I’ll remember this match for the 74th minute. With Arsenal searching for someone to make the difference and allow them to nick a single goal, and with it two further points, Arsene Wenger unveiled his back-up plan. From the substitutes bench came the men tasked with rescuing the victory for Arsenal: Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho.
I don’t want to dissect the individual contribution of those two players. I accept they’re both flawed in different ways. I also accept that they seem like decent pros who give their all. I’m not, despite the obvious temptation, setting out to slate two guys whose limitations are not their own fault. However, the inference is clear: Arsenal do not have enough quality in the squad.
We can’t complain of injuries. The only major absentee is Abou Diaby, and that is something of a given. Bar the knack-prone Frenchman, this is an Arsenal squad at full strength. And when it came to the crunch, once Olivier Giroud had been thrown on to add much needed shape to the forward line, we didn’t have a decent card left to play. In replacing Chamberlain and Cazorla with the aforementioned pair of Ramsey and Gervinho, we were actually weakening our team.
It’s a problem that’s existed at Arsenal for a few seasons now: we have a strong first XI, but the players in reserve fail to match up. The disparity between first-team and back-up increases over time: Arsene is reluctance to use his squad members, overplaying the likes of Arteta and Cazorla, whilst the men who come up short fall out of the reckoning entirely. Their confidence drops, and so does their sharpness. When they are later called upon, usually out of necessity, the gap between them and the required level seems all the greater. Hence the abominable displays of Marouane Chamakh, the disppearance of Chu-Young Park etc.
Arsene doesn’t help himself. When asked recently about reported interest in Demba Ba, he stated:
“He is a similar type to Giroud and you will see Giroud develop into that kind of player.”
That may be. But that doesn’t preclude Arsenal from buying Ba too. There is room in the squad for more than one powerful centre-forward. That way if one is injured, out of form, or just a bit tired you have the option of changing him. Come the end of the season, you’ve got two players who are motivated by true competition and fresher due to being afforded rest.
By way of comparison with Arsenal, Manchester United can pick a front four of Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and one Robin van Persie and still have Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez, and Nani in reserve. They can mix and match and still have enough quality to beat all but the sternest opponents. I don’t expect Arsenal to be able to put together a stable of forwards of that quality anytime soon, but now that the transfer window is open there is no excuse for not going after some top drawer reinforcements.
The fact that we have Arteta shouldn’t prevent us chasing a defensive midfielder. The fact that we have Cazorla shouldn’t rule out the pursuit of a schemer. And the fact that Theo Walcott has had a handful of decent games through the middle certainly shouldn’t prohibit the signing of a striker. Quality and competition provides flexibility. This was an inflexible Arsenal performance. Signings are the antidote.
Pleasingly, Arsene’s post-match comments suggest he is preparing to enter the market. I’m also somewhat reassured by the news that Thierry Henry won’t be returning on loan: it means the manager can’t take the easy option of pouncing for a player he knows well for next to no money. The short term sticking plaster is no longer an option.
Throwing money at a problem doesn’t always work. In football, however, it rarely hurts.
Congratulations to @AdamBooth87, whose name came out of the hat and wins himself a pair of Skreamer boots. I’ll be in touch soon to sort out your prize.
ps. Happy New Year, you lot.