Arsenal's sputtering guns need to do better

The joy at having trumped arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur to a spot in the top four cannot mask the many deficiencies of an underachieving Arsenal side.

Football News: Arsenal
Noah Tan

By Noah Tan

Come on, you think. It's not all that bad.

After all, the Gunners' win over Alan Pardew's men confirmed the Emirates Stadium outfit's participation in next season's lucrative Champions League and ensured Spurs would once again take their place amongst the lesser lights in the Europa League.

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At the end of yet another tough transitional year for Arsene Wenger and his men, surely it would be churlish and small-minded to deny them the pleasure of a bit of revelry.

Only the most delusional of Arsenal fans could have dared to dream of their team making a legitimate challenge for the Premier League title this season, especially after they sold star striker Robin Van Persie to Manchester United in the summer.

Not after the only striking replacement they brought in was Olivier Giroud, a player who three years ago was plying his trade in the lower divisions of French football.

Yes, it is a remarkable achievement for Arsenal to have secured a top four finish with the calibre of players at their disposal.

No, it is not good enough for a club of Arsenal's stature.

The Gunners' high-profile move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 was supposed to propel them to greater heights as they sought financial parity with top European clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and United.

Instead, the Emirates Stadium has now unwittingly and perhaps somewhat unfairly become a symbol of failure thanks to the club's well-documented eight-year trophy drought.

With a huge debt to pay off, Arsenal's presence and strength in the transfer market waned considerably with players such as Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and Van Persie leaving the club for greener pastures.

But while majority of Arsenal fans have thus far shown remarkable patience towards the club and Wenger during these years, the sense of disquiet over the Gunners' continual failure to land a major trophy has grown steadily, culminating in calls for the resignation of the once untouchable Wenger from some quarters.

Securing Champions League qualification is scant consolation for what has been yet another season filled with disappointment.

While the Gunners were not expected to challenge for the league title, let alone the Champions League, many believed this would be the year they would at least be able to end their trophy drought.

Therefore, for a club so starved of any tangible success in recent years, their relatively premature exit from the FA Cup and Capital One Cup to Blackburn Rovers and Bradford respectively was viewed as nothing short of criminal.

Therein lies the biggest let-down for many Arsenal fans this season: letting slip two golden opportunities to lift a ‘major' trophy far too easily.

Imagine. If Arsenal had beaten Bradford in the quarter-finals, all that would have stood between them and winning the Capital One Cup were struggling Aston Villa and erratic Swansea.

It is not like the Gunners do not have quality within their ranks. Sure, majority of the squad may not be termed ‘world class' or mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or even Gareth Bale.

But with Santi Cazorla's magical feet and vision, Per Mertesacker's astute reading of the game and tactical awareness, as well as Mikel Arteta's experience and leadership, one could rightly expect more from the Gunners.

Yet, all too often have Arsenal fallen short when it most matters.

Despite having the second best defensive record in the Premier League behind Manchester City, several high-profile errors from captain Thomas Vermaelen, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and even Bacary Sagna (whose nickname in the Arsenal dressing room is "Mr Consistent") have cost the Gunners dear in tight games.

Thankfully for Arsenal, Wenger managed to arrest his side's inexplicable fondness for implosion before it was too late with a series of shrewd judgement calls, not least of which was to replace the erratic Vermaelen with Laurent Koscielny, who has been excellent for the Gunners ever since.

But it is in midfield and attack where the Gunners really need to strengthen in the summer if they are to make their way back to the summit of the English game.

Long gone are the days of their free-flowing champagne football; where there used to be the irrepressible Thierry Henry, there is now the inconsistent Theo Walcott. Where there used to be the brilliant ingenuity of Dennis Bergkamp, there is now the workmanlike Giroud. Where there used to be the intimidating and dominant presence of Patrick Vieira, there is now the energetic but limited Aaron Ramsey.

Do not get me wrong. I have absolutely nothing against Walcott, Ramsey or Giroud. But none of the above names strike terror in the opposition camp. Not yet anyway.

What of the outstanding Cazorla you say? And how dare I count out Jack Wilshere, the precociously talented England international?

I do not deny that both Cazorla and Wilshere have been successes at the club this season. But for all of Cazorla's brilliance, he is but one man and can only do so much, while Wilshere definitely has the potential to become one of the very best in the game, but a series of unfortunate injuries have stunted his development significantly.

It will take more than just a handful of quality players to lead Arsenal to success, especially after the bar has been raised considerably by the free-spending ways of their league rivals.

And while accusations have rightly been levelled at Arsenal teams in the past for trying to score the perfect goal (domination of possession without any real penetration), such accusations hold no weight for the Gunners this season.

Unfortunately, this is not because Wenger's men have addressed their frustrating unwillingness to adopt a more direct route to goal. Rather, it is largely down to the fact that Arsenal are now simply incapable of keeping possession as well as they did previously.

More worryingly for the North London outfit, the lack of intelligent movement up front from either their strikers or midfielders has frequently forced them to play their way into a cul-de-sac, and opposition defences have often found it far too easy to snuff out the Gunners' attacks.

Wenger himself has to shoulder a part of the blame for Arsenal's current decline. The long-serving Frenchman has made several baffling tactical decisions this season, many of which have backfired and cost his team precious points. 

Nonetheless, due credit must go to the 63-year-old for eventually inspiring his side to a spot in the top four against all odds via an incredible end-of-season run which saw them go unbeaten in 10 league games and winning eight of them.

Fortunately for Arsenal, they are in prime position to rebuild themselves and become a major force in the footballing world next season.

Chelsea, United and City will all be undergoing a season of transition after making massive changes to their management and could take some time to settle, giving Arsenal the perfect opportunity to capitalise and cement themselves back into contention for the title.

Furthermore, having clinched several lucrative sponsorships and with their debt from the Emirates finally cleared, the purse-strings should finally loosen, allowing Wenger to bring in quality reinforcements to the club during the summer.

Author Stephen Richards once said: "The only time you fail is when you fall down and stay down." And there is no denying that Arsenal have indeed ‘fallen down' in recent years. It is time for them to finally get up, brush their past failures off and move toward the pinnacle once again, all guns blazing.

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