5 Ways for Arsenal to Get Back on Track
Arsenal's fortuitous dismantling of Tottenham this past weekend has seen the Gunners climb to sixth place in the Barclay's Premier League. Combined with other fixtures working in their favor, the Gunners lie only four points out of fourth place, and five points out of third place.
Despite their best efforts, the Gunners are in a strong position to move up the standings as 2012 draws to a close. With upcoming league matches against Aston Villa, Everton, Swansea and West Bromwich Albion, as well as a strong possibility of Champions League qualification, Arsenal's misfiring start to the season may yet prove fruitful.
Here are five ways that the North London side can climb back into a position of relevance.
Trim the Squad in January
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Arsenal were once known for fielding shockingly young sides. Recall the 2008 matchup against Wigan in the then Carling Cup. Coach Arsene Wenger deployed a first XI with an average age of just 19 years old. That squad went on to thrash Wigan 3-0 and demonstrated to doubters the virtues of Wenger's recruitment policy.
Times have changed.
Arsenal's squad is now peppered with veterans, including a few that are in the twilight of their careers. Others are less fortunate—their careers are ostensibly over. It is imperative for Arsene Wenger to unload some of the unfathomably large salaries that currently burden the Arsenal balance sheets.
First to go should be Sebastien Squillaci. The 32-year-old reportedly earns £60,000 per week, and is a bona fide liability on the field. His woeful performances have earned him a place in Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Charlie Melman's Worst XI of the Premier League Era, alongside fellow liability Mikael Silvestre. It's still a surprise to see him pop up in training pictures on Arsenal's official website.
Second to go should be Andrei Arshavin and his monstrous £80,000-per-week salary. While he has been unfortunate enough to have been played out of position, on the wing rather than as a withdrawn forward during his time at Arsenal, there is no question that his best days are behind him.
And what of Marouane Chamakh, the Moroccan international whose Arsenal career started so brightly, only for it to fall off the proverbial cliff? Earning £50,000 per week, it may well be that the striker is short of the confidence, rather than the necessary talent, to succeed in North London. But that does not excuse his output of a single league goal since the spring of 2011.
Relieving the squad of these three salaries, totaling £190,000 per week, will allow Arsene Wenger to possibly invest in the squad when the winter transfer window opens in January.
Invest in a Proven Forward
With funds freed up in the form of both transfer fees and salary, a move for a forward to support the efforts of the blossoming Olivier Giroud is key.
Whether Theo Walcott stays or goes is almost irrelevant. Gervinho will be with his fellow Ivorians in the new year to battle for the African Cup of Nations, and a tested European performer would be an ideal fit for the front line.
The leading name on the list is Atletico Madrid forward Adrian Lopez. Similar to the young man that he is touted to replace—Theo Walcott—Lopez promises a great deal but has yet to fully realize his talents. He netted 18 times last campaign for Atletico, but also benefited from partnering the superlative Radamel Falcao. His £15 million release clause is an obstacle, but one that reports seem to indicate is not a major area of concern for Arsene Wenger.
How about Spanish international Fernando Llorente, the towering Athletic Bilbao striker who is in the final year of his contract? Fox Soccer has reported that Bilbao are ruling out a January transfer for the target man. With that said, I think there are few clubs who would allow a player like Llorente to leave for free, forgoing a reasonable transfer fee in the process.
Or how about Schalke 04 hit man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the Dutch striker who has had two strong displays against Arsenal this campaign and is also entering the final year of his contract? While the 29-year-old would not be an archetypal purchase for Wenger, it would be a savvy one.
Wingers such as Wilfried Zaha or Andre Schurrle are certainly possibilities, but serious questions remain as to whether their parent clubs are receptive to selling, and if so, whether Arsenal would be able to afford the required transfer fees.
Regardless of what the incoming name is, expect at least one January purchase from Arsene Wenger, and don't be surprised if it is one of the names listed here.
Strong Performances from Jack Wilshere
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Midfielder Jack Wilshere's return to the Arsenal starting lineup, as well as the England squad, has been a source of consternation for boss Arsene Wenger. Ensuring that Wilshere can stay healthy is crucial to Arsenal's success this season.
While the midfielder has had modest success thus far, his synergy with Spaniards Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla should be a source of optimism for Gunner fans. The three modestly sized middle men have the potential to form one of the best units in the league.
As vital as Arteta is to the side, his fallibility has shown itself in recent weeks—the Fulham game certainly comes to mind. Wilshere's dynamism can certainly offset such off-color performances from Arteta. Keeping Wilshere healthy could go a long way for the Londoners as the season drags on.
Win the League Cup
Arsenal's loss to Birmingham in the 2011 Carling Cup Final was awful. A mix-up between Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny saw a very winnable title slip from their grasp. Within several weeks time, the Gunners were eliminated from four competitions and their collective confidence was also eliminated
With Arsenal's progress into the quarterfinals of this year's competition, now known as the Capital One Cup, the outlook is good that the team can once again advance to the final at Wembley Stadium. Only Chelsea can be considered serious contenders of the other seven remaining teams.
Theo Walcott is currently the leading scorer in the competition with five goals to his name, while Andrei Arshavin is leading in the assist category, also with five.
While the League Cup is arguably the least important competition that Arsenal will compete in this term, a victory would not only end the team's trophy drought, but it will instill a great deal of confidence and swagger in what is currently a thoroughly inconsistent side.
Even if the League Cup is the only trophy the team can muster this year—a distinct possibility—it will set a precedent for next season, when there is little threat of key players leaving in the meantime. Having an Arsenal squad with a title under their collective belt and a sense of continuity about them would bode well for the future.
Players with Potential Must Step Up
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The improvement seen in Carl Jenkinson this season has been shocking. The young right-back looked wildly out of sorts almost every time he saw the field last term and seemed to have continued his poor form during the opening weekend of the Premier League season against Sunderland.
But something happened—he found his way. For all of the grief that the press and the fans gave the 20-year-old, and deservedly so, had not discouraged the young man, nor had it discouraged the coach who continued to play him.
Arsene Wenger has an impeccable eye for young talent, and Jenkinson's rise from then League One side Charlton Athletic to earning his first English cap less than 18 months later, is frankly astonishing. It is time for the other young talents Wenger has cultivated to begin bearing fruit.
Francis Coquelin has performed decently in his nine appearances for the side thus far this season but has yet to threaten for a starting spot. Mikel Arteta will invariably require rest to ensure his longevity for the season, and Coquelin would be an ideal replacement.
German youngster Serge Gnabry should also earn himself more opportunities in the Arsenal side, as the precocious 17-year-old could make himself an invaluable impact-substitute as the season progresses. His pace and footwork is promising, and cameo appearances will help ease him into the first team.
It is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who should be expected to make the step up as a regular in the starting XI, however. The England international displayed glimpses of his potential last season, but Arsene Wenger was shrewd to not heap pressure on the ex-Southampton player.
This season is different, though. He is well-bedded into the team, is a regular call-up for the national side, and his talents are, in some respects, superior to that of Theo Walcott. Blessed with pace and a midfielder's understanding of the game, he could excel from the wing if given the opportunity, especially if Walcott gets his central striking berth.
If any of these players can make the step up to stake a regular place in Arsene Wenger's side, the squad will be all the better for it, and it bodes well for the rest of this season and beyond.