Arsenal FC: 5 Things Wenger Must Do to Restore Hope at Arsenal
If this season had ended near the end of February, it would've probably been Arsenal and Wenger's most successful season since the Invincibles (2004-05).
At the end of February, Arsenal found themselves a single point behind Manchester United in the league, and on a run of five wins and a draw in their last six games. They were in the Carling Cup final versus struggling Birmingham City, with their first trophy in six years so close that it is possible that half the Arsenal squad could already taste it. They were still in the FA Cup, with a replay versus Leeds United coming up. And most impressively, Arshavin and Van Persie's late-game heroics had given Arsenal a 2-1 win over Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League tie.
Unfortunately, Arsenal would go on to lose the Carling Cup final due to atrocious defensive communication between Koscielny and Szczesny, and from there, everything collapsed.
Arsenal picked up only two more league wins all season long, falling from second to fourth behind Chelsea and Manchester City. They were beaten in the FA Cup by Manchester United, and didn't even put up a fight versus Barcelona in the second leg at the Camp Nou, neither before nor after RVP's controversial sending off.
Quite honestly, from March to May, Arsenal looked like a team in shambles, a shadow of the team that was clicking so well and looked to finally have overcame its label as nothing more than a training ground for promising youth.
With competition getting ever tighter and harder in the Premier League, Wenger will have to be on the ball this coming season to make sure Arsenal can once again become the title contenders they were prior to February, or at the very least, that they don't get replaced in the top four by Tottenham or Liverpool. The following are the five things he'll need to work on this offseason to make this happen.
Sort Out the Left Back Position
For whatever reason, it seems that Clichy no longer wants Arsenal, and Arsenal no longer want Clichy. Both sides have good reasons for their feelings; Clichy has been a starter at Arsenal now for five seasons, and in those five seasons, Arsenal have won absolutely nothing. With Fabregas, he is the longest serving member of the current Arsenal team, and just like Fabregas, his patience has run out and he wants to join a team capable of more capable of winning trophies than simply challenging for them.
On Arsenal's side of things, they've seen Clichy regress season after season from being one of the world's best left backs to one who's prone to making silly and stupid mistakes. Last season, a few cracks began to appear in his game, and this season, many more mistakes were made.
In my opinion, Clichy is still a very capable defender, and interest from Roma, Liverpool, and at one point Bayern Munich and Inter Milan indicates that many people and teams still agree with me. Thus, I think, given that Arsenal have much bigger problems to deal with on the pitch and that left back wasn't really a weak spot, Clichy should be asked to stay and tied down with a new contract.
If Wenger and Arsenal disagree with me, however, it's understandable, but they need to handle the situation properly. Firstly, a defender like Clichy heading into his physical prime should not be sold for the 5.5 mil euros being mentioned on websites like ESPN and goal.com. If he's going to be sold, he should be going for at least 10 mil, as he really is one of the best if not the best option on the transfer market in his position this summer.
Secondly, if Clichy gets sold, then it needs to be Gibbs that takes over his spot, not Enrique. Aside from the fact that I have no confidence in Enrique's abilities after watching him get lit up on no less than three occasions in this demolition of Newcastle United, it would be a complete failure on the part of Wenger and his policy to have put in so much work with Gibbs just to buy another defender to play the position he's been getting groomed for for years now. Usually I'm not a fan of Wenger's youth policy, but if he avoided it the one time when it should be implemented, it would be a big mistake.
Sign a Strong, Powerful Center Back to Partner Vermaelen/Djourou
Center Back was undoubtedly Arsenal's biggest weak spot last season. Some may say it was the lack of reliable strikers available to Arsenal throughout the season that was the issue, and to an extent, I agree that it was a big factor, but it cannot be doubted Arsenal struggled supremely on the defensive end without their defensive leader, Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian defender was amazing two years ago, but last season was hurt early with an Achilles injury and due to repeated injury setbacks was not able to recover until the end of the season.
Without Vermaelen, Koscielny was forced to step up and shoulder alot more responsability on the defensive end, and although he seemed up to the task at first, he quickly proved that he needed a strong partner like Djourou to succeed and that he still had alot of developing to do.
Thus, Arsenal go into this offseason with one very promising defender in Djourou, who finally proved to Wenger this season that he can start and succeed for Arsenal after spending six seasons on the Arsenal bench (+1 on loan at Birmingham City), one developing CB in Koscielny and one recovering CB in Vermaelen.
Squillaci is also available, but given how awful his partnership with Koscielny was whenever they played alongside each other and just in general how bad his form was towards the end of the year, Squillaci should not be viewed as anything more than emergency cover for Arsenal's center backs should they, Arsenal, get hit with a big injury crisis, and maybe as a cup game starter. That is if he isn't sold.
As such, Arsenal need one more big, strong, reliable defender to really consolidate their defense. Yes, theoretically if Vermaelen returns as the Vermaelen of 2009-10, and Djourou keeps playing at the level he played at last season, a new center back won't be needed, but Vermaelen has shown himself to be injury-prone, and it isn't known yet whether Djourou and Vermaelen are compatible with each other defensively.
To play it safe, improve defensively and not falter considerably should one of their starting CBs get injured, Arsenal need another strong CB who's ready to start for Arsenal or one who can slot into the Arsenal defense when injuries hit without the defense losing a step. Currently, Arsenal are linked with multiple such defenders: Any one of Gary Cahill, Jan Vertonghen, Mamadou Sakho, or Christopher Samba would give Arsenal's defense just what it needs to finally stand strong and firm against tough opposition.
Rotate His Strikers to Avoid Fatigue and Burn Out
Despite what people think, Arsenal actually have a squad with a good number of capable strikers. Going into 2010-2011, Arsenal's squad had Van Persie, Chamakh, Bendtner, Vela, Walcott and Arshavin as players who could play up front and score. Yet, for different reasons, none of them were able to truly shine this season under Wenger.
Now don't get me wrong; there are alot of improvements to be made the aforementioned crop going into next season. I for one cannot wait to see Bendtner and his attitude finally leave Arsenal; Arsene was truly patient with him but he simply never delivered at the level need from an Arsenal striker.
Also, Arsene needs to decide if he plans on ever giving Vela a chance to prove himself. The kid is a pretty consistent starter for Mexico, and can play up front or on the wings. I suppose Wenger doesn't actually need to do anything if Vela hasn't complained about playing time or asked for a transfer, but if he does, Wenger will need to decide if he sees a future for Vela as an Arsenal player, or if he's just another youth player who coudn't reach the level needed to start for Arsenal.
However, aside from the individual issues that Wenger has to deal with in each of his strikers, he needs to learn how to rotate his strikers as well.
One of the biggest reasons for Arsenal's failure to win and last out the whole season last season can be found in Chamakh. The striker signed from Bordeaux last summer had a dream start to his career at Emirates, finding himself with plenty of game time due to RVP's usual injuries, and was scoring at a very efficient rate. By the end of November, he'd already bagged 10 goals in less than 20 games.
Yet, rather than playing too little, which is usually the complaint from strikers, Chamakh was playing too much. He was starting league games on the weekends, and then starting Champions League games during the middle of the week as well, and not just once or twice, but on a regular basis. By December, it finally caught up to him, and led Chamakh to claim that "by the start of January I felt that I had completely lost my edge."
Meanwhile, players like Bendtner, Vela and Arshavin, certainly not as good as Chamakh but good enough to give him a rest and get the job done, sat frustated on the bench, without a chance to prove themselves. The end result was that Chamakh was never able to recapture his early season form, and scored only once more all season long, in a 5-0 rout of League One team Leyton Orient.
With Gervinho now signed and Arshavin looking likely to stay, and RVP finally looking fit and ready to play (don't quote me on that one though), Wenger has no excuses going into next season. It's okay to prefer certain strikers over others and give them more playing time than the rest, but it's not okay to overplay them and burn them out, and hopefully Wenger will have learned this lesson going forward.
Get the Best Out of His Wingers
In Arshavin and Walcott, Arsenal have two wingers who on their day can be rated among the best in the world, but off form are nothing more than a detriment to the team. If Arsenal wish to succeed, Wenger will need to figure out how to raise the confidence of both of these players and get them to perform for Arsenal on a consistent basis.
Before you guys start crying out that Arshavin's old, that we don't need him and that he's on the way out, here's my response to you. First, yes, Arshavin is on the wrong side of 30, but the physical aspect of the game is what is usually affected by age, and Arshavin's speed is definitely still there, so at the very least he should still have one more season on top of his game before things go downhill.
Secondly, as one of our few players with experience and the mental toughness needed to win big games (the Barcelona game, the Liverpool game last year, etc), we definitely are still in need of his services. Lastly, he is almost surely staying at Arsenal, as he's already stated he wants to stay and that Wenger wants him to stay, and so we might as well utilize him as best we can if he's staying.
With Walcott, we have a winger who has actually improved significantly from where he was last year, but needs to stay fit and excel throughout a whole season, and not fade away in the crucial last three months like he did this past season.
Admittedly, there isn't much Arsene Wenger can really do directly here; his signing of Gervinho, a winger who can also play as a forward, similar to how Arshavin plays, will hopefully force Arshavin to get back in form, and with Walcott, the hope is that he continues his improvement and comes close to being the finished product next season.
Like with his strikers, however, it's important that Wenger doesn't complete shut out any one of these wingers, and that even if Gervinho and Walcott do end up starting and excelling for Arsenal, that Arshavin still gets games and gets a chance to contribute, while giving the other guys a chance to rest as well.
Keep Either Nasri or Fabregas
Many Arsenal fans will tell you that over the last season, Nasri and Fabregas were Arsenal's best two players, with maybe RVP getting in the mix after his good end of the season form. So it might come as a bit of a shock that I'm saying that Arsenal don't need to hold onto both of them to succeed next year.
But honestly, I don't think Arsenal will be able to hold onto both of them this summer, and I don't think they necessarily need to. With Gervinho close to signing, Arsenal have already have three strong wingers competing for the wing spots in Walcott, Gervinho and Arshavin, and in the middle of the park, Arsenal already have their three starters in Song, Wilshere and Fabregas, plus decent backup in Diaby and Ramsey, as well as Rosicky and returning youth products like Lansbury, Coquelin, etc. The squad is deep enough and talented enough to cope and succeed if Nasri decides to leave for more money.
That isn't to say that Nasri wouldn't start and excel if he did stay; he probably would. But if he does decide to leave, the dropoff is unlikely to be too great on the wings and could have an effect similar to how Arsenal improved after Henry left, in that players who previously didn't see much of the ball would have get it more often and have more freedom to create.
If Fabregas left, it would probably leave a bigger hole than Nasri's departure would, but it would be a hole that Nasri could step into and make his own. Before coming to Arsenal, Nasri played primarily as a central attacking midfielder, and flourished internationally and for Marseille in this position.
Thus, there is little doubt that he could take over for Fabregas and make this position his own if Fabregas finally moved onto Barcelona. Whether he could play as well as Fabregas did in the middle of the park is a question that can't be answered right now, but certainly, the potential for success is there.
What absolutely cannot happen is for Arsenal to let both Nasri and Fabregas go; that would leave the club without their two best playmakers and almost surely guarantee their drop from the top four spots in the Premier League. Luckily, Wenger knows how to hold his ground in the transfer market and would surely never let this happen. As long as either Nasri or Fabregas remains at Arsenal, they can go into next season with renewed hope that they will finally end Arsenal's barren spell without silverware.
So what do you think? If Wenger follows through on these 5 tasks, do Arsenal have a shot at a decent finish in the league and a title? Are there any things that I haven't mentioned that you think Arsenal and Wenger need to address before the start of next season? Feel free to share your thoughts, criticisms, and ideas in the comments section; I look forward to reading them.