Arsenal. Ashburton Grove.
Chelsea and Failure
In their quest to make the last eight in this season's Champions League campaign, Arsenal failed where Chelsea succeeded in a thrilling rematch against Napoli, outscoring the Italian club by four goals to one at Stamford Bridge to advance on a 5-4 aggregate.
This is remarkable because Chelsea overcame a two-goal deficit to knock the Italians out in a competition where such a deficit is not easy to overcome.
A week prior, Arsenal staged a comeback of their own—an outrageous attempt to overcome a four-goal deficit, and in a first-half performance that must rank up there with the best that history can come up with, Arsenal put three goals past their own Italian opponents, AC Milan, current leaders of the Italian top flight football—the Serie A.
But with 45 minutes left on the clock, Arsenal failed to find one more goal, the goal they needed to keep their hopes alive, and as the minutes ticked by, so did the collective energy of the team.
What Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, needed to do was introduce fresh blood into the melee. This he did eventually, but the substitutions weren't of the quality a match of this pedigree required.
And so it happened that Arsenal petered out to death when life needed to hang on.
The promise aborted like a stillborn. Hope died on the birth-stone. It was a shame.
The difference in fortune between these two clubs is that one had enough fire power on the bench while the other didn't.
This, in a way, is the subject of this article.
Some of my readers, while acknowledging the necessity and wisdom of financial prudence, an issue I have pursued and emphasized in a number of recent articles, have criticized me on my apparent neglect of Wenger's faults, faults that have contributed to Arsenal's inability to compete for trophies.
These faults can, in fact, be reduced to one: Wenger's reluctance to patch up the team when the obvious signs manifest and point to such an intervention.
What I call reluctance not a few critics have called stubbornness, ideology or dogmatism. My ostensible failure to address this particular fault is my obvious blind spot according to some of these critics.
Fair criticism, I'd say, except I'd like to clarify the situation.
Most normal human beings (that's you and I), while thinking of renovation when their house is on fire, do not sit down and sketch the particulars of this thought, they put out the fire first.
The poetry of the situation is shelved for the necessary pragmatism the situation demands.
And so it is that I have neglected tactics and such to confront those readers who call the current team dung and Wenger clueless. Doing so hasn't meant I think the team is perfect or that Wenger is a saint.
First things first, I have told myself.
Fixing the House
With the above in sight, I should like to address the immediate future of the present team. What action is required to ensure the team is competitive in the coming season in terms of trophies?
What should Wenger do to strengthen the squad?
The answer is obvious. Buy, discreetly of course, but buy all the same.
The common knowledge right now is that Wenger has about £53 million to spend on summer transfer. This is well and good. But as I pointed out in my "Messi" article, transfer money is for paying salaries also, both of the incoming players and of existing players.
Renewal of contracts often involve better wages, and this eats into the budget as well.
And now, with the Robin van Persie situation that requires a significant adjustment to the club's wage structure, this means that retaining him will cut deeply into whatever money Arsenal currently reserve for summer transfer.
This, in turn, means that the club must move along players who are no longer useful to the squad. It is a major point I succeeded in striking in my "Messi" article.
Lists, Naive and True
Since then, a number of my readers have come up with lists of players they think Arsenal must move along. This is OK, except some have done this naively, as though selling players is as easy as arranging a yard sale.
I will not here, though, go into the particulars of selling players. I will assume that conditions (whatever they are) will allow Arsenal to sell some of these unwanted players. The reality, of course, might not allow this. So let's bear this in mind.
In the following, I single out seven players I think Wenger will be happy to get rid of, come summer. But notice the presumption.
There's no way I or anybody can know what sale will make Wenger happy, so take this with a grain of salt and as a manner of speaking.
Consistency or lack thereof has characterized Arsenal in the last few seasons, and no one gives a better face to the word than Manuel Almunia.
Having joined Arsenal in 2004 and thrust into the thick of battle in Arsenal's 2-1 Champions League defeat to Barcelona in Paris in the 2006 edition, Almulnia proceeded to displace Arsenal's first-choice goalkeeper at the time, Jens Lehmann, after a prolonged period of rivalry and mutual hatred between the two.
Potential is another word associated with Arsenal and often on the lips of their manager Arsene Wenger. Again, Almunia is an appropriate face to the word.
That he's a gifted goalkeeper, few can deny it.
Recall his performance in the said Champions League final, at Barcelona, even in the 4-1 defeat at Camp Nou in the 2009-10 Champions League quarterfinal and the in the 2-2 draw of the first leg especially, or the following year at Camp Nou again, in Arsenal's 3-1 defeat in the Champions League's last 16.
But just as memorable are his stinkers. West Brom comes to mind, and I'll leave it at that.
The long and short of this is that, Almunia has come to represent an aspect of Arsenal that fans have come to hate—potential that refuses to grow, talent unaccompanied by consistency or ability ungirded by confidence.
Thus, it is that Almunia has fallen from first choice to third choice and even to a position where he's not even named on the reserve bench.
We know that he signed a long-term contract in 2008, but how long, nobody knows. Since, however, contracts are usually four years long, his may be running out this year. This, then, is the perfect time to release him.
His departure will free up the money he currently earns as salary. Arsenal will either sign a promising youngster to take his place or promote any of the reserve goalkeepers on their roll, Vito Mannone or Damian Martinez.
Can I come to City?
Before Arsenal, Sébastien Squillaci's ability and reputation were such that he was named part of France's Union nationale des footballeurs professionnels team of the year for 2003-04 season.
He was at Monaco at the time and was part of the team that reached the Champions League final in 2004—the year that gave the footballing world Jose Mourinho.
Experience was part of his armory at his Arsenal advent.
Before his coming, Arsenal fans had cried for a messianic presence in the Arsenal defense, someone, the thong of whose sandals (think boots and laces) were strong enough for the task. Squillaci was the man. He had successes at Lyon and at Sevilla.
Success is what he left behind at Sevilla. He brought ill-luck in its place: He has had a hand in a few of Arsenal goals, at the wrong end.
His contract with Arsenal should be winding down this year.
He's another player Arsenal fans would happily bid farewell, and we can guess that Wenger can happily let him go, since the team has enough central defenders—Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Johan Djourou.
Denílson Pereira Neves is a gifted player who has failed to fulfill his potential at Arsenal. "Sideways and backward" are words Arsenal fans often use in conversations about Denilson's passing.
He is an enigmatic player whose efficiency is missed by all, except the most discerning. Thus, it is that Arsenal fans booed him to a loan spell at his former club São Paulo, following the 2010-11 Premier League season.
Denilson has since stated he's not willing to come back to Arsenal. "Good riddance," many Arsenal fans would say. And now that we have enough holding midfielders, Wenger might not be keen on retaining the Brazilian.
His departure will be less salary to worry about.
After an impressive outing at EURO 2008, Andrei Arshavin came to Arsenal highly regarded and promptly gave Arsenal a new word: Gooner. "I'm gooner," said Arshavin. The word took off like wild fire. Arsenal fans are all Gooners now.
But "nah," it's not as romantic as that; Arshavin didn't spawn the word. In fact, nobody knows really where the word came from. Arshavin did say "I'm gooner," and spawned "a million tee shirts."
Very excited, he was when he joined Arsenal in 2009 during the January transfer window, so were Arsenal fans, who now had their world-class star. The feeling all around was akin to the one after a heavy, favorite meal.
Not a few even washed it down will a glass of wine.
A nap and a dream that Wenger is the best manager in the world.
The little Russian did not disappoint. Arsenal were under siege at Anfield in an encounter with Liverpool in April of 2009.
BBC Sport reports:
Arshavin provided a lethal spearhead for Arsene Wenger's side, who were under siege for long periods but demonstrated a stunning ability to strike on the counter.
Arshavin scored four goals in this encounter—goals that will remain as memorable as his stunner against Barcelona at the Emirates, when Arsenal won at home in the 2010-11 Champion's league last 16.
In that season, Arshavin led Arsenal's assist chart. Since then, Arshavin has fallen from grace at the Emirates, with the turning point coming on January 22 when Arsenal fans booed Wenger for bringing him on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the home encounter with Manchester United.
Arshavin is on loan now. His contract is due for renewal. I do not think, however, that this will happen. More so, since Arshavin is now 30.
Wenger might happily spend the money on a new "world-class" midfielder. The names of the options are numerous.
It is often said of Nicklas Bendtner that he has extraordinary self-confidence. He believes he's one of the best strikers in the world.
That may be so, only the sentiment does not translate well in practice. Often let down by a heavy first touch, Bendtner is yet to fulfill his potential at Arsenal.
Marouane Chamakh, the Moroccan international, became the lead striker for Arsenal in place of Bendtner and Robin van Persie when both were out injured in the early part of the 2010-11 season.
The newly arrived player from Bordeaux did not disappoint, scoring a total of 11 goals and making eight assists in 44 appearances that season, before his form went down the drain when Robin van Persie returned from injury.
When Bendtner himself returned from injury, he came back with an indifferent form that has resulted in a loan spell at Sunderland until the end of the 2011-12 season.
He doesn't want to return to Arsenal, he has stated.
"Good luck," I believe is what Arsene Wenger would say to him. The Frenchman might be better served signing a new striker.
For those Arsenal fans who like the word "dung," Marouane Chamakh fits the bill, only it's not fair to label him so. Refer to the previous slide.
True, his form has fallen—alarmingly so—but anyone who remembers Chamakh's contribution to Arsenal in the 2010-11 season, when he led the Arsenal lines, that person would be reluctant to use this word for Chamakh.
Wenger has always maintained that Chamakh is suffering from Robin van Persie's form.
I always think of Mario Gomez when I reflect on Chamakh.
In the 2010-11 season, Gomez couldn't get a game at Bayern Munich, due to the bristling form of Miroslav Klose, and when often he came on as a substitute, he was like the Fernando Torres of now.
Gomez was on the brink of exiting Bayern Munich. He was a flop, and commentators and journalists let him know it.
Miroslav Klose got injured, and Bayern were forced to play Gomez, and pretty soon, he began scoring and has been scoring since, so much so that when Klose returned from injury, there was not place for him in the starting lineup.
Conditions had reversed.
Klose had to move to Lazio, where he's doing well.
Chamakh is an Arsenal reject at present, but that doesn't mean he isn't good. A lot of factors can affect a player, the Gomez example is just one of such.
But empirically speaking, Chamakh may have to move from Arsenal, he himself has said as much.
I do not believe Wenger will shed a tear when he does, as this will open the door for a new signing. Fans will celebrate, for sure.
In fact, Arsenal will make a profit if Chamakh leaves, since he came to Arsenal on a free transfer.
I include Abou Diaby for rhetorical purposes. He hasn't played for Arsenal in a long time due to injury problems.
Injured players go on receiving salaries, which is the reason it might be best or prudent to let Abou Diaby go.
"Halleluyah!" many of you shout.
But we should sell off Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong too.
As a matter of fact, I have heard an argument for the selling of the latter, because he has had the audacity to get himself injured, even Kieran Gibbs too.
"Didn't Frimpong know that players are not supposed to get injured?" must be the logic behind this.
But we should have sold off Robin van Persie, like six years ago, or Thomas Vermaelen or Tomas Rosicky or...or...
"Abou Diaby deserves it," I hear you say. Does he?
Diaby's problems began after his ankle fracture. He explains the problem:
I have had three operations on my ankle, all for different problems but the result of that was that my body is unbalanced, especially in my legs. I have overused one over the other and to put everything back in place is not easy.
I get injured. It’s a fact but when people tell you you're fragile, it hurts. Today my ankle is twice as big because of the surgery.
My problem is a biomechanical problem. I need to work daily on how to rebalance my body.
If the maxim in football is winning at all cost—where "at all cost" means you use players like rag, which you can discard at will, just because they are paid tons of money, and because they don't have feelings (since they are paid so much)—then every injured player ought to be sold off at the slightest "pip," or before he or his agent could say "Philip Pirrip."
Abou Diaby is a player, who, for efficiency sake, should be sold off or simply let go. This will free up precious transfer money.
This, though, is a player I don't think Wenger will be happy to sell off.
But what is the world without sentiments?
Those who desire to win at all costs—note: "all costs"—are sociopathic, says Martha Stout in The Sociopath Next Door.
I don't want to be that person, which is why I sympathize with the situation of Diaby, Wilshere and Frimpong.
But again, sentiments are for losers. That's your cut-neck world.
What happens, though, if your new buy gets injured? Do you sell him off too, and the next, and the next?
I included "tactics" in the title of the article. How is selling off players tactical?
Tactics are a fancy word for planning. Planning begins way before the first kickoff of the season. It includes thinking ahead, foreseeing problems and finding solutions for them before they arise.
Wenger's major fault is that he seems to lean toward best-case scenarios not worsts.
He looks at the squad and sees possibilities.
He sees that, given a chance, Denilson will be a good defensive midfielder and Chamakh one of the world's best strikers.
He sees tomorrow, not today.
But winning requires seeing the now, which is why Wenger might need to be more ruthless—let go of players who are not useful in the now, which, of course, means being more active in the transfer market, because you can't guarantee that your buy would produce.
And if he doesn't produce, sell him off.
It is, however, this exact thinking that has landed many clubs in debt. And there you have it: finance.
It is why I talk about it most of the time.
If Wenger had followed the way of the world, players such as Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie wouldn't have seen the light of day at Arsenal.
It is the reason Wenger is "foolish," the reason he is "stubborn," the reason he is so, so annoying.
However, there's room for balance, and balance is what we would like to see Wenger strike this summer.