With the summer transfer window just a matter of weeks away, Arsenal fans will be hoping to see their club flex their financial muscle. However, doubts remain over whether spending alone can transform Arsenal from also-rans to title-winners.
The club will certainly need to invest this summer, if only to stand still. Key members of the squad, including Bacary Sagna and Lukasz Fabianski, are set to walk away on free transfers. Doubts also persist over the future of Gunners captain and back-up centre-half Thomas Vermaelen. Just to retain the depth and quality of the current team will require a hat-trick of signings.
If Arsenal are to improve beyond that, they must add more. The creaking limbs of Mikel Arteta suggest a defensive midfielder ought to be a priority. Arsenal need someone who can provide a long-term foil to Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey is a roamer by nature and a player with both power and positional sense will be required to liberate the Welshman.
It’s in attack that Arsenal most urgently require an upgrade. Although Olivier Giroud has registered an impressive 22 goals this season, Arsenal are worryingly reliant on the Frenchman. Their attacking potential falls well short of the potency of the league’s top two, Manchester City and Liverpool. That pair have scored 100 and 99 Premier League goals respectively. Arsenal have mustered just 66. Without Giroud, that tally falls to 50.
Speaking to reporters, Wenger conceded that his forward line needs to find another gear:
To be completely honest, as well, a team like City has scored 100 goals. So you have to say their offensive potential has been absolutely brutal and fantastic. Liverpool as well. We scored 66 at the moment and that is certainly where we have room for improvement.
However, spending is no guarantee of success. Arsenal need only take a glance at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road at rivals Tottenham. Spurs spent the best part of £100 million last summer, but they have not experienced much in the way of progress. With the exception of Christian Eriksen, their best players this season have been those who were already at the club.
The main reason for Spurs’ struggles is that they lost their talisman: Gareth Bale. However, there are also several key underlying problems that have sabotaged their push for a Champions League place. The pervading fear at Arsenal is that the Gunners also suffer chronic problems which cannot be entirely assuaged by expenditure.
Discussing Arsenal’s failure to win the title with reporters, Wenger admitted his side have “failed in some big games away from home”. It’s not just this season, either; this issue is longstanding. Arsenal have a distressing tendency to fold under pressure, often by conceding damaging early goals.
Part of the problem must be psychological. Traumatic memories and tense minds contribute to Arsenal’s meek displays away to their rivals. No amount of money can eradicate the scars or restore a brittle confidence. Greater reform is required.
There’s also the question of Arsenal’s tactical setup. There’s a certain naivety about the way Arsenal approach these top-of-the-table clashes. In the 6-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal’s full-backs were perilously high throughout. In the 5-1 loss at Liverpool, the entire defensive line were frequently caught too far upfield.
By contrast, Jose Mourinho managed his Chelsea team to an uninspiring but devastatingly effective counter-attack display at Anfield. In 2013, there were signs that Arsene Wenger was open to adopting similar methods. By force of necessity, his teams became more conservative. However, in recent months, Wenger has worryingly eschewed such pragmatism.
Speaking to reporters, the Arsenal manager insisted that his teams will continue to play open, attacking football:
The system of the team is to adapt to the quality of the players because we have so many offensive players. We just play to our strengths and it doesn't always work unfortunately.
There’s nothing much unfortunate about it. Arsenal continually walk into identical traps. As long as Wenger remains tactically inflexible, they are unlikely to win the Premier League.
Last summer, Arsenal broke their transfer record to recruit Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. His arrival lifted the entire club, and it seemed to help move the team forward. They led the Premier League for longer than any other side in 2013-14 and stand on the verge of a first trophy in nine years.
That’s undoubtedly an improvement. However, the progress is finite. Until Arsenal resolve the bigger psychological and tactical issues in the team, there is only so far they can go.
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