Is It Time To Consider Fifth for Arsenal?

Charles TabbCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2009

It is now time for Arsenal, those at the club and fans alike, to give genuine consideration to getting fifth place in the Premier League table. The time is past to assume that Aston Villa will make an inevitable regress to the mean and that Arsenal will hit an extended patch of form. Chelsea, Arsenal's other competitors, no longer have the dysfunctional set-up with Luiz Felipe Scolari, slimming the chances Arsenal can clip Chelsea for fourth.

Consequences must be considered. Any and all measures must be taken to prevent a fifth-place spot in the league table. To pretend that the possibility is highly improbable is no longer a viable solution. To ignore the proverbial elephant in the room is no longer feasible.

First, for the specifics. Through 25 league matches, Arsenal has 44 points, compares to Chelsea's 49 and Aston Villa's 51. Five and seven points in 13 matches is by no means insurmountable, but neither is it any longer in Arsenal's odds.

Why is this you may ask? Does Arsenal not have the quality, when Andrei Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas, and Theo Walcott enter the lineup, to pass the dysfunctional Chelsea Association of Retired Persons (sorry, American reference) and the over-achieving Aston Villa?

Well, to be quite frank, I am not quite so confident that either Chelsea nor Aston Villa are so vulnerable as they are made out to be.

Aston Villa may have not have nearly the same depth of talent that a top four club does, but they are a very cohesive unit, are led by a superb manager in Martin O'Neill, and have two dynamic attacking players in Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor. It is also hard to argue with a team that last lost in the Premiership on Nov. 9.

Chelsea was clearly struggling under the guidance of Scolari. Whatever the dynamic was between him and the team, between him and the Russian, it was not working. That dynamic is gone now.

Chelsea will probably see a spike in form under a new manager, as teams almost always seem to see a spike in performance when they kick an uninspiring leader out the door. Furthermore, the talent is clearly there for Chelsea to see a great run of form. The only question is if they will be able to get up from bridge and tea to play football.

So where does that leave Arsenal? In desperate need of an amazing run of form. Everything needs to click. The back four need to continue their recent impressive displays, although Clichy could stand to clean up his mistake-prone act a bit. Eboue needs to take the third row of the bench. Arshavin needs to acclimate to the Premier League and make an immediate impact. Cesc and Walcott need to get healthy, and soon.

Someone, for Godot's sake, needs to become an assertive center midfield presence (yes, we are waiting). Van Persie needs to continue to save Arsenal's season. Bendter, in place of the injured and ineffective Adebayor, needs to demonstrate that he can grow beyond the super sub role. You get the idea.

So, pretend for a second that Arsenal does indeed get fifth. Beyond the obvious consequence of missing out on a Champions League spot, what does this mean? It means a loss of the greater financial windfall promised by the Champions League.

It means facing a nervy summer in which the team's world-class players, like a Gallas, a Van Persie, a Cesc, may be inclined to leave for a team playing Champions League football and with greater title aspirations.

It also means a hit to pride for Arsenal. Arsenal, as an elite team, have no business outside the top four, much less not competing for the title. It is just embarrassing.

I propose no solutions. I just believe that this issue needs to be openly broached as a serious issue now. I also believe that the Arsenal powers that be—that is you, Mr. Wenger—need to find a solution, because the consequences of getting fifth are frightful to contemplate.