Where next for Arsene(al)?

Arsene Wenger is without doubt one of the greatest managers to have been employed in the Premier League since its inception in 1992, bettered only by Sir Alex in my view. His sides are trained on playing football, like Barcelona, in the right way – keeping it on the ground, building attacks through pacey passing and complex interplay. Wenger’s philosophy throughout has been to buy cheap, preferably young, and to cultivate and nurture players according to his own footballing mantra

Yesterday (Sunday 28 August), however, they were utterly outclassed, outplayed and outthought by an equally young Manchester United side, by 8 goals to 2. Wenger’s primary excuse, other than the alleged youth of his side, was the number of injuries and suspensions his side has suffered in recent weeks. This doesn’t sit at all with me as a reason for that kind of defeat, especially as (a) Manchester United were missing their two primary centre-backs and their first-choice right-back and (b) the manager is the man who is responsible for instilling discipline in his side – three red cards in three Premier League matches rather speaks for itself as far as Arsenal are concerned. The fact that, in my view, Manchester United have played better than they did against Arsenal at points this season (that second half at Wembley against Manchester City in particular) only serves further to demonstrate the utter ineptitude of Arsenal’s performance in Manchester.

It is abundantly clear that, as far as the remainder of this season (and indeed at least next season) goes, Wenger is going to have to spend some cash. In my previous blog, previewing the season that’s now begun, I said that Arsenal’s priorities had to be: a goalkeeper, a centre-back and a defensive midfielder. I think I’ll replace goalkeeper with left-back, given that Wojciech Szczesny appears to be on decent form (although he wasn’t at his best on Sunday, but then who was), and that Johan Djorou seems about as useful as a small giraffe at left back.

Therefore, I thought it might be useful to give Arsene some suggestions as to who he can buy (South Korean strikers excepted) from the world we call football in the next 48 hours or so. Purchases will have to be made, otherwise, given the complete lack of squad depth he has at his disposal, and indeed the apparent lack of ambition and understanding among his players, Arsenal might not even get into the Europa League next season…

Left Back

1. The first option for me in this position has to be Leighton Baines. Apparently Everton are not a selling club, though the fact that they appear to have no money to spend on players whatsoever might well change David Moyes’ views on this. Baines provides Wenger with an attacking option down the left, as well as being a sturdy defender. Furthermore, he’s a demon with a set piece, and at 26 (27 in December) is just reaching the peak years of his career.

2. Second option is one Wenger will never go for, because it involves buying a Barcelona player, but for me Maxwell provides something of a solution. He is, however, 30 years old, meaning Arsene will at most want to offer him a one-year contract, but again, he is mobile, perhaps less solid defensively, and is capable of the odd moment of magic. Not a solution for the future I know, but certainly one that will suffice in the shorter term.

Centre-back

It’s entirely apparent that Wenger needs someone to play at the back alongside Thomas Vermaelen, or to organise one or other of Squillaci and Koscielny when he’s not around. The more obvious candidates who’ve been bandied about (Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka) I’ll ignore, and suggest a couple of less likely (but equally good, and potentially less expensive) candidates.

1. He’s just won an international trophy and helped his side to a World Cup semi-final in 2010. For me, Diego Godin has to be one of the finest defenders from South America at the moment. He only signed for Atletico Madrid a year ago, so Arsenal may have to pay a premium for him, but if they are to go for him they will get a natural organiser, an aerial presence and, at 25, a relatively young man at the top of his game. He’s also a quality footballer for a central defender which will no doubt fit in with Wenger’s way of playing the beautiful game.

2. Another trophy winner (those who are used to winning trophies will definitely help too), Neven Subotic  has just had the season of his life for Borussia Dortmund. Although still a young man (only 22) he clearly has the pedigree to perform at a high level, and will provide some steel at the back as well. With 24 Serbian caps earned already, he has experience which the majority of his potential Arsenal team-mates could only dream of – and again as a classy defender he will play the game the way Wenger expects. He can also provide the odd goal from a set-piece (if, god forbid, Arsenal feel like flinging one into the box).

Defensive midfield

The solution for Arsenal is obvious in this regard, yet very difficult all the same – they need a man who can replace Patrick Vieira. Whoever he may be, he has to protect that seemingly fragile back four, while also starting, and occasionally finishing, Arsenal’s attacks with a well-placed pass. Alex Song may provide this in years to come (if he isn’t standing on anyone) but to my mind an experienced head is needed in the interim.

1. First choice for me is a young man (a South American again – my time listening to the World Football Phone-In has clearly clouded my judgement) whose career as gone somewhat awry since his big money move to Spain. Fernando Gago may not be the tallest at 5 foot 9 and a half inches, but what he lacks in height he certainly makes up for in guile in the midfield and robustness where required. He has had very little opportunity in the last few years at Real, particularly since the arrival of Jose Mourinho – the chance for a regular first 11 place for a team in need and a place in the department store window that is the Premier League would surely make this a mutuallay beneficial transfer. Importantly for Wenger, he’s also young enough at 25 years old.

2. He might well have just signed a new 6 and a half year contract, and have consigned Arsenal’s season to the proverbial dustbin in February, but for me Cheik Tiote is one of the great success stories of the last year or so. A rugged midfielder who still has a lot to learn about the game (and therefore meets Arsene’s usual criteria!), Tiote may have to work on his disciplinary issues a little but has already become an integral player at both club and international level. If Wenger can get hold of him, he could provide that tenacity and work ethic in the midfield that will let the more creative players do their thing.

There’s no doubt that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have to make signings in the next 2 days (other than a South Korean striker). I have a sneaking suspicion that Wenger will only buy one player (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was none), and that player will be a central defender. For me, for Arsenal to have any degree of success in the next year or two they need players in these positions. Without them, those champagne players who currently seem utterly disillusioned (Rosicky and Arshavin, I’m looking at you) will remain so. At least £60m should be available – Sky Sports News will be a very interesting watch until midnight on Wednesday.

***Breaking News*** – it would appear that Arsenal are one of the sides interested in purchasing Yossi Benayoun from Chelsea. Will he ever learn…

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