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.