Thomas Vermaelen: Arsene Wenger's best defensive find last year.
Following the Gunner’s shaky passage into the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday, a certain question has grown in significance. This question is in part a by-product of the strong responses I got from my last article— “Arsenal Doomed To Being a French Player's Midnight Dream?” I promise to launch no weapon of mass destruction this time.
Is it better to play scintillating football and lose or should the former Highbury kings massively tinker with their playing style in order to do what is necessary and win some silverware? In other words, should the means justify the ends or must the ends drive the means?
So far this soccer season, Arsenal has been puzzle, losing games they shouldn't and winning games they lost in years gone by. What should a fan make of that? Put another way. Is there anything to be drawn from that?
I ask these questions because the biggest wish of any true Reds fan is to win something this season. In a season already littered with some surprising results, they have looked, on occasions, functionally unpredictable. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Well, only time will tell how far they would go in all of their targeted competitions.
Which factors may influence the possibility of a ticker-tape parade in North London come next May?
Most of these key factors are player related and I mention a select few who would determine the club’s fate this football calendar:
His injury has been an insufferable loss at the heart of the club’s defense. When he finally comes back, will it be relevant then or will it prove to be too late? To think that after only one season he has become such a key factor to any success is a bold testament of his impact, pure and simple. Never before, in the history of this respectable club, has so much expectation rested on one player’s fitness as it does on Thomas. If ever the club needed a steadying influence at the back, it is now.
Being a walking wounded has robbed him of his usual brilliance. The Spaniard has not been at his best lately and has looked a bit withdrawn in some of the games. Maybe a combination of persistent hamstring issues and fatigue from having played a lot of games is responsible. The Barca trainee is, without doubt, the heartbeat of the team. Intermittently, he would need some resting along the way besides the one forced on him by his latest injury. The post World Cup break does not look to be enough, as he has basically played all year. Can the club afford resting him on occasions given the hectic yet crucial nature of games they have mercilessly facing them?
Having evolved into a truly world class player this season, he is the best footballer in the Premier league so far this term. Sami has kept the light of fans’ expectation burning with imaginative displays and some wonderful goals. In some cases, he has kept them in games were they looked adrift or won games single-handedly. His contributions towards their recent home win against Fulham was the stuff of legends. Can he last the season on such a stellar form? Would the invisible hands of injury claim him when it matters most with the games ahead?
The gifted Russian has sparkled inconsistently this year. Being played out of position, at left wing, has not helped. As a free spirit, his lack of any defensive orientation has put a lot of pressure on the left back, Gael Clichy. This has accounted for some of the goals the team has conceded. Moments of sheer magic interject lifeless periods of inactivity on the pitch. The reputation which brought him to the stadium formerly known as, Ashburton Grove, appears to have disappeared. However, when he is in the mood he does dazzle the senses as he did in the Carling Cup match against Spurs at Whitehart Lane recently. Is he going through an adjustment phase playing without a winter break he was used to or is his playing out of position a major cause of his inconsistencies? Is his form a luxury that Arsenal can afford?
Should Arsenal spend big for the players they need?
His forward forays and goals have caught the eye this football season. While he seems very capable as a player, how does his new found role affect the team’s cohesion? Is the trade-off worth it? Would his goals make-up for the lack of defensive cover that a defensive-midfielder ought to provide? How would he and the team fare against excellent counter attacking teams?
Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott
These two young English colts have exhibited great promise and vision. While Jack is coming into his own this season, Theo has added better decision making to his speed driven game finally. Is it too early to expect so much from Jack? Is he playing too many games too soon? Given Theo’s pace, is he one step away from getting injured?
January’s Transfer Window
Arsene Wenger has said that there would be no new signings come January. Such an open display of faith is commendable and builds up player confidence. Technically, while they currently sit atop the league table, it makes for good team psychology—nothing wrong with that. However, having seen this miserable script before, is it wise to roll the dice again? Seeing as a little tweaking by way of a super signing or two would remedy the most glaring shortcomings of Arsenal’s play, which is defensive weakness!
Finally, a future food for thought is this:
Arsenal Football Club will have to spend 15-20 million on a player in order to remain relevant in the football world. A nagging question remains. If not now, when? It’s one thing if they do not have the money, but a different cup of tea when they have it, and post impressive profits annually. For the club that Herbert Chapman built, playing second fiddle is just not good enough.