Arsenal travelled to Bradford City Tuesday to play a seemingly open-and-shut, Capital One Cup tie.
Only it wasn't quite so easy for the Gunners. Playing a fourth-division side supposedly has its perks for a Champions League team, but Bradford fought with all their might at both ends of the pitch, eventually emerging the victors on penalties.
Arsenal fielded just about the strongest possible team they could have put out. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott were injured and did not participate, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked on from the bench.
But the front three fielded by Arsene Wenger was composed of Lukas Podolski, Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho.
The former was one of Arsenal's highly touted replacements for Robin van Persie, purchased for the princely sum of £10.9 million last summer and automatic starter for most of the season.
Ramsey is supposed to be one of the brighter young players in England, even if his performances over the last few months have not illustrated his high billing. The Welshman was forced to play in an unnatural position on the right wing and was even less effective than he usually is in midfield.
Then, there's Gervinho.
Could he be the worst player that Wenger has ever purchased? Probably not, but his utter and absolute inability to finish the most basic chances or play with his teammates makes him a liability.
Below is his miss in the first half of the Bradford match. For once, I can actually say with complete certainty that I would have easily finished that chance.
This man was entrusted with leading the line with only Marouane Chamakh available on the bench—Marouane Chamakh, who has scored a grand total of two goals in the last 15 months.
By contrast, look at West Bromwich Albion. Before their recent slump, the Baggies were sitting comfortably inside the top four and are now only excluded because of goal difference.
When they travelled to the Emirates last weekend, manager Steve Clarke took five strikers in his 18-man squad. Two (Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long) started, and three (Romelu Lukaku, Markus Rosenberg and Marc-Antoine Fortune) sat on the bench.
All except Fortune played at some point because Clarke needed to throw on more strikers as his team fell further behind. Long, Lukaku and Odemwingie have scored five, five and four Premier League goals this season, respectively.
How many true strikers did Arsenal have?
One, and when Giroud was clearly injured by a kick in the back, Wenger could not substitute him.
You know what I'm getting at by this point.
Arsenal sorely lack attacking talent, and there is just no getting around that fact. Wenger can talk about the team's fighting spirit and work ethic, but the reality is that it did not seem the Gunners would score until time became a pressing issue.
This is a team that is frequently shut down on its opponent's third, as any casual observer can tell. During a horrendous slump between Nov. 24 and Dec. 4, Arsenal scored a grand total of two goals in five games—two.
The former, in fact, is the last goal from open play that Arsenal have scored in the Premier League.
The Gunners have sporadically gone dry on numerous occasions this season. Their recent hapless capitulation (if that is a strong enough term) against Swansea comes to mind, as do a 1-0 defeat to Norwich, two 0-0 draws to open the season and another a couple weeks ago with Aston Villa.
Again, this team could muster only one breakthrough against a League Two side—and it came from a center-back.
What can be done?
Clearly, Wenger needs to spend money—real cash, in the form of transfer fees—on at least two proven players of absolutely top quality.
Thierry Henry will not suffice. He will not even scratch the surface of Arsenal's attacking problems. As much as Arsenal fans adore Henry, a 35-year-old striker arriving on loan will not come close to solving the team's depth and quality issues.
Rather, a long-term solution is needed; or at least one that will truly inject the team with quality beyond February.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could be one part of that equation. Out of contract in the summer, last year's Bundesliga Golden Boot winner would provide the value and caliber of player that Arsenal fans expect.
To further reinforce the squad, Arsenal need a threatening, dynamic winger or attacking midfielder that can provide the spark that has so often been missing.
That man could take the form of any number of players, from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Bryan Ruiz to Lewis Holtby (an oft-overlooked but very worthy addition) or, if we really want to get hopeful, Marouane Fellaini.
But, as Schalke's general manager Horst Heldt said of a possible Huntelaar deal, "These stories are no more than fairytales [sic]."
In reality, Arsenal fans will be extremely lucky to see more than a second return for Henry. Arsene Wenger is nothing if not staunch and frugal, despite a massive new sponsorship deal worth £150 million with Emirates Airlines.
But the fact remains that what is supposed to be Arsenal's strongest area—the one that supporters have taken pride in for years—is criminally and dangerously weak.
Unless something rapid and drastic is done to cure the Gunners' attacking frailties, a top-four finish will drift further and further out of reach.
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