It should never have reached this stage - that is if you are an Arsenal fan - as Arsenal must now win their final match of the season away to West Bromwich Albion to finish third and gain the automatic Champions League spot for next season. Anything other than a win will not be good enough unless other teams (Tottenham Hotspurs and Newcastle) around them also slip up. However, the honest truth is that I am not surprised, when over two months, I wrote after Arsenal’s come from behind victory over Tottenham 5-2, that one victory does not make a season or change the fact, that this team under long serving manager Arsene Wenger is both mentally weak and technically insufficient, to finish better than third at best or sixth, seventh at worst. Thereafter that match, Arsenal went on a seven-match winning stretch that gave false hope to many and also sadly, released some of the pressure on Wenger. Arsenal edged home luckily against Liverpool 2-1 and even found time to lead AC Milan 3-0 after 45 minutes in the second leg Champions League encounter, when Wenger changed all the rules and played an all out attacking game, however, just as I expected unfortunately, they ran out of steam and ideas, and lacked the experience and mental toughness to get that all important fourth goal, that would have pushed the match into overtime. From that moment on, I knew that this team was in need of help and while their resolute play with the return from injury of both Barcary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs has to be noted, Arsenal are simply short of manpower. Too many of the team are injury prone and look as if they are waiting by the medical staff for their next injury. Abou Diaby is the major case in point and renewing his contract must be honestly questioned, Arsenal has had to carry this French international for the last two seasons with inadequate returns.
Potentially influential midfielder Jack Wilshire’s season long injury certainly has not helped an Arsenal team weak on midfield talent and at times inspiration. For the last two months, we have been told he was going to play as he wanted to be part of both England’s – European Championships – team and also Great Britain’s Olympic squad. My hope, though, is that despite the success of the team during that period which also witnessed hard fought victories against Newcastle and Everton, persons in the Arsenal hierarchy, particularly those closest to Wenger do not begin to believe that it was injuries and bad luck which led to this situation, for it is not. It simply was that the players could not remain focused long enough in certain critical times of the season, which I believe is due to the fragility in their minds and clearly in their bodies. The defeat to Queens Park Ranger, sandwiched by victory over Manchester City, allowed people to forget – Arsenal – is not yet ready to compete an entire season. Let us all be honest, if it was not for the 39 goals that captain Robin Van Persie has scored this season, Arsenal would be struggling. And while it is certain, that Wenger and his scouts in the last two years have failed in securing a quality striker, even though over 20 million pounds has been spent, that alone is not the only area that needs immediate attention. In 2011, Maroune Chamakh, started the season well and then fell off with many blaming fatigue for that, this season he has looked both hopeless and hapless. His replacement, Gervinho, has not been any better, from the first match of the season, when he was sent off against Newcastle for slapping Joey Barton, his football has been more pretentious that rewarding. The news that German international Lukas Podolski is on his way, can only be good, because this season Van Persie was under too much pressure. There were matches when Van Persie was not only asked to score goals, but take free kicks and also corners. If you add the pressure of captaincy and taking penalties to that, then all Arsenal fans and Wenger owe this man a whole heap of thanks and a major new inflated contract soon. If Van Persie is allowed to leave, this will be a bigger blow to the club’s future than the departures of both Samir Nasir and Cesc Fabregas. So whatever it takes, it must be done to retain Arsenal’s best player.
On the topic of forwards, Theo Walcott can only be described as an enigma, and this is a situation that instead of getting better is getting worse. He has some absolutely poor games where he does not seem to want the ball or if he does, loses focus and is afraid to run past players and shoot. To me, and this is the part, where Wenger’s inspirational qualities are being questioned, Walcott is not motivated enough to be confident in his own game, apart from the Tottenham game, where he scored two goals in the second half, after a goat-like performance in the first, Walcott needs to remain with the Arsenal team and regain his confidence, rather than play for England in the European Championships. If you add his continual fitness problems, particularly hamstring and ankle ailments, for a young man, he has to do some serious strength and conditioning work. This area of concern for Arsenal also applies to several other players on the squad but noticeably not to Alex Song and Mikel Arteta , before his season ending injury. Both Song with his fighting spirit and accurate passing and Arteta with his drive, persistence and goal scoring shooting have been the other positives from an overall dismal season for a highly rated club like Arsenal. Yes it may be an improvement on the awful start; they had which was created by the procrastinated decisions to finally release both Fabregas and Nasir which led to desperate last hour shopping.
In general, the shopping was not as effective as it could have been apart from Arteta and to a lesser degree the under rated and underutilized Yossi Benayoun. Why…Oh Why, did Wenger persist with an out of sorts Andrei Arshavin when Benayoun was clearly the better choice only an aging Wenger can reveal? It is in defense though where Arsenal has their greatest concerns and come 2012/2013, if they are to compete at the highest level, something has to be done with a total revamping of the defensive line a necessity.
Wenger needs some strength and solidity in defense, it is a pity that he allowed Chris Samba to get away and go elsewhere. He needs to look for a tried and tested Premier League defender, Phil Jagielka from Everton is a good bet, but overall he needs experience in his defense. I have intentionally left two players for last , both important to Arsenal’s future, one is Tomas Rosicky , who seems to have found a new lease on life but clearly needs to work on his fitness. At his best for just about ten matches, he looked classy, and the other is youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who seems to have a lot of potential and needs to be encouraged because he can be better than Walcott in the near future. As it stands Totteham on paper have the easiest match, a home game against Fulham, while Newcastle is away to Everton. Let us not forget Chelsea, because if they win their remaining two matches, they could challenge for both third and fourth place. Arsenal need to change and Wenger as well, it is time to strengthen his team defensively and for him to place more experience on the field; after a while, people can become stale in a job and Wenger appears to be heading in that direction unless he is careful. The average age of the Arsenal team without Arteta and Mertsacker because of injury is 23 years…perhaps herein lines the real problem, youth alone will win no trophies. The question is will Richard Smith, JW, Nicholas McDonald and myself get a reason in the near future to smile again about Arsenal football.