Just where do Arsenal go from here?
Arsenal have just been humiliated 8-2 by Manchester United at Old Trafford. An utterly unacceptable scoreline and, squad depletion or not, the club’s darkest day in recent memory.
Star players gone, replacements nowhere to be seen. Lack of leadership, lack of commitment. No cohesion, no balance, no fight. Yes, these are the accusations that are going to be mercilessly lobbed at Arsenal over the coming days and weeks by smug pundits and the media alike. But if the club are to drag themselves from the depths in which they currently languish, changes and above all some direction and leadership must develop.
These changes should be gradually and precisely put into motion over the course of this season and possibly the next, while the knee-jerk sacking of Arsene Wenger is not the answer. However, should Arsenal fail to make the top four this season, a strong possibility based on the current situation, then it will be time for Wenger to stand aside. For now though, the beleaguered Frenchman must gather his threadbare squad and re-build the capsized Arsenal ship.
Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri are gone. There is nothing that can be done now. Despite both players being the subjects of vastly drawn-out transfer sagas, particularly the Spaniard, their exits have come at a time where it is virtually too late in the transfer window to sign replacements.
There was a clear inevitability that both men would be packing their bags and heading out of North London and yet Arsenal failed to cash in until the Premier League season was already underway. That fact makes absolutely no sense from a management perspective. Arsenal played hard ball with Barcelona over Fabregas for the best part of three years, and while hanging onto the player until the end of 2010/11 was the correct thing to do, the club should have sold him much earlier in the summer. And ask yourself, doesn’t £31m for a man of Fabregas’ ability sound a little underpriced when compared with some other transfer deals that have been struck?
Also ask yourself, should Arsenal have sold Nasri to Manchester United in June rather than sell him to Manchester City in the middle of August? At least then the Gunners could have conducted a thorough search for an able new signing to fill the former Marseille man’s boots. What good is £60m – the combined figure gathered from the duo’s sales – if there is little or no time to spend to it?
The writing was on the wall that Fabregas and Nasri would leave, but Arsenal clung and clung to both men and have subsequently been left with very little chance of bringing in fresh faces.
The attention therefore, must centre around the players still at the club and the diamond in Arsenal’s current state of black-out, Jack Wilshere. At 19 years of age, Wilshere has the talent and potential to become one of the finest midfielders in Europe.
Yet to play a part in his team’s shambolic start to the season, his imminent return from injury will give a boost to the club and fans. With Fabregas and Nasri shaped holes in the centre of the park, it is to Wilshere whom the Arsenal faithful will now turn, to lead them from into a bright, yes bright, future.
Despite the misery that the club is currently engulfed in, a sense of perspective must be retained if Arsenal are to move on. In Wojech Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Wilshere and Robin Van Persie, Arsenal possess a formidable spine. In addition, Theo Walcott and Gervinho provide pace and verve alongside Van Persie. Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey are both fantastic young midfielders.
What I am saying is that Arsenal still have a quality starting XI. Yes, the scoreline against United was outrageous but the team that Wenger put out were a shadow of that which would have played had the squad not been decimated by a combination of injuries and suspensions. Arsenal’s strongest team would have given United a run for their money, of that there is no doubt. Unfortunately, due to a combination of player exit’s, a heavily weakened squad, intense media focus and pressure on the club as a whole, Arsenal were forced to endure a brutal ninety minutes at Old Trafford, a ninety minutes that they will not experience again for a very long time. The dust will now settle over the international break, and the Gunners should get their first league win of the campaign when they play Swansea on the tenth of September.
So, lets get realistic. As mentioned, the starting eleven is a good one, but a season of consolidation may mean Arsenal miss out on the top four. Consequently money will have to be spent in the summer of 2012 and Arsenal are not short of cash. Maybe they’ll have a new manager, maybe not. Hopefully, some much needed exciting new players will be brought in. Fresh blood combined with the current strongest XI, means there’s potential for Arsenal to re-appear at the very top of the English game.
The situation is this: Arsenal will suffer in the short-term. However they must also maintain the unshakeable belief that although things may not seem like it, they will eventually change for the better. Positive thinking is the only option for Arsenal Football Club at this difficult time.