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Fresh questions over Wenger's strategy
Published : 19 Apr 2010 14:04:00
"In Arsene We Trust" reads an Emirates Stadium banner - yet after another barren season, Arsenal fans may be questioning the manager's vision. Here, TEAMtalk takes a look at where it yet again all went wrong for Arsene Wenger - and what is next for the Gunners: INJURIES While Wenger maintains injuries are part and parcel of the modern game and as such cannot be used as an excuse, there is no doubt Arsenal suffered more than their title rivals. Holland striker Robin van Persie was in blistering form at the start of the season, scoring some eight goals and having a hand in many more for the rampaging Gunners, before he was ruled out for five months after suffering ankle ligament damage during a friendly against Italy. Add to that the intermittent loss of captain Cesc Fabregas, eventually for the rest of the season, veteran defender William Gallas, England winger Theo Walcott along with Russian playmaker Andrey Arshavin, while Aaron Ramsey suffered a broken leg just when the young Welshman was finding form, and Wenger's options were severely depleted. How would Manchester United have coped without Wayne Rooney for an extended spell? Would Chelsea be the same side missing Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry? True, it is a squad game - and here is perhaps where Wenger was caught out - but there can be no argument with every member of Arsenal's starting XI fighting fit and firing, the Gunners are more than a match for any side. Just a shame "Plan A" never got more than a few outings. TRANSFERS Although Wenger only made one summer signing - instead preferring to tie up the likes of Walcott and van Persie on new, long-term deals - but the capture of Thomas Vermaelen proved another shrewd investment, the £10million Belgian settling straight into the team. However, with van Persie ruled out for the best part of the campaign, during January Wenger failed to land his main target Marouane Chamakh from Bordeaux - although the Moroccan should arrive in the summer - and again kept faith with the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and the returning Walcott to drive the team on. While that proved a success to a degree as young Denmark forward Bendtner scored some important goals both in the Premier League and Europe, it left Arsenal light in key areas - most notably defence, despite the return of veteran former skipper Sol Campbell on a free, when an already depleted squad was hit by further injury problems throughout key positions. TEMPERAMENT When Arsenal get it right, few teams can match their mesmerising passing game. However, far too often this season, Wenger's youngsters failed to deliver a performance when it mattered most. The lessons of last season's Champions League semi-final defeat to Manchester United had not been taken on board, despite Wenger maintaining his squad had matured and were hungry to prove doubters wrong. Criticised again for wanting to score the perfect goal, often it was a case of a pass too many in and around the box, while at the other end, both goalkeepers dropped more than the odd clanger when a calm head, indeed pair of hands, was needed. Defenders too gave away needless free-kicks when simply sticking the ball in Row Z would have been, while not pretty, certainly effective in taking the heat out of the situation and making sure of three points rather than one, or even none. True, Wenger's men showed great character to twice haul themselves back into the title race when being written off after home and away defeats to both United and Chelsea. Indeed, following the stirring fightback against Barcelona, Arsenal took the lead in the Nou Camp and perhaps should have been 2-0 ahead with a better selection of final pass when on the counter-attack, before Lionel Messi delivered his masterclass. However, the manner of the loss to Wigan, which would have again seen them back in the title hunt, looks like it was the last straw for Wenger, who for the first time questioned whether this group of players do indeed have what it takes to beat the best. SOLUTION? Throwing a whole load of cash at the squad is clearly not going to solve all Arsenal's shortcomings, but it would certainly be a start. The board have made it clear Wenger has money to spend should he want it, but the Frenchman has long maintained it would only be on players who add something to the current squad. Well, on evidence this season, investment in a consistent keeper - if that exists, would be as good a place as any to begin rebuilding. To provide cover at the back alongside Vermaelen, Bolton stopper Gary Cahill is a potential summer target, not least given that Gallas, Campbell and fellow veteran Mikael Silvestre could all leave at the end of their current deals. Fabregas and Alex Song need more genuine quality back-up in the centre of midfield, while Chamakh should provide the cutting edge in attack which the likes of Eduardo have failed to deliver in van Persie's absence. One thing is for certain, though, and that is Wenger knows full well something has to give - perhaps even his own unwavering belief that Arsenal's youth will on their own one day finally deliver.