Just five days after publicly declaring that he would ‘definitely’ be in the market to strengthen the squad during the transfer window, Arsene Wenger is apparently now singing from a different hymn sheet.
Since then he has spoken of how his options will be limited in January, even going as far as to mention specific names and seemingly dismiss any hopes that Arsenal fans may have that any of these players might arrive in January.
Bordeaux forward Marouane Chamakh was ruled out on the basis that his club would be reluctant to sell despite the fact that they stand to lose him for nothing when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Specuation regarding Edin Dzeko, one of the breakout stars of last season and reportedly high on the wish-list of other clubs like Manchester United and AC Milan, was also dismissed on the grounds that he would be too costly despite Wenger admitting to ‘liking him’.
The hat-trick of dismissals was secured when Wenger then completely rejected the rumours surrounding Inter Milan’s Mario Ballotelli when saying “we are not interested in Mario Ballotelli, you can write that. Chelsea can buy him as much as they want, they have no competition on the subject.”
Whether it’s just a case of the three players mentioned not being amongst the targets that Wenger had in mind for January or just a clever ploy by Wenger to express interest in the players but let them know that the price needs to be right remains to be seen.
One thing that’s become increasingly obvious is that when Arsenal have come up against top-class opposition this season, they still lack that little bit extra that gets you over the finishing line in the big games and through the course of a long 50-60 game season—something that Wenger had expected not to happen this season and was the reason behind his decision for minimal re-enforcements during the summer.
Against both the Blue and Red halves of Manchester, Arsenal were arguably the better side on the day but still lost whilst against Chelsea, the main difference was only in the attacking third where Chelsea were clinical and Arsenal were guilty of over-indulgence.
As admirable as Wenger’s policy of nurturing young talent is and bringing them through playing the Arsene Wenger way, Arsenal seem to lack two of the principal ingredients of any trophy winning side—experience and steel.
Experience that gives you the mental capacity to know what to do and when to do it and the steel to roll up their sleeves and do the less ‘glamorous’ things in the game that you need to do to get a result when the beautiful football is hitting a brick wall.
Sometimes it might look less attractive to hit a more direct 20 yard ball forward rather than going for the 20th sideways pass of an eye-catching move, or better to get in a shot at goal and work the keeper, creating an opportunity which may result in a goal rather than trying to walk the ball in for another goal of the month contender, but little details like that are sometimes necessary to turn one point into three or zero into one.
When thinking of Wenger’s most successful Arsenal sides—the late 90s/early 00s sides which included the likes of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon, Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Viera, Ray Parlour and Ian Wright through to the ‘Invincibles’ side of Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Lauren, Gilberto Silva, Vieira and Thierry Henry—there was a ton of experience there and players who knew that rolling up their sleeves and contributing to the less beautiful side of the game was equally as important as the rest.
Players who were supremely gifted but also knew when not to over-indulge. Sides that were equally as capable of going into the cauldron of Old Trafford and securing the title in Manchester United’s own backyard as they were getting three points from a scrappy 1-0 home win over a relegation-threatened Derby County on a freezing weekday evening.
Look at the current European champions Barcelona—as magnificent as the skills possessed by the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are— they are ably supported by the likes of Carles Puyol, Gabriel Milito, Eric Abidal, Seydou Keita, Yaya Toure—players with experience who are not afraid to get stuck in when it's required.
These are qualities that the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea and the rest of the big boys also have in abundance and if Arsenal want to have any chance of being able to compete with them, qualities that they must also acquire.
Wenger’s recent behaviour, such as not shaking the hand of Manchester City manager Mark Hughes following Wednesday’s Carling Cup defeat, and his recent statements that Arsenal’s players must step up, could be a sign that Wenger’s confidence is beginning to wilt slightly.
But it will only take a slight tweak to his undoubtedly admirable footballing philosophy to put Arsenal back amongst the trophies—unfortunately for Wenger however, it’s something that only an open chequebook can do.