treading in dangerous waters

This past weekend was just about too much for me to handle. I was on footballing cloud nine to be honest. There were a host of mouthwatering match-ups that kept my TV working overtime: the Mereyside Derby, Aston Vlla/Tottenham, a Big Four North London Derby and, of course, el Clásico.

All were entertaining matches, no doubt. But most of them ended up with results that the average fan could have predicted. Liverpool (somewhat surprisingly) were able to dispatch a hated rival, though they tried in vain to let the Toffees extend their poor string of results. Aston Villa and Spurs, both of whom have realistic aspirations of cracking the top four, ended in a predictable draw. The Clásico “to end all Clásicos” was won by the superior team, as much as it pains me to admit that. The only real surprise was how easily Chelsea rolled over Arsenal.

drogba's sublime strike was the early nail in the coffin for the gunners

Going into the London giants’ derby, I thought that Arsenal had a realistic chance of being title contenders this season. They’ve scored goals in bunches, despite the summer departure of Adebayor. My boyfriend Fàbregas has been in absolutely the best form of his life as of late. They’ve shored up their backline with the buy-of-the-season Thomas Vermaelan. And with the recent returns from injury in of Rosický, Walcott and Nasri, Arsenal looked primed and ready to finally challenge again. It was finally time for Wenger’s young Gunners to come into their own, and I was willing to bet on them getting a positive result against the Blues.

Or so I thought.

Arsenal never quite seemed to be in the match on Sunday. Perhaps that was due in part to the constant downpour, which hurts their quick, precise passing style of play. Perhaps it was due to Chelsea finding a way to get defenders behind the Arsenal attack every time (brilliant coaching job by Carlo Ancelotti). But even when they were able to hold possession, their execution in the final third was atrocious.

As i watched the game, I tweeted the following exchange with a fellow twiterrer (is that even a word!?):

wrongsideofpond: not sure why #arsenal even bother crossing into the box. they never have anyone in there, & when they do their players never attack the ball
mattgcobrien: @wrongsideofpond yeah i know its either 3ft arshavin or hop a long eduardo!
wrongsideofpond: @mattgcobrien i don’t get why wenger doesn’t change their strategy with van persie & bendtner out… the rest of that team is under 6ft!

It’s as if Wenger has been recruiting a team of midgets only to force a cross-reliant attacking system on them. Take a quick look at the normal first team for the Gunners; you’ll see how small their outfiled players are:

  • a lot of players at 5’9″ or under (Wilshire @ 5’7″, Fàbregas, Sagna, Walcott, Clichy, Mérida)
  • another bunch at 5’10” (Rosický, Nasri, Eduardo, Vela)
  • three at 5’11” (Denílson, Gibbs, Ramsey)
  • and just four at 6’0″ or above that are healthy (Vermaelan @ 6’0″, Gallas and Song @ 6’1″, Diaby and van Persie @ 6’2″, and Bendtner @ 6’4″).

So 82% of the players they normally play — that are healthy — are under 6 feet tall. Not only that, but whatever services they’re getting into the box are poor beyond belief. Even when the cross is decent, the recepient tends to wait on the ball to get to him instead of attacking the ball in the air. Why are they still trying to cross the ball so much?!

Couple the poor crossing emphasis with the fact that nobody on the team tends to take a half chance in and around the box, and you’ll see why Asenal tend to struggle against the other Big Four sides. And with van Persie having been in a rich vein of form prior to his long-term injury, it makes you wonder who they’ll turn to in big matches.

It leads me to one logical solution: it is time for Wenger to finally open his pocket book and spend on some established striking talent.

So who should the professor look to sign? There are two ideal options they should look at, especially if they want to continue with all of the crossing business.

First is long-time Wenger target, Marouane Chamakh of Bordeaux. Chamakh fits the normal Wenger signing, young and promising at the age of 25, yet he is also a relatively towering 6’1″. And despite the Ligue 1 leaders being more than hesitant to let their star forward leave for anything less than a substatial fee, the Moroccan forward will be out of contract at the end of the season. My guess is the French club would prefer to get something for him instead of nothing, so Wenger has a somewhat better bargaining chip than he did during his summer pursuit.

My other suggestion is a little off the wall, and will probably put off a few Gooner faithful: Real Madrid’s Ruud van Nistelrooy. The former Red Devil has fallen down the Madrid pecking order after their summer spending spree, and would likely want some first team football in order to keep a place in the Dutch World Cup squad. He’s lethal around the goal — a out-and-out poacher — and is tall enough to be dangerous in the air at 6’2″. He also has vast Premier League experience, something that can’t be taken for granted.

Are they perfect solutions? Absolutely not.

Both would be cup tied in the Champions League, meaning they could only really help domestically. But with van Persie being so injury prone and Bendtner being a piece of crap still developing, the Gunners need something if they are to compete for any trophies this season.

keeping this man happy is essential to the club's fortunes

And winning just one trophy would be unimaginably important to the club for a single solitary reason: Cesc Fàbregas.

Yes, it would appease their impatient fan base. But it would be far more important to the club’s future success to keep the young Spaniard happy at the Emirates. Cesc is well aware of the interest he is receiving from not just his former club, but a multitude of other big clubs. I shudder just thinking about Cesc playing in a Barça jersey… his addition smiply makes them terrifying.

He has to be thinking about it after the Chelsea loss; “Will we ever be good enough to win a title? When will the gaffer reward my loyalty by bringing in someone to help me? I’m tired of waiting.”

Arsenal have come a long (agonizingly slow) way in developing a young and exciting squad, but losing Fàbregas would pull the rug out from under them. He is the engine the pushes this team forward. Have you ever seen a car run without it’s engine? Have you ever seen a human run around without a brain (aside from George W. Bush)? I certainly haven’t. And if Cesc decides that he needs to go to a team with better chances for sliverware, Wenger will have an extremely hard time replacing him. The club would be set back three to four years as they wait for Ramsey, Wilshire or Fran Merida to develop enough to adequately cover his loss.

As a Tottenham supporter, its hard for me to admit that Arsenal isn’t far away from being a really good side. Bring in a solid forward to compliment their current creative group, add a strong, bullish defensive central midfielder (Barça’s Yaya Toure, perhaps?), and you could be looking at a scary good team. But this is all a farce without Fàbregas.

Wenger is treading in dangerous waters right now. January is looming, and now is not the time to be a penny pincher. The future of his club depends on it, and i guarantee Fàbregas is impatiently watching his manager’s moves and planning his own future, too.

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