his inability to contribute in the manner in which Pires did for Arsenal. And Tomas Rosicky who was the player initially bought to replace Pires has spent more time on the sidelines injured than on the pitch. I am sure Wenger is more than regretting his decision not to have departed from the club’s policy of not awarding contracts longer than one year to players above the age of 30. It is crucial to note at this point that Manchester United relented on their policy by providing Ryan Giggs a two year contract at the end of the 04-05 season and he continues to be treasured by the Old Trafford faithful. Pires was said to have been deeply disappointed at the loss of faith of his manager and he decided to part ways with Arsenal and is now plying his trade at El Madrigal with Villarreal where he has played a vital role in helping Villarreal to second place in the La Liga with three games to go.

Although their football has been immensely attractive and at times breathtaking this season, their failure to adapt tactically to different match situations has also in my opinion cost Wenger’s Gunners the title this season. With the kind of start they enjoyed to this year’s campaign, they really should have ensured that they are at least in with a chance of winning the title come the final day of the season. The decision to appoint Gallas as skipper has had disastrous consequences for Arsenal. A team needs their skipper to stand up and be counted and to be brave irrespective of the situation that the team finds itself in. Any player who complains as much as Gallas did when he was at Chelsea could never have made a good leader and I felt Wenger got his captaincy decision awfully wrong. Having said that Arsenal have not also had the greatest of luck this season, particularly in the Champions League where in the quarterfinals against Liverpool, some of the refereeing decisions in both the legs was diabolical.

Wenger however needs to accept that he made a fair few mistakes over the last few seasons and needs to move on and make 3 or 4 quality signings to ensure that Arsenal do not spiral downwards after their disappointments this season. It is already reported that the influential Flamini has decided to move on to AC Milan at the end of the season and there are talks of Hleb being interested in a move to the other Milan Club. This would mean that apart from preexisting holes that Wenger needed to fill, there are new departures which has to be adequately answered. It’s going to be extremely interesting to follow Wenger’s activities in the transfer market this summer and if he continues to claim that quality players are not available and that he only needs to sign one player in the close season, Wenger can kiss the Premier League title goodbye for another few seasons.


Sroyon said...

And I hear their transfer budget's quite small too. Wenger really has a job on his hands.

Suhrith said...

Initial reports suggested that he might have a decent transfer kitty. But later stories have us believe that he might not have all that much money to spend after all. I think Flamini leaving would get him to rethink his plans. He might have to spend more than he would have wanted to.

Unknown said...

With all due respect, I would like to say that the author is mistaken to the extent of calling Arsenal's failure to win a trophy primarily Wenger's fault. Firstly, under no circumstances could he have foreseen that the foursome of Rosicky, Hleb, Fabregas and Flamini would be able to play only 3 games together the entire season. Further he could not strengthen the squad atleast on the wings because he expects players like vela and gibbs to step up and any new signing could have hampered their opportunities. Further Arsenal have been hurt far more by some of the most incomepetent refreeing ever seen. It could easily have been Arsenal heading for a double. Refs ensured that we lost points to chelsea, Middlesborough and Birmingham and against Liverpool in the Champions League.

As far as the defense is concerned, that has been our achilles' heel. The Toure-Gallas partnership has failed entirely and Arsenal miss the strong physical presence of Campbell.

Suhrith said...

It is the responsibility of the manager to have back up options in the squad who can be used in case of injury to key players. The problem has been the absolute lack of back-up. He knows Carlos Vela is not going to get a work permit just as yet and the fella Gibbs hasn't made a single premier league appearance. He did play in the Emirates cup against Inter though and if Wenger felt he was good enough, we should have seen more of him this season.

And Emmanuel Eboue is certainly not good enough to play for a team competing for the league title and Wenger for the entire season preferred him to Walcott. Admittedly Walcott is still young and needs to be eased into the team. But such liberties are only available if you already have a good enough player to play on the right wing.

And as for your initial point on the injury problems, Rosicky has had a history of injury problems and this is something Wenger knew when he signed him. I am not doubting his abilities but when you have a player prone to injuries, you need to ensure you have an adequate back up.

Furthermore Campbell was clearly having problems and he had to be sold at that point of time. Physically commanding defenders are not easily available and if you asked someone to name the five most physically tough defenders in the world, Toure's name would certainly be there.

And besides theres no hiding the fact that Wenger had enough and more money available last summer. If you are interested only in whether or not opportunities of youngsters will get hampered then you can never look to win trophies.

And as for the refereeing decisions, you can check I am not saying its authentic, but they put in a lot of effort analyzing decisions made by referees.

Unknown said...

Arsene knows.

In Wenger we trust.