In the opening credits of the 1996 classic video game Sensible World of Soccer a mustachioed player from a by-gone era furiously peddles his bicycle to a match that has begun without him, arriving in time to join the fray and seal victory for his team with a flurry of late goals.
There is a delightful song that accompanies this manic rescue operation:
You're a goalscoring superstar hero You let your hair down and play to the fans You're a goalscoring superstar hero And every goal says you're the best in the land
You're a goalscoring superstar hero
You let your hair down and play to the fans
You're a goalscoring superstar hero
And every goal says you're the best in the land
Every club with aspirations of glory needs a goal-scoring super star hero.
Manchester United had Cristiano Ronaldo, and this season Wayne Rooney has stepped up to replace him. Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard have been on target time and again when it matters for Chelsea.
Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are a two man band at Liverpool, and the Reds are a perfect example of the dangers of over-reliance on individuals.
Arsenal is the opposite of Liverpool. Their goals have been spread relatively evenly throughout the team, allowing the Gunners to cope with the loss of key players for long periods.
Arsenal’s strength is depth, and their numerous attacking options have kept the North London club in the title race this season. The frequent absence of Torres and Gerrard has left last year’s runners-up out of the Champions League and struggling to claim fourth place.
An injury to Rooney or Drogba would have left Chelsea and United with only Anelka and Berbatov, respectively, as recognised and experienced strikers. Both have been out of sorts this season.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have lost Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo and Theo Walcott for months at a time, and have lost first choice striker Robin Van Persie for most of the season.
Despite injuries that would have crippled the forward line of the other "big four" (and indeed any of the teams challenging to break that monopoly), Arsenal are only two points behind leaders United with seven games to go.
Arsene Wenger should be justifiably proud of the balanced squad he has developed through his meticulous scouting and recruitment policies.
Wenger now has Bendtner, Eduardo, and Walcott available, and Van Persie made a surprise return to training mid-week, meaning the Dutch star has a chance of playing a part in the climax to Arsenal’s season.
With these players fit and contributing, Arsenal has a chance of winning the title (or maybe even the Champions League) and ending the trophy drought that stretches back to 2005. If they do, the goals will come from all over the pitch, and Wenger may be vindicated.
But they haven’t won anything yet, and, regardless of how well they have done to stay in contention, Arsenal faces a tough prospect to overhaul—a Manchester United team in ominous form, and with the collective experience of numerous championship victories. An even bigger task awaits them against Barcelona, the defending European Champions.
Barcelona and United can each boast one of the best players in the world in Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney, and both happen to be in the form of their lives. Rooney is having his best season yet as a professional footballer, and Messi has just scored eight goals in a single week.
United and Barcelona are hardly one man teams. Barce, in particular, boasts an array of some of the world’s best players. But if last season repeats itself, and the two clubs retain their respective titles, much of the credit will go to the two forwards.
The contribution of Rooney and Messi cannot be measured in statistics alone. They score impossible goals to gain improbable victories, they provide inspiration to teammates, galvanize the faith of supporters, and strike fear into the opposition.
While they are only one of 11 men, quality players like Rooney and Messi give their team an immeasurable advantage.
The closest player Arsenal has to a talisman is captain Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard is undeniably a world class player, but, while he contributes strongly to the success of the team, he is not an unstoppable force like Messi or Rooney.
Fabregas is a conductor who orchestrates Arsenal’s beautiful football, but he is not the man to blow the opposition away.
Arsenal lacks a player who will tip the balance in their favour against the best teams in the world. Such players do not grow on trees. and, once established, they do not come cheap. Wenger is rarely tempted to spend big in the transfer market, and would be loathe to make the enormous outlay required to bring such a player to the Emirates.
There are other pitfalls, however.
Valencia’s David Villa might fit the bill, and Atletico Madrid’s Argentinean wunderkind Sergio Aguero is another who could blossom into a genuine superstar, but neither would be sold for less than £30 million, and there is no guarantee either would be a success in the premiership, or make enough of a difference to shift the balance in Arsenal’s favour.
Fernando Torres has proven an enormous success, but only when fit, and Liverpool would set a considerable price—certainly in excess of Arsenal’s record transfer fee.
While the Gunners have money to spend, such an outlay would be contrary to Wenger’s principles of nurturing talent rather than buying off the shelf, and the Frenchman has long resisted calls from fans and observers to spend big in order to strengthen.
With an extensive scouting network and enviable youth development system, Arsenal has as much chance as any club of uncovering the next superstar—a player who can take them to the major trophies their style of football and admirable principles warrant.
Such a policy requires patience, something the Arsenal fans and board have willingly shown in recent lean years. On the pitch and in the transfer market, Arsenal and Wenger will continue to play sensible soccer until a goal scoring super star hero arrives with the key to the trophy cabinet at Emirates stadium.