The time, the place, the stakes and even the opposing team might change, but Didier Drogba has always meant trouble for Arsenal. So it was again Sunday, and so it will be if the Gunners ever meet their Ivorian tormentor on a football pitch again.
But for once, Drogba's efforts might have a positive net effect on Arsenal. In scoring both of the visitors' goals in Galatasaray's Emirates Cup-clinching 2-1 victory Sunday in London, Drogba demonstrated in devastating detail the value that a top-class striker—even at 35 years old—can bring to a team.
And if he wasn't already convinced, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger surely must act accordingly now. In 15 decisive minutes, Drogba turned Gala's 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory, and although the reward was only a preseason tournament title, the lesson on offer holds illustrative potential for Arsenal ahead of the new Premier League season.
In short, signing a top-class striker is necessary if Arsenal are to challenge for anything more than the top four. A lethal attacker is not the squad's only glaring need, but without resolute action in the transfer market before the window closes, Arsenal will be stuck with a strikeforce unable to compete for top honors at home and abroad.
And conveniently enough, Drogba showed off precisely what Arsenal need.
With 15 minutes left, the Gunners were on course for their first Emirates Cup title since 2010. A day after fighting back from a two-goal first-half deficit to draw 2-2 with Napoli, Arsenal led Galatasaray through Theo Walcott's fluky first-half goal. The hosts had played the better football before the break while showing improvement from Saturday's contest, but apart from Walcott's accidental cross-shot, the end product still proved elusive.
Drogba entered at halftime, and he brought the dread with him. During a memorably all-conquering tour of England with Chelsea from 2004-12, Drogba had registered 13 goals in 14 games against Arsenal, including frequent critical contributions in the most climactic of moments.
"I don’t know how much Chelsea miss him, but we don't miss him!" Wenger told Arsenal.com upon learning of Drogba's departure from Chelsea in 2012. "He did a lot of damage against us in every game."
Drogba did so again Sunday, and true to form, his efforts turned the game around.
First, he drew a penalty in the 77th minute. Then, he converted it coolly a minute later. Suddenly the momentum had swung, and regardless of whether or not he had made the most of the contact in the box, Drogba had certainly made a difference.
"Honestly the penalty was very, very, very, very, very, very soft!" Wenger told Arsenal.com. "It was classic Drogba."
Maybe, but then so was what came next. With time running down, the Ivorian slipped his marker, Arsenal's Per Mertesacker, and with a superb first touch, controlled Wesley Sneijder's over-the-top ball in the box. With his next touch, he whipped an authoritative finish past Wojciech Szczesny for the winner and cup-clincher.
"(Drogba) did well when he came on," Wenger conceded, per Arsenal.com. "He still has the resources; you could see that yesterday as well. He has kept that physical strength and his intelligent game and he finished well."
Indeed, the 45-minute performance was vintage Drogba—lethal, physical, supremely assured with a dash of mischief. Did he dive for the penalty? Of course. But he made the difference where Arsenal's own strikers were entirely unable.
It's not too late. Wenger can still sign a difference-maker, and if the drawn-out reports (this one according to The Sun) are to be believed, he's hot on the trail of one in particular.
But as Drogba demonstrated Sunday, Wenger can't afford to miss out this time—not if Arsenal expect to challenge this season.