If Arsenal's home defeat against Schalke 04 at the Emirates in the Champions League match about a month ago wasn't enough indication of the team's pedigree, the home defeat to Swansea City on Saturday should settle the question for good.
Simply put: This team isn't good enough.
Yes, Arsenal do have some good enough individual players, even a few outstanding ones; but collectively you sense that something is missing, something that should make the team tick, something which isn't there unfortunately.
To start appreciating the current problem and to be able to make objective criticism or suggest ways to move forward, we ought to realize what the real problem is. That's the first thing to do.
See and Admit the Problem
When you look closely and try to compare the present team to last season's, one asks: What was in that team that is no longer there?
The answer seems obvious: Robin van Persie, of course.
And yet we knew we would lose van Persie. If we didn't know it during the season, we knew it some time in the summer, after van Persie released his now infamous statement about the direction of the club. (Find it here in this Telegraph article.)
The quick purchase of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud was to account for this loss. The combined strength of the duo was supposed to make up for van Persie's prodigious productivity.
I wrote a series of articles (with Jack Wilshere in the lead) in which I stated that apart from the two strikers already bought, Arsenal needed a creative midfielder, an arrowhead to link Arsenal's defense to its offence.
At the time, a few readers couldn't understand the need for this.
When they looked at Arsenal's roster, they saw a list of what seemed to be enough midfielders: Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song, Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong.
What most of these readers didn't see was the obvious fact that none of these names, apart from, perhaps, Tomas Rosicky, was an outstanding creative midfielder.
I explained that Arteta had played the box-to-box role in the just-concluded season, a role that none of these midfielders had been able to man successfully: not Rosicky, Coquelin or Ramsey. As a result, Arsenal suffered defeats or disjointedness whenever Arteta was missing.
What did this mean?
It meant that we didn't have cover for Mikel Arteta in the box-to-box role. Indeed, Diaby could play in that role, but Diaby was injured, and a team needs to have a fit backup for every position.
At the creative midfield position (one that some call CAM), Tomas Rosicky did very well in the position, but we all know that he, like Diaby, has fitness problems, so it hasn't been surprising that he has been out for almost the entire first half of the current season.
At this same position, Ramsey grew into the role as the season progressed then got burnt out quite drastically, although this was mitigated by the return of Rosicky from injury.
The problem here, though, is that although Ramsey used to go into good goal-scoring positions, his finishing was atrocious, and since this position is the quasi-supporting striking role, you need someone here who can shoulder part of the team's goal-scoring responsibility.
So, although I knew that at the so-called CAM position we had both Rosicky and Ramsey, I could see that their combined productivity wasn't up to the level that a league-winning team requires, hence my insistence that we needed a player for this role.
My position looked justified when Wenger signed the outstanding Santi Cazorla.
So here's the lineup: Cazorla, Ramsey and Rosicky at the CAM position.
This seems like a good lineup. Except that Rosicky has been out with injury all this while, and Ramsey hasn't really played at the CAM position, nor should he, if Cazorla is in form.
I'd say Cazorla is a superior player to Ramsey. But what this means is that Wenger should be able to use Ramsey as a backup for the position. That is, Ramsey affords Wenger an option for rotation. And now, with the return of Rosicky, further options are available.
This should put a stop to this excuse about jadedness and burning out.
But the so-called lineup above exposes one of the problem we've observed in the team, a situation where players are used in areas where they are not strong or good enough.
For example, whenever Wenger played Rosicky or Ramsey in the box-to-box position last season, the results were either entirely disastrous or less than satisfactory. This means that neither is a box-to-box type, so neither should be played in that role.
Or if you really want to have these players together on the pitch, then you have to change the system. Otherwise you set yourself up for frustration and untoward results, which is exactly what has tended to happen when this has been done without a change in the system.
What the above seeks to expose is the fact that although we might seem to have a group of players for a particular section of the field, this is all deceptive.
We have an excellent CAM in the person of Santi Cazorla and two adequate backups in the persons of Rosicky and Ramsey, one of whom hasn't been available all this while.
In the box-to-box role, however, we have just one person, a person who still isn't completely fit: Jack Wilshere. And for this person we have no adequate backup. Revert Ramsey to this role and a big problem results.
Arteta is better than Wilshere in this role, but Arteta is now our defensive midfielder. Take Arteta away from this new role to the box-to-box position and you see immediately that a new problem opens up at the back.
True, we have Coquelin, but Coquelin hasn't grown enough to be completely dependable in this role.
So again, you reel off the names of the midfielders, and if you are not the discerning type, you feel all woozy and comfy and then you play a strong team or a tenacious one, and everything collapses. Before everyone knows it, you have reverted to raining down abuses on everyone you chance upon.
You ought to have realized in the first place (that is, if you really knew football or tactics as you claim) that the team lacked balance, that there are big holes in the squad, a realization that should enable you to temper your expectations.
As it is, people just talk; they abuse players and the coaches without really having a grasp of what is really wrong with the team.
To summarize this first point, I should say that a big problem with the current team is the lack of balance in the middle. We do have problems at the front as well, but the reason why the team isn't imposing enough is this lack of balance in the middle.
We have a good CAM but we do not have a strong bridging midfielder, the so-called box-to-box type. Indeed, Wilshere has returned, but Wilshere isn't completely fit. Plus, his defensive game is a little suspect.
Will he improve? Indeed. But right now, we ought to realize that there is a big problem here and we should admit that there is a problem.
The failure to admit a problem when there is leads to denial and excuses and then to temper tantrums when the team loses, as it did on Saturday.
But the lack of balance isn't just in the box-to-box role, where the team unfortunately (and rather dangerously) doesn't have backups for the one box-to-box type that we have.
The fact is that even at defensive midfield position the only adequate player we have right now is Mikel Arteta. What happens if he gets injured? What happens if he isn't having a good game?
In the light of this, I challenge my critics and Alex Song's to admit that this was a nonsensical sale.
Earlier I said that if you compare the current team with last season’s and seek to find the difference, you see that van Persie's loss is a huge deficit, but this isn't the only problem, a problem in which Giroud's presence and Podolski's has arguably solved.
If you look at Song's contribution to the team last season, which player has replaced it? None.
If I am disappointed in Arsenal at all, it is here.
This player had three years left on his contract, yet you sold him when you didn't need to.
This player was a young player (talented but not really good at the time) whom you've developed and educated in your way of playing, and yet Barcelona waves £15 million and you quickly sell him without regard to what this will do to the team, the consequence of which we are witnessing now.
This player was supposed to be groomed for the future, much likes Gibbs, Eisfeld, AOC, Walcott, Frimpong, etc. If you got rid of him without real reason to, what is to guarantee that this won't happen in the case of other young players?
And if this keeps happening, what is to guarantee the future of Arsenal. How are we, as fans, to believe anything you, as the management, tells us?
Those who think that I.J. is like a bulldog, who, having sunk his teeth into something does not let go, ought to understand the reason for my griping about this. I gripe because we are in a situation, which we shouldn't be, a situation we caused by our unnecessary stupidity. Song's sale was nothing but stupidity.
These are the kinds of mistakes we should admit and forestall in the future.
We don't have balance in the middle of the pitch. If there is money to spend, as the board is saying there is, then Wenger should identify players to buy for this position, come January.
Normally, I'm not an advocate for January purchases, but in the situation we are in, bringing in new players in January can only help the team.
I will continue the discussion in the following part of the series. I will appreciate the readers’ contribution to the discussion