Arsene Wenger, soon to inherit the title of the longest-serving manager in the Premier League is long known as a builder of teams. Groups of players that he then seeks to develop into the successful unit that lands the competitions that a ‘top’ club expects. Latterly however, the big gaps in the Emirates trophy cabinet show that the process has been derailed somewhat. It seems that there are things missing from the unit. These vital gaps need to be filled in the summer to allow the club to become the force in the Premier League that they once were. Arsenal have long been saying that there’s money for Wenger to spend should he want to. It’s time to open that war chest, and get the show back on the road. So, what do Arsenal need?
To my mind, three things are required. Many people have decried the current Arsenal team for having no steel, a lack of mental backbone. Ironically, the places that I feel they need to fill are often called the spine of the team. Working from back to front, they need the strong commanding centre-back that inspires and directs the team. Then in front of him, they need a holding midfield player, the screen that sits in front of the back four providing the cover and insurance. Finally, they need a front man, the leader of the line that not only can hold the ball up, but also score the goals. So there are problems. What – or more pertinently who – are the answers.
Beginning at the back, there’s a pressing need for a dominant centre half. For a couple of seasons, Belgian international centre back Thomas Vermaelen seemed to be the player that could develop and grow into that role. Of late however, his appearances have been spasmodic and performances erratic. Now with the Franco-German pairing of Koscielny and Mertersacker in place, the need seems clear. Neither of the present incumbents have that dynamic presence. There may however be a chance to secure the required player this summer. Swansea’s Ashley Williams has grown into his role of leader at the Liberty stadium, and seems primed for a step up to a ‘bigger’ club. In the manner of old boy Sol Campbell, Williams could fit the bill nicely. The price may also not dent the bank balance too much either.
It may be more difficult to fill the holding midfield role. With predecessors the calibre of Vieira, Petit and Gilberto, there are big shoes to fill. Alex Song strove to do it for a while before decamping to Barcelona and the Camp Nou. Even he however was not the dogged defensive minded player required. It’s a blind spot that Wenger seems unable to perceive, despite his glory years being built on the backs of the trio mentioned above. For a French manager, from the land of the arch exponent of the role, Claude Makelele, it’s a strange affliction. The solution may lie with another Frenchophone; one currently plying his trade across London. Mohamed Diame has all of the attributes required for the role. Strong and solid, with a sound technique, he also has the added bonus of already being schooled in the ways of the premier league during his spell at West Ham United. Again, although Hammers’ manager Allardyce would not be overjoyed to lose the Senegalese, a large enough bid should secure the deal without talking outlandish amounts.
Finally, upfront, the leader of the line remains a position in doubt. Olivier Giroud has not had a particularly bad season, but neither has it been outstanding. There’s the possibility that the French international may grow into the dominant front man that the Gunners require, but I remain to be convinced that he could be the regular scorer required. Up at Manchester City however, with the apparently imminent arrival of Cavani from Napoli, an answer may soon be available. Edin Dzeko has probably been dealt a rough hand at Eastlands. Stuck in the queue behind the bustling Tevez and the outstanding Aguerro, the Bosnian has had only limited opportunities this season, but when called on usually delivers. It seems highly likely that should Cavani arrive, Dzeko will probably have to move on gain regular first team opportunities. The casting is ideal for Arsenal. This could be the front man – the big number nine – to front up the team and do the ugly things that will complement the artistic flair that team has in abundance.
So there you have it. Fill the gaps and get back to where the Gooners want their club to be. Sure it will cost, but probably not the bank-busting amounts that Financial Directors have nightmares about. With Ferguson leaving United, it could be an opportunity to close the gap on the champions-elect. Will Arsenal grasp it?