With the New Year just around the corner, transfer speculation is at its peak. Whilst Arséne Wenger is remaining mysterious about potential movement involving Arsenal, a great many bloggers and reporters with some sort of 'higher knowledge' are apparently very clued up on what the near future holds.
In reality, speculation is all it is, even from those on message-boards and forums swearing that they just saw so-and-so arrive at Manchester airport, or those adamant that their second cousin playing in League One has completed a medical with a Premier League club.
So with the rumour mill gearing up for another furious spinning cycle, is there actually any point whatsoever in discussing possible moves? 'Talk' probably has very little impact on the transfer market, except perhaps to unsettle otherwise oblivious players and force protective managers to take preventative measures.
However, it can't hurt to dream, which is why last week I wrote about which players I would like to see arrive at Arsenal this January, in order to strengthen their fight for a top four finish (which some people still seem to think is a given, despite their worst start to a season under Wenger).
What I didn't mention at the time was, that with a club like Arsenal in particular, transfers are not as simple as bringing in as many new players as you can to add depth to a squad. The other important factor is being able to offload the current ineffective squad members in order to free up space in the wage structure as well as helping to finance potential moves. It is for this reason that I believe it is just as important that Arsenal sell their under-performers as it is that they obtain reinforcements. Even if the transfer window were to pass with more players sold than acquired, this would in fact bode well for the summer, when Arsenal would have higher wages available to offer, on top of the allegedly enlarged transfer kitty.
Of course Arsenal have had no problem in selling some of their most important players in recent seasons, but for some reason, others have been somewhat harder to shift.
Oh alright then. We know the reasons. Arsenal currently have several players who are not of top four calibre (although admittedly most they did not exactly break the bank to sign) who are failing to meaningfully contribute to the team whilst still picking up their enormous payslips every week. Wenger is characteristically too stubborn to admit this until it is absolutely certain and the club would lose money (heaven forbid) if the players were allowed to leave having not been worth the money or gaining a profit for the club. Not that these players would leave, even if Arsenal did accept offers. Their current position of being paid some of the highest wages in England to sit on the bench is apparently preferable to playing regularly for less money in the modern game.
Whilst there will always be debate amongst backroom staff, journalists, pundits and fans over which players are deemed good enough for their club and which they would like to move on, in Arsenal's case more than any club I can think of, fans and commentators are almost unanimous in their belief that there are too many players in the squad who are not worthy of their wages. This January would be a great time to get the ball rolling.
Arsenal's highest-paid player, one Andrei Arshavin, was a revelation in his first season, but has been a disappointment since. Reading are reportedly interested, but Arshavin is likely to snub the offer of inferior wages. Unless a club from abroad is prepared to pay his demands, he will most likely leave on a free when his contract expires in the summer... at a loss of £15 million.
Not far behind the Arsh in wages comes Gervinho, another relative disppointment, but one that Wenger will want to give more time to show his worth, and he will probably remain at the club. Next is Marouane Chamakh, who may leave to West Ham, thankfully not at a loss, as he arrived on a free, but still having guzzled a large proportion of the wage budget.
It is not just in attack that the squad needs pruning though. Andre Santos, Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci are all taking home high wages and none have put in a half-decent performance all season. Any of these three could move abroad in January, though only if reinforcements were acquired as well. Nicklas Bendtner and Denilson are on loan this season and hopefully these will turn into permanent moves.
Although it is highly unlikely that all these players would be shifted next month, Arsenal would do well to start the changeover process in order to free up space for potential new signings in January or the summer.
All it takes is for Wenger to hold up his hands and admit 'I was wrong about signing [insert any of the names listed above].' That could feasibly happen? Couldn't it?
Wednesday, 19 December 2012
"I think they should find some money somewhere and get some top players in and just go for it."
This week, ex-Arsenal defender Sol Campbell advised his former club to spend money on players in the coming month’s transfer window. Normally, I do not bother too much with transfer speculation, as more often than not, it turns out to be hot air. However, I have to agree with Campbell that it is crucial that this January does not pass by without Arsenal strengthening their current team.
Arsenal Football Club is possibly the most talked-about club in England at the moment. There has been heated debate over the manager, the board and the players. One of the few things that almost everyone agrees upon, however, is that Arsène Wenger must buy in the January transfer window.
Mondaynight’s 5-2 victory over second-from-bottom Reading and Arsenal’s subsequent rise to a season-high (!) fifth place in the table has gone some way towards appeasing the fans, but last week’s League Cup defeat to Bradford and the current fifteen-point gap between Arsenal and Manchester United are proof that Arsenal have just not been good enough this season. There have been more than a few things lacking from recent performances, and although some are calling for changes to be made off the pitch, football is first and foremost about the players. The current Arsenal squad is one of the weakest during Wenger’s tenure, and with an apparent £20 million available for January spending, it is important that the club gets it right next month.
As I have stressed before, Arsenal are currently a team with plenty of attacking talent, but without a proven goalscorer of the quality of Denis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry or he-who-I-mention-too-much-in-this-blog. The trio of summer signings: Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have scored twenty-two goals between them in all competitions this season, and they are constantly improving. Arsenal have only scored two less goals than Manchester City in the league, but twelve less than United (the same number that their new signing currently has to his name). Breaking the deadlock seems to be a key problem, with Arsenal’s failure to score in five out of seventeen games the joint most in the league. Therefore while the goalscoring situation is not quite as drastic as I predicted at the start of the season, a new striker would be far from surplus to requirements. Demba Ba and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar seem to have been singled out by the speculators as the front-runners. Both are proven goalscorers at a high level, and both could be available for around £7.5 million. Stephan El Shaaraway’s name has been thrown around of late but his £25 million price-tag could prove a stumbling block.
No, I am not going to suggest Thierry Henry.
In my opinion though, Arsenal are as much in need of a defensive boost as they are of some clinical attacking. Despite a good start to the season, individual mistakes and injuries have caused a loss of confidence at the back. After keeping clean sheets in all of their first three games this season, Arsenal have only managed three more in the subsequent twenty-three matches. It is worth pointing out, however, that this total of six clean sheets is still the joint second most in the league. Arsenal’s defence has lacked composure and seems to switch off once the team has scored a couple of goals, as they did on Monday. Though they have conceded the fourth fewest goals in the league, Arsenal are also one of only four teams in the league to score three goals in a game and fail to win. FC Basel’s Aleksander Dragovic has been mentioned, and he would be a reasonably cheap option. However, it seems to me that what Arsenal need at the back more than anything is Premier League experience. Arsenal’s average team age has been higher in 2012 than in years gone by, but Kieran Gibbs only stepped up to first choice left-back last season. Per Mertesacker also has just the one Premier League season under his belt and rumour has it that our most experienced defender, Bacary Sagna may not remain at the club much longer (I very much hope that this is just hot air).
Fulham’s Brede Hangeland has been linked with Arsenal for a while but his manager expects him to sign a new contract soon. Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross has looked very impressive again this season, but the style of football he is accustomed to at Stoke is very different to Arsenal’s, as has caused Wenger much frustration when playing them over the years. It also seems unlikely that the club would be enthusiastic about signing the player who broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg. Wenger has also long been an admirer of Phil Jagielka at Everton, though with an asking price upwards of £16 million, and with Everton enjoying their best start to a season in years, this is also an ambitious option.
No, I am not going to suggest Sol Campbell.
In my eyes, the obvious choice is Joleon Lescott. With eight seasons spent playing at the top level as well as twenty-two England caps, Lescott is an experienced and confident professional. He was an important part of the title-winning Manchester City team last year, playing thirty-three games and chipping in with two goals. At the age of thirty, he can continue at the top level at least for the next couple of seasons, and having fallen down the ranks at City this year, would presumably be available at a much more reasonable price than the £24 million that took him away from Everton in 2010.
Midfield has been Arsenal’s strongest position this season, the trio of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Cazorla has worked well together of late, and we will receive a further boost when Diaby returns from injury. The only reason that the club may need to strengthen this department would be if Theo Walcott were to leave. The Walcott situation is a tricky one. He is an important player for Arsenal, but he is not (yet, at least) seen in the same league as Cesc Fàbregas or even Samir Nasri at his Arsenal peak. If he were younger or perhaps older, had won something with the club, or expected to in the near future, he would probably take the money that Arsenal are putting on the table. As it is, he is a player approaching his best years of football. He has had his best start to a season to date, and as such feels he is worthy of a higher salary. If he leaves, it would most likely be to another English team. If he went to Liverpool, it would only be for the money, as they are likely to finish lower than Arsenal again this season. Though Manchester United are interested, I cannot see how such a move would be beneficial for either party. United have strong enough options in that position and would presumably not be willing to pay that much more than Arsenal would for a player who is still just falling short of his potential. Perhaps the most likely move would be to Chelsea, a club to whom an astronomical wage bill is of little concern. He would be unlikely to hold down a starting position there though, and (although I am biased) I honestly cannot see him doing better from a football perspective at any other club than Arsenal. Unfortunately history is against Arsenal, with an overwhelming number of the club’s top performers of late jumping ship to their rivals as soon as they hit their best form. The point is that if Walcott does go, Wenger needs to have a suitable replacement lined up straightaway.
Saturday, 15 December 2012
Becoming top scorer in the English Premier League provides entry into an elite club of international superstars such as Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba and Ruud van Nistelrooy, joining other legends of English football Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Nine games into the 2012/2013 season, I conducted an analysis on Arsenal’s shooting (mis)fortunes so far. This revealed that had Arsenal not sold last year’s top scorer in the league, and had he scored one goal in each of four key games so far, the team would sit at the top of the table at that point. Robin van Persie’s goals last season (2.85% of all Premier League goals) were a lifeline for Arsenal and may just be the difference between the two Manchester teams this time around.
Van Persie is already looking like he has the potential to become the third player to retain the Golden Boot, after Shearer and Henry, and one of only five to have won it more than once, alongside Hasselbaink and Didier Drogba. He also has the chance of becoming only the second player to win it with two different clubs after Hasselbaink.
The only player currently topping van Persie’s count for this season is Miguel Michu of Swansea, who currently has twelve goals after sixteen games. However, it has been twelve seasons since a player not from Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea has won the golden boot (Kevin Phillips of Sunderland back in 2000).
Worryingly for other title contenders, United now possess the two highest scorers in the league last year in van Persie and his new strike partner Wayne Rooney. Between them they totaled fifty-seven league goals last term (5.35% of all goals). Since van Persie’s arrival however, Rooney has assumed a deeper role on the field, allowing his (slightly) more prolific partner to go forward. This, coupled with injury has resulted in Rooney only scoring six goals so far in comparison to van Persie’s eleven. The golden boot is amongst the only accolades yet to elude Rooney, but few back him to claim it this season.
Manchester City’s strike force on paper at least is most likely to challenge van Persie for the top spot. Sergio Agüero was the third highest scorer last season and if he can recapture that form and stay fit, he may run van Persie close. After almost leaving City last season, Carlos Tévez is their most prolific striker so far this season, and the 2011 joint winner could again be in contention. Edin Džeko is just one league goal behind Tevez, but is unlikely to become top scorer from the substitute bench. The currently sulking Mario Balotelli is an outside bet for the award.
Emmanuel Adebayor, out of form and favour at Tottenham, would have to improve dramatically on his so far underwhelming season to be in contention again, as would last year’s top-scoring midfielder Clint Dempsey. Jermain Defoe on the other hand has looked sharp so far, and is perhaps the most likely of those outside Manchester to take the award.
Newcastle United’s strike force last year was crucial in their climb to fifth place. Papiss Cissé scored thirteen in fourteen games at the end of last season, but has managed just two in the same number of games this year. Demba Ba, who started last season well but was eclipsed by the arrival of Cissé, will most likely be Newcastle’s top scorer, but has yet to prove that he can remain consistent for a whole season.
Luis Suarez has found form at Liverpool, but is literally their only striker, and surely cannot maintain his solo efforts over a whole season. Fernando Torres is Chelsea’s best bet, but Rafa Benitez has his work cut out in trying to squeeze goals out of the underperforming centre forward. Arsenal remain without a natural goal-scorer, Theo Walcott looking like their most lethal threat this season, but he may leavein January, and as such has not held down a starting position.
Although we have not yet reached the midway point of the season, baring injury, van Persie seems the favourite to take home the golden boot for a second time, but does this have an actual bearing on the league table? In the past ten seasons, the top scorer’s team has failed to win the league on four occasions. In the ten before that, it was seven meaning that in just nine out of twenty seasons the team with the highest scorer has won the league.
Thus, history shows that a prolific goal-scorer does not always win you the title. Manchester United would have been much less likely to win in 2008 without the thirty-one goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, but Thierry Henry was top scorer in 2005 and 2006 and could not stop Chelsea claiming the top spot in either.
The statistics do suggest however, that having more than one player in the top ten league scorers vastly increases the likelihood of winning the league. Having proven goal-scorers amongst your ranks is a must for Premier League success. Out of the all time top one hundred Premier League goal-scorers, twenty-three are still playing in the top division. Four of these play for Manchester United, three for Tottenham, two for each of Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool. None play for Arsenal. Arsenal did not win the league last year because they over-relied on van Persie, and did not have enough strength or depth. His departure to United strengthens an attacking side that only narrowly missed out on the league last year, and already boast Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández, who chipped in with nine and ten goals respectively last season. Therefore, though van Persie could not make the difference at Arsenal, this year he could very well be the difference for United.
Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Saturday brought with it a collective sigh of relief from Arsenal fans, as the team reassumed their rightful place above Tottenham in the league table. If there’s one way to silence critics of our season so far, it’s reminding our favourite whipping boys who’s boss in North London. Whilst I’d love to gloat further, I have to acknowledge that the sending off of Emmanuel Adebayor with little more than fifteen minutes played made the game very one-sided. However it also gave the new boys Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla a chance to endear themselves to the home fans with goals in our most important fixture. I have previously railed against Arsenal’s lack of clinical finishing this season and putting five goals past a team like Spurs is a great confidence boost and message to the critics (myself included). Individual mistakes again though allowed us concede two goals, which, in another game, could have been vital. Hopefully getting our injured defenders back in action and not losing any more will bring the desired stability and consistency in the coming games.
The mood at the club then is more buoyant than two weeks previously, after the team’s limp display against Manchester United. The week after the defeat saw the renewal of Arsenal’s critics, commentators and supporters alike calling for the removal of Arsène Wenger as manager. Almost to a man, the Arsenal ‘faithful’ agreed that despite a vastly improved score-line, the feeling after this season’s visit to Old Trafford was somehow even worse than that of last season (it wasn’t). It is perhaps the most well known and most talked about fact in the Premier League that Arsenal are now into their eighth season without winning a trophy: by far their longest drought in the Wenger era. This is not a dry spell that you can imagine would be tolerated at Chelsea, Manchester City or even Tottenham or Liverpool.
Premier League managers today are chopped and changed faster than ever before, a fact we were reminded of just hours ago by Chelsea’s unjust removal of Roberto Di Matteo. Only three of the current Premier League managers have been in their jobs for over ten years: Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and David Moyes. It is no coincidence that the two longest-serving managers are also the most successful in Premier League history. Liverpool have employed six different managers during Wenger’s reign and none of them have won the Premier League. Chelsea have had twelve and have won it the same number of times as Arsenal. They have also been beneficiary to £1 billion of a certain Russian oligarch’s money. Manchester City have received a similar amount in half the time and won the title for the first time last season.
Wenger has recently been derided for claiming that Arsenal’s consistent qualificationfor the Champions League is a better indicator of success than winning a domestic cup. We have played in the competition every season for fifteen years, a record only bettered by one English club: Manchester United. Wenger has won manager of the year on three occasions. He has lead Arsenal to two double-winning campaigns and taken them to a Champions’ League final. Perhaps most importantly he has built Arsenal into one of the most financially stable football clubs in Europe (Manchester City’s latest figures reveal a record loss of £197 million in 2010-2011, compared to Arsenal’s £36.6 million profit). Wenger has always acknowledged the vast financial superiority that Manchester United has over the club. Since the takeovers of Chelsea and Manchester City, they too have been able to out-compete Arsenal financially.
The trophy drought is a constantly growing thorn in Arsenal’s side. However, I still believe that things are not as gloomy as most fans make out. For example, when viewed in comparison to Liverpool, the team who dominated English football in the seventies and eighties but are now into their twenty-second season without a title, Arsenal’s troubles are put into perspective.
The frustration felt by Arsenal fans is understandable though; the long-term project that Wenger has been building for years still has not yielded results. Seven years is a long time in football. I for one though, have always been glad that Arsenal, like Manchester United, are not part of the recent football culture in which teams change managers faster than kits in a desperate and in most cases unfruitful clamour for success. It is partly this old-fashioned view that makes me put my trust in the man who has been at Arsenal’s helm since I was four years old. This is a man who does not just manage Arsenal; he genuinely lives Arsenal. He has put more into this club than anyone and has led them through the good times and the bad. His importance to the club is obvious on the pitch as well as off. Arsenal’s football remains the most entertaining to watch in the league. Even when they are not getting the results to match, viewers still tune in all over the world to watch them play.
Wenger is part of Arsenal and its long-term project (even if only he knows exactly how long-term this is). To remove him now or in the near future would be catastrophic. One man, however important, does not determine a club’s success. There are millions of other factors and people involved in a football club. Besides that, who would currently be able to fill Wenger’s shoes? And would they be able to do anything differently with Stan Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis looking over their shoulder?
My opinion that Wenger has to stay has been strengthened today by the news that Chelsea have sacked their eighth manager since Roman Abramovich’s takeover in 2003. Yes, Chelsea have been more successful than Arsenal during this period in terms of trophies. For many modern fans, that is all that matters. This trophy haul has however come at a price. Abramovich has compromised Chelsea’s integrity as a football club. Sure, he can afford to waste ridiculous amounts of money, like £50 million on buying Fernando Torres, or the payout the club had to make to terminate Andre Villas-Boas's contract, and the team will still win the big competitions, but Chelsea are essentially a vanity project; the supporters are bought off with trophies whilst the people within the club live in constant fear of the axe hanging over their heads. Not to mention the damage Chelsea’s philosophy of hiring and firing at a rapid pace does to managers' and players' careers. They remain an unstable club who are still a long way off playing the best football in the league. No manager, however expensive, can get a team playing a consistent, attractive style of football when given eight months in a job. This is not how I want Arsenal run. All fans crave success, but it comes at a price.
Arsenal have problems; no one can deny that. But these problems will not be solved by sacking Wenger.
In any case, even if not everyone agrees with Wenger that Champions League qualification is preferable to winning the FA Cup, surely most Arsenal fans would agree that the ‘sixth’ trophy, finishing above Tottenham in the league (a title we’ve held for seventeen years) must at least be worth as much as the League Cup?
Thursday, 1 November 2012
Timing is a tricky thing. As most of you will remember, after the Arsenal vs QPR game on Saturday, I wrote a piece voicing my concern at Arsenal’s recent struggle to find goals. In the piece, which you can read below, I not only berate the team’s failure to score, but also commend them for their solid defensive form so far this season. The day after writing the blog, which has since also been posted on the4thofficial.co.uk, Arsenal took on Reading in the fourth round of the League Cup.
In this game, Arsenal conceded five goals.
And scored seven.
Anyone reading my blog after this game probably thought I was being sarcastic. However, I believed and still believe that my argument was and is still valid and concerning. Therefore I decided that in order to settle any doubts, I should take a minute to explain why the points I made remain plausible.
First off, my entire argument is wholly concerned only with Arsenal’s league form. At no point did I make any mention of the team’s performance in the Champions’ League or League Cup. The League Cup in particular is a unique anomaly in English football. For several years now, the top teams have used it primarily as an opportunity to give youngsters and reserve players a taste of first-team football. This has filtered down to the lower Premier League clubs so that even Southampton made eleven changes to the team that played their last league match before their cup game on Tuesday.
The point being made here is that when the Arsenal contingent at the Reading match sang ‘we want our Arsenal back’ at half-time, they were right: the Arsenal team playing was literally, not just figuratively, a different team. Not a single player who started the QPR match began for Arsenal against Reading, the most sorely missed clearly being defensive-organiser Thomas Vermaelen who is apparently more crucial to our back four than we knew.
On top of this, smaller teams with nothing to lose are bound to attack a lot more in League Cup ties. Reading were always going to come out firing on all cylinders, something our less-experienced players were clearly unprepared for. Manchester City also conceded four goals to Aston Villa in the third round of the cup this year. Liverpool and Tottenham were this week knocked out by Swansea and Norwich respectively. This is what is different about League Cup matches. More goals, more upsets. There has never been a game with twelve or more goals in Premier League history. The Reading game was (perhaps sadly) an exception to our season so far. Five of the goals Arsenal scored were after the eighty-eighth minute against an understandably exhausted team.
That said, no matter which of our defenders were playing, if you’re wearing the shirt, you are an Arsenal player and shipping four first half goals to any team in any competition is unacceptable. However, while there are clearly still defensive areas that need serious work, I do not believe that our performance in this one unbelievable game is indicative of how our Premier League campaign has gone so far.
While I still believe in the strength of our defence and that our goal-scoring must improve, I now look ahead to our next fixture. Manchester United are the top-scorers in the league so far and they also have the second-worst defensive record in the top half of the table. There is therefore the likelihood that my hypothesis will be put to the test once more this weekend. I only hope that it is just our attack who will prove me wrong this time, not our defence.
Monday, 29 October 2012
Before victory against QPR this weekend, it had been six months since ‘ONE-NIL! TO THE ARS-EN-AL!’ had been the end result in a premier league fixture. This chant carries memories of the Arsenal of old (circa fifteen years ago), back when the calibre of the defence in many ways equaled that of the attack. After the unconvincing back-to-back nil-nil draws which began the 2012-2013 season, much was made by optimists of the possibility that Steve Bould’s appointment as Assistant Manager might hail a new era of Arsenal defensive solidity akin to that which Bould himself was previously part of.
Over the first quarter of the season, this belief has seemed to prove largely plausible. Per Mertesacker has looked much improved and Carl Jenkinson has also caught the eye with some promising performances. As well as keeping the joint most clean sheets, Arsenal have conceded the fewest goals out of all Premier League teams so far this season; three less than league leaders Chelsea and Manchester City, five less than Everton and seven less than Manchester United and Tottenham.
However, as of yesterday, all these teams sit ahead of Arsenal in the table. The reason for this is fairly obvious to all. It is all very well not conceding goals, but there is another pretty vital aspect of football: scoring. Arsenal’s players have managed just fourteen goals between them so far, the third lowest total in the top half of the table, seven less than Chelsea and ten less than United: respectable for a mid-table to Europa League-pushing club, not for the top four. Were you to discount the six-goal haul against a hapless, bottom-of-the-table Southampton, Arsenal’s tally would be almost halved and the team would have the joint third worst total in the League.
This is exactly the situation some would have predicted after the loss of the Premier League’stop scorer last year, Robin van Persie, to Manchester United. Van Persie is the League’s current top scorer this season with seven goals, not to mention three assists. Here’s the stat to spell it out: if Arsenal had managed to score just one more goal in four of their games this season, they would be at the top of the table, joint on points and goal difference with Chelsea. With van Persie’s seven goals, there would be breathing space.
This is the frustration for Arsenal fans: at a time when it looks like things are finally coming together at the back, the team has lost its mojo up front. Whilst the 'one-man team' line is a little tired, there is no getting away from the fact that van Persie scored thirty of Arsenal's seventy-four League goals last season, almost four times that of our second top scorer, Theo Walcott. Wenger has tried to replace van Persie with two strikers proven in top European leagues: Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, who currently hold three premier league goals between them. Three is also the number of goals scored by Arsenal’s current top scorer Gervinho. His goals to shots ratio is close to van Persie’s, but, as he is not deployed as an out-and-out striker, he is just not having enough of either. Despite great pressure in Saturday’s game, it was only after eighty-four minutes and a QPR red card that Mikel Arteta, as indeed he did the last time Arsenal won a league game one-nil, was able to convert a late chance. Arteta's effort was one of twenty-one Arsenal shots on Saturday. So far only two Premier League teams have a lower shot accuracy rate than Arsenal.
So, what is to be done? In an Arsenal team that is quite different-looking to that of a couple of seasons ago, some might stress learning to walk before trying to run: start at the back and work forwards. I am in no way suggesting that Arsenal should focus less on defence; their record so far this season is testament to hard work on the training ground and strength at the back has been a long-overdue achievement for the club. However, should goals continue to elude our attacking players, one of three options should be taken.
Firstly and obviously: buy in January. A top class striker would presumably not be out of Arsenal’s financial reach. Knowing Wenger’s transfer policy, this would be a last resort but there is also the possibility of bringing someone in on short-term loan for the second half of the season. Secondly: work with what we have. In contrast to our lack of confident strikers, Arsenal have an enviable array of promising midfield players. Theo Walcott for one has expressed the desire to play a more central, striker-like role. His shot accuracy has improved of late, and when he recovers from injury, this would be an interesting opportunity for Wenger to take him up on it.
Thirdly and bluntly: work more on shooting in training. Our defence has clearly improved so much of late that the attackers are not even getting goal-scoring opportunities in practice matches. Steve Bould you have some explaining to do…
In seriousness, while we are not at panic stations quite yet, Arsenal's league position must improve by Christmas. None of Chelsea, City and United have played their best football yet but it is already likely that Arsenal's lack of clinical finishing will see them fail to penetrate the top three. Newcastle, Liverpool and Tottenham also already have players amongst the top five scorers in the league, and Everton are playing their best attacking football in years. It is true that a clinical goalscorer is not necessarily the most vital aspect of a team; last season Blackburn were relegated despite their striker Yakubu finishing as the joint fourth-top scorer in the League. However in Arsenal's case it does seem that it is the Dutchman-shaped hole in the line-up that is costing them points. So while I am thankful that the 'nil' at our end is largely being taken care of by Vermaelen and co., surely we can find a few more 'one's at the other. If all else fails, let's hope Arsene still has Thierry on speed-dial.