It would be an understatement to suggest Arsenal lack the talent that the two Manchester clubs have at their disposal. One glance at the league table tells you all you need to know—the Gunners are 14 points behind City and 21 behind United. The answer to this ever-growing problem is a lack of depth and character.
In Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal have a goalkeeper who can make the No. 1 jersey his own for years to come. However, it is the depth in this position that causes concern. It is has been clear for some time Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone lack the required talent to succeed at the club.
United have two equally adept keepers in David de Gea and Anders Lindergaard. It could be argued that City’s No. 2, Costel Pantilimon, is of a similar status to Fabianski and Mannone, yet Joe Hart—who is now one of the best keepers in the game—had Shay Given to push him when he was coming through.
While he continues to develop, Szczesny needs somebody behind him, with experience, that will keep him on his toes and maximise his potential.
After Arsenal kept three clean sheets in their opening three games of the season, the promotion of Steve Bould to Arsene Wenger’s assistant looked a masterstroke. Fast forward four months and there are more questions posed than answers.
It has not been a vintage season so far for Thomas Vermaelen or Laurent Koscielny, and Arsenal’s habit of switching off at set-pieces has gone into overdrive (a result of the club’s change to zonal marking perhaps?).
Meanwhile, City have the best defence in the league, and although United have conceded far too many for their liking, they have the winning mentality in their squad to consistently overturn such deficits. Arsenal do have one of the top defensive records in the league, yet it is the manner of goals they concede that is the problem.
It could be argued that Arsenal’s midfield trio of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla is good enough to rival any team in England, although they have yet to really click 100 percent as a unit.
Behind that, though, what is left? Abou Diaby can be unstoppable on his day, but due to injury, his day happens very rarely. That Wenger selected Diaby to start against City, despite not having played since September, shows you the trust he has in the likes of Francis Coquelin, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey.
Losing Arteta to injury only makes the need for a new body all the more urgent.
The most glaring pitfall surely comes up top. The Manchester clubs both possess four top-class strikers that can be a handful for any defence on their day—meaning both managers have such depth they can rotate to their advantage. Arsenal only have one proper centre-forward in Olivier Giroud. While he has impressed at times, he cannot bear the burden of scoring goals by himself.
You only have to look at Theo Walcott’s performance against City to see he is most effective on the flank. Lukas Podolski could play in that position, but Wenger’s insistence to keep him on the left speaks volumes. As for Gervinho?! You can play as much fancy football as you like but ultimately you need someone to stick it in the back of the net.
The irony is that the reason this gap in talent is now so big is down to Wenger’s sale of Robin van Persie to United. The Dutchman dragged the Gunners by the scruff of their neck to third place last season, and he now looks like being the man responsible for United winning their 20th title this term.
Jack Wilshere showed with his performance against City just how much fight he has in him. Sadly, there are not too many others in the side with this winning mentality.
Take Cazorla. Fantastic player, but against City, when his side needed him, he was nowhere to be seen. The same can be said of pretty much everyone in the first half, bar Wilshere (another reason why Arteta was and will be sorely missed over the next few weeks).
United and City are both teams full of 'winners' that will never give up (Vincent Kompany, Carlos Tevez, Nemanja Vidic, van Persie, etc). Arsenal gave up against City as soon Koscielny was sent off. That is the difference.
Arsenal need to invest in new players. Simple as that.