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The rumour mill is reaching top gear so before I enter summer hibernation, it’s time to outline my hopes for our transfer dealings.
There is an assumption that this will be the busiest close season at Arsenal for a decade and it will certainly be welcome if that is the case. We do not require a complete transfusion but there is certainly a need for some fresh blood and for players who have failed to rise above mediocrity to be shown the door.
There should be a word of caution attached to that expectation, though, as all of the big four seem in urgent need for new faces. We hardly ever get involved in bidding wars with our more profligate rivals, but that likelihood is even more remote since they are just as keen on reshaping their squads. Will that mean we are not able to secure players of the required quality?
Nonetheless, there are four Ps that I hope Wenger keeps at the forefront of his mind during the recruitment.
Barcelona’s victory in Saturday’s Champions League Final showed what can be achieved with the deliberate, ‘tiki taka’ possession football that they have perfected and that we attempt to imitate. But even taking that into account, and acknowledging Arsenal – or any team – will struggle to reach those heights, the need for us to add more power to our side is clear.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we just need extra individual strength but I mean we need more penetration and players comfortable playing sharper one-touch passing.
Which throws up the issue of Cesc Fabregas. It sometimes get overlooked just how much our team is built around Cesc but the 4-3-3 system was put in place to get the best out of our skipper, let him set the tempo of the game and put him areas of the pitch where he is most likely to create goals. When it works, it’s brilliant - when he, and his midfield colleagues, get the space and time they want there are few teams who can cope.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough to maintain a genuine attempt to win the league and we lack the ability to play a different style instead. Extra power would overcome that, regardless of whether he stays or goes.
Fabregas is our best player and selling your best player is not the most rational route to being successful. But selling him could open up the possibility of shifting to a more traditional 4-4-2, or muscular 4-3-3, which could help us in the long term.
Passion and pride
The lack of ‘leadership’ is regularly cited as one of our biggest downfalls. It is the hardest to overcome as well. How many Tony Adams and John Terry-like characters crop up? Well, once every decade judging by that criteria and even then they grow into the role and can’t just be parachuted into a side.
Much more feasible is finding players who display real passion and pride, if not directly towards Arsenal (at first, at least) then towards winning and keeping high professional standards.
Whenever our form has taken its now-annual turn for the worst, we have shown no ability to deal with it. We shrink and disappear into the shadows, scared of the fight. What we need is players who get fierce in the face of the bullies and the critics because they refuse to be associated with such spineless performances. Players who – to use a well-worn phrase – want to stand up and be counted, both within the squad or the wider world.
We do have a young squad but in recent years Wenger has brought in a series of players – Rosicky, Eduardo, Sagna, Arshavin, Vermaelen, Chamakh and Squillaci spring to mind – who were bought in what should have been their ‘peak’ years rather than as prospects for the future. None have made the difference in winning silverware.
They had all played at an elite European and international level but they have all lacked experience of the Premiership. That ‘won there, done that’ know-how would allow a signing to settle more quickly and add something to a side which needs to be able to grind results out.
Overall, Wenger needs to get ruthless and worry more about success than helping his squad members enjoy fulfilling careers. Letting Gael Clichy go would be a good start. Beyond his boundless energy, I’ve never understood what he brings to the team. His defending is questionable and he offers absolutely zero in attack. Showing that he hasn’t performed well enough to deserve the bigger contract he wants would demonstrate that Wenger has had enough of average.
He also needs to plan for the worst case scenario rather than the best. Adding more depth to the squad will allow us to cope with the inevitable injuries to Van Persie and a first-choice centre back rather than blindly hoping everyone will stay fit and keep their form for the entire season. And how about changes off the pitch too. Bringing someone like Patrick Vieira in as a player coach would make sense and, the day after Paul Scholes retired and took up a role with Man Utd’s reserves, remind us of how many Arsenal legends have been allowed to slip away from the club.
In all, we need to create a proper spine of a team. The champions of 1998 had an English core, the Invincibles had an African/French heartbeat. What does this team have? Choosing players with the four Ps would be a good way to work out an answer.