How to put an end to six years of hurt.
Tamir Cohen hammered in the final nail that many Arsenal fans feared was coming.
Even the most ardent supporter cannot maintain belief that the title race is still there for the Gunners. That makes it six years since Arsene Wenger brought a trophy back to North London, a run which Cesc Fabregas rightly states would have him long gone in most European leagues.
The situation now arises where the Frenchman must take some serious considerations over what he is to do with his team, to end this barren stretch. For all the good that Wenger has brought to Arsenal, could he have run his course?
Not since Patrick Vieira dispatched his penalty past Roy Carroll at the Millennium Stadium in May 2005, have Arsenal tasted silverware. They came very close in 2006, losing to a late Juliano Belletti goal in the Champions League final, but over the past few seasons, the gap in between the top 3 or 4 teams has been closing
Rivals Tottenham’s forays into Champions League football have put extra pressure on Arsenal to succeed. Savvy purchases like Rafael van der Vaart and William Gallas have helped accelerate Spurs’ development into a competitive European side.
Also, with the sizeable investment taking place at Eastlands, Manchester City have developed a squad that is arguably at least on a par with Arsenal’s at this time. Their determination for Champions League football, and eventually the domestic title, poses another threat to the Emirates’ side. Not to mention Liverpool’s recent resurgence.
The question that faces Wenger now is how much he will invest in his squad, or how much money the new owner Stan Kroenke will provide. The former Monaco boss has prided himself on nurturing younger players into first team stars, evidenced by the emergence of Jack Wilshere, an England hero for the future.
But with the Gunners bereft of a trophy for so long, should Wenger consider breaking with this tradition and do the utmost to turn Arsenal into winners now?
‘Top Flight Pedigree’
Arsenal are as good as any going forward. They didn’t earn the moniker ‘Barcelona-Lite’ for no reason. It is defensively where the team has had struggles.
Between the sticks, the Gunners have been going spare of the inconsistencies of their stoppers. Almunia, Fabianski and Mannone are not solutions to the problem, and will no doubt be shipped out sooner rather than later. Wojciech Szczesny shows promise for an inexperienced keeper, and if Wenger can bring in a ‘keeper with significant top flight pedigree to tutor the Polish international for a couple of seasons, he may have his long-term answer in goal. Shay Given is one candidate that jumps immediately out, as he is desperate to get back into first-team football, and is undoubtedly one of the best ‘keepers of his generation.
Centre-back is another glaring hole. Wenger has swung and missed on Koscielny and Squillaci, both frustratingly inconsistent and error-prone. Undoubtedly Thomas Vermaelen has been missed, and Johan Djourou looks to be developing into a decent alternative. But a dominant defender like Chris Samba, one who is well-versed with Premier League football, with provide a physical presence and much-needed injection of leadership at the back.
A combative midfielder is also a need at the Emirates. For all Arsenal’s attacking flair, they require a midfielder who is content to sit back, put his foot in, and break up the opposition’s play. A Claude Makelele-type figure for instance. Should East Londoners West Ham perish down the Premier League trap door, Wenger would be wise to enquire about the services of a certain Scott Parker. The former Charlton midfielder would need to be playing top flight football to maintain his England place, and he has almost single-handedly kept West Ham competitive in the relegation fight. His tenacity and energy in midfield would be coveted by many an Arsenal fan.
The final issue surrounds their talismanic captain, and how long he can remain happy when he is not winning trophies.
There seems to be endless overtures from his home-town club Barcelona to return to the Nou Camp, and Fabregas would undoubtedly be tempted if this trophy-less run goes on. Arsenal could cash in on the midfielder, but the repercussions of his departure would outweigh the financial gain they would make.
Jack Wilshere is still progressing, and Aaron Ramsey has not yet developed into the top class player he can be. Samir Nasri plays better further forward, so for Arsenal to lose Fabregas would be a catastrophic blow.
He is the spark of creativity in the Gunners’ midfield engine room, and is every bit the talismanic midfielder that every top club needs to have. Despite being just 23, he has played over 200 games for the club and is by far and away the club’s best player.
Arsenal fans will hope they never see the day number 4 walks out of the Emirates for the last time.