Arsenal: Gunned Down Already?
*Note: Please forgive any egregious mistakes or repetition in this article. It's been a hectic week for both this writer and the team he's presenting here.
Arsenal has been somewhat of an enigma recently, and this season is no exception. The past few years–the post Henry, Ljungberg, Vieira, and Pires era–was full of promise, but has featured little in the way of silverware.
Young players such as Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, and England’s new hero (see: Theo Walcott) have been burdened with heading up a team that lacks mature talent and leadership. Many of today’s first team is homegrown, and they’ve played a brand of football that features agility, speed, and midfield movement perhaps more than any other program in Europe–the art of “Wengerball”.
Unfortunately, championships are based on wins, not how pretty their football is on the pitch. While in the huge majority of matches Arsenal may vastly own possession, they still fail to create quality chances that originate in the midfield and conclude with goals.
A 6-3-2 record after eleven games is typically nothing to pout at. But this is Arsenal, a perennial contender and a team that Le Boss promised would succeed in both England and Europe despite the systematic dismantling of the so-called ‘Invincibles’ since 2004. Losses to Fulham, Hull (who looks terrifyingly legit at this point), and (gasp!) Stoke City so far have shown that we absolutely lack the ability and strength to contend with the likes of Manure, Chelski, and ‘Pool.
But why is this?
Well, so far, Walcott, Adebayor, and Robin van Persie have been the stars of the team. Walcott is maturing before our eyes, this season alone turning from a young speedster into a legitimate goal-scoring threat. He’s managed to create plentiful opportunities for the strikers, most of them on the wing, and has begun to push around opposing defenses to open up holes for our runners.
In Adebayor, we’ve seen plenty of team play, some impressive finishing, and a lot less of the drama featured last season. RVP has come to form after a frustrating 07/08 campaign in which he was sidelined for much of the season–he’ll continue to succeed if he can stay healthy this year.
Beyond these three, we’ve seen flashes of brilliance, but nothing exceptionally reliable from the likes of the hopeful Bendtner, newcomer Samir Nasri, or right back Gaël Clichy.
You’ll notice I’ve not mentioned Wenger’s Spanish protege, midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Without hesitation, I’ll claim that Cesc has been a ghost this season relative to the past. While he still manages to create occasional opportunities, he has certainly struggled with the departures of defensive midfielder Mathieu Flamini and attacking midfielder Alexander Hleb.
Without these two on the pitch, Arsenal’s midfield remains quick but lacks the experience and sheer talent to stop strong offenses and respond productively. The young Spaniard has suffered as a result, and remains slow to regain the dangerous form he possessed last season.One can only hope that if Arsenal continues to dodge silverware that he doesn’t jump ship for Barcelona or Milan.
The team has loads of potential, but Wenger has put far too much stock in the strengths of youth. The club lacks dynamism, creativity, and individual presence that has overpowered the opposition in the past. If this team is to contend for the Premiership this season (or next, for that matter), he’ll need to bring in established, veteran talent to help build the backbone of a talented but inexperienced side.
Questions in confidence, fitness, and the overall team structure–particularly the weaknesses in the back four–still remain issues that Wenger has yet to address appropriately. If only he'd broaden Arsenal’s style, which has gradually faded from the world’s most beautiful football into little more than a distinct style of disappointment and failure, he’d save the fans plenty of heartache.
On the positive side, we’ve been doing undeservedly well in Europe, leading our Champions’ League group by a comfortable margin, though we’ll see how things fare after the group stage.
That being said, this section is intentionally being left brief, and I’ll maintain that Arsenal should be performing at a considerably higher level with the resources they command.
Likewise, I’m avoiding mention of the most recent North London Derby. The results are too infuriating to write about, besides the game justifying the team's play as immature, arrogant, and leaderless. Wenger, if you’re listening: for God’s sake spend some of the £30M that the board claims is available.
Arsenal needs a spark, and soon.
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