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Can Wenger Turn Arsenal’s Underachievers Into Unbeatables?

Football FanCast’s Gary Stephens is wondering whether Wenger can replicate Alex Ferguson’s legacy by creating a second successful team.

This week Arsene Wenger spoke of the reasons why Arsenal have failed to mount a serious title challenge. Arsenal have not shown the quality or consistency needed to seriously challenge Chelsea and now Manchester United, since the 49-game unbeaten champions of 2004 (‘the untouchables’). Speaking after the Chelsea game, Wenger cited two reasons for his side’s inability to challenge for the Premiership title this season. Firstly the team’s lack of experience and resulting lack of concentration, which has seen the gunners fall behind in so many games this year. Interestingly, Wenger then reiterated his belief that moving from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium has played a major role in this season’s demise. He claimed the team do not get the ball wide early enough in attacking situations. However he reassured fans that Arsenal have almost fully adapted to their new home and the different style of patient football needed on the bigger surface. His expectations for next season are that Arsenal will be ready to mount a serious title challenge, turning The Emirates into the fortress Highbury was for ‘the untouchables’.

Sounds rosy doesn’t it??? I for one am not convinced. The problems with the current squad run deeper than this. When compared to ‘the untouchables’, this current batch of players fall woefully short in almost every department.

Let’s break down the squad:

Defence

Arsenals current defence has one major problem. They still lack a dominating centre back. Whilst Toure and Gallas are both terrific athletes and more than capable of stifling even the most mobile of centre forwards, they are simply not physically dominant. In reserve, Djorrou is promising just not established, whilst unfortunately Senderos does nothing to dispel my fear he is a Stepanovs waiting to happen.It has been pointed out time and again that Arsenal cannot deal with the ugly forwards like Drogba and Kevin Davies. Simply, Wenger has not been able to replace the aerial dominance and shear determination of Martin Keown and Sol Campbell. Martin Keown was widely berated for his lunge at Van Horseface at Old Trafford after his penalty miss. However that Arsenal team left with a nil, nil draw that spear-headed a title challenge. That ‘win at all costs’ attitude; present in many of that team has not been entirely replaced in the current one. In the full back positions, Clichy goes from strength to strength, proving a worthy replacement of Wayne Bridge’s understudy. Eboue is prone to lapses in concentration and the odd theatrics but is also improving. The two of them provide important width and are so dynamic they often look like the teams most likely route to a goal, especially at the Emirates.

Midfield

Wenger’s belief that Arsenal do not get the ball wide enough, early in a move, can be attributed to one reason. Not the size of the Emirates pitch, but the fact that Arsenal have no one who can play wide!! Wenger has attempted to convert both Hleb and Rosciky into wide players. Whilst they are undoubtedly talented the flamboyant wing play of Pires, Ljungberg, Reyes and occasionally even Parlour is a million miles from the current state of affairs. Hleb consistently flatters to deceive and comes in off the touchline. Walcott is learning his trade, however exciting a prospect he is. Rosicky has given suggestions he may fill the scoring boots vacated by Pires but has been hampered by injury. Freddie is another who has been affected by injury and looks nothing like the dynamic goal scorer of old. In Gilberto, the genius of Cesc, the emerging talent of Denilson and the excellent Diaby; the centre of midfield compares favourably. I still can’t help feeling that the physical presence of Vieira, Gilberto and Edu has not been fully regained. However at last in Diaby we have a midfielder who doesn’t shirk a tackle.

Attack

Individually the players compare favourably. Van Persie is an immense talent. I cannot wait to see a fully fit Henry playing along side him upfront. Adebayor has proved what a menace he can be, if only his finishing was a little more consistent. Walcott has obvious potential, which I fail to believe Wenger cannot nurture and the promising Nicklas Bendtner should give us further variety. As long as the Reyes deal entails Arsenal getting rid of the utterly useless Baptista and getting a decent fee for Reyes; then the forward line should be healthy next year.

Am I the only person who feels that either something was lost in the translation of ‘the beast’; or that the same fan who nicknamed Kevin Campbell ‘the rotwiller’ has Andalusian roots?

The main problems in attack stem from the break up of the left side that destroyed so many teams. Henry, Pires and Cole were an awesome proposition and the current crop will need time to build up this level of understanding. In essence, too much football is played in front of opposing defences and the team lack the ability to get ‘in behind’ teams.

The future

Despite the main thrust of this article appearing to suggest that major upheaval is needed. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Joey Barton strategy to ‘act now and ask questions later’ would be disastrous. Wenger does not have the finances or the desire to break the trust of his team by bringing in experienced ‘big name’ players, to aid the short-term. There is a wealth of talent at the club, just the balance is wrong. He will attempt to address this but it may not be as radical as some supporters would like. Arsenal desperately need a central defender and a winger with the capability of getting behind a defence. I know that and I’m convinced Arsene knows that! However and most importantly, Wenger is trusted and respected by everyone at the club. He has taken the club so far in his term of office and now the foundations are in place, to finally challenge the ‘super powers’. His ability to spot and develop talent continues to delight all supporters of Arsenal and good football.Arsenal supporters just have to accept that in the next few seasons the ultimate prizes may escape us. Football is played too much in the short-term these days. As long as Wenger is in charge, the long-term health of this great club is assured. It may well be this success does not come to fruition until a post-Henry era.

However it will come….it has to…..doesn’t it??

In Arsene we trust!!!