Strong Finish to the Season Must Not Be Allowed to Mask Arsenal's Problems

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Strong Finish to the Season Must Not Be Allowed to Mask Arsenal's Problems
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Of Arsenal's final few games, Tuesday night's visit of West Ham was probably their most difficult. Their last four fixtures see them travel to Hull in a rehearsal for the FA Cup final, host a Newcastle side who have been on the beach for a few weeks now, then a struggling West Brom visit before the final day against Norwich. The Canaries, with the way things are going, are close to relegation. 

Sam Allardyce's sides have usually caused Arsenal problems, which seemed to be emerging once more after Matt Jarvis's first-half goal. The Gunners were relieved to record a relatively assured 3-1 win, particularly after their struggle to get past Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final at the weekend.

Arsene Wenger sounded relieved, telling Sky Sports after the game:

Overall, it's a hard-fought win but a very, very important one and as well, a very pleasant (one) because after the Saturday game we had to dig deep with some players and they showed a great mental response.

It's perfectly possible that Arsenal could win their five remaining games, thus securing the fourth place that has been slipping away in recent weeks, and also the FA Cup. To many, this would represent a reasonably successful season for Wenger's side.

However, for much of the season, Arsenal looked like genuine title contenders. Of course, while winning a trophy removes the nine-year monkey from their backs, it is not the prize that they should be aiming for.

Liverpool have demonstrated this season that a team doesn't have to compete with Chelsea and Manchester City financially in order to compete with them on the field, showing that sort of title challenge is very much within Arsenal's grasp as well, but not unless things change at the Emirates.

There is a danger that a strong finish to the season could mask the obvious deficiencies that still exist at Arsenal, both in their squad and elsewhere. Missing out on the top four is often mentioned as potentially a good thing for the Gunners, as it might shock them into making the changes that are required to make their title challenge truly sustainable.

Kirsty Wigglesworth

The problems at Arsenal have been long documented and widely discussed. But the changes to the playing squad required include, but are not limited to, more defensive cover to either replace/go with Thomas Vermaelen, possibly a new right-back if Bacary Sagna leaves when his contract expires in the summer (and the Guardian has already reported that Manchester City have offered him a three-year deal), at least one midfielder, preferably one with a little more physical presence, and a striker to either replace/go with Olivier Giroud.

And all of this is before one considers whether some of Arsenal's first-choice players like Wojciech Szczesny and Kieran Gibbs are good enough for a true title-challenging team.

Then, of course, there is the doubt over Arsene Wenger's future.

That was largely covered in this Bleacher Report piece, but even if Wenger does stay (and his stubborn nature, combined with a lack of anyone else at the club with the required clout to ease him out, certainly suggests he will), he must make some changes to his approach. He at least has to revise his policy of only aiming to sign two or three players each transfer window and correct his tactical inflexibility.

A strong end to the season for Arsenal would obviously be good for morale around the Emirates, which has been low at times in the second half. However, it must not be allowed to mask the obvious problems that will fester unless change is made in the summer.

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