Where do I even begin this blog? I haven’t had much mojo for blogging recently, so I have been quiet. After that travesty at Old Trafford, though, I’m not going to hold back. Arsenal need a major overhaul and I am starting to wonder if Wenger is the man to do it, or if he will be like Ferguson was at United in his last 2 years and do as little as possible in terms of signing players to strengthen the squad.
Arsenal were pathetic and rudderless away to a Manchester United squad that was decimated by injury and were fielding a bunch of mostly teenage players. The fact that Carrick and Blind were the two starting centre-backs should tell you enough about their injuries. Yet United still came away 3-2 victors against an Arsenal team who were only missing a few players. It is time to question the lack of squad depth and the overall quality of the players at the Club and I am going to highlight a few whom I feel have been underperforming this season.
Aaron Ramsey had another match to forget and was largely anonymous in midfield. I feel that the Ramsey of the 2013-14 season has gone forever and has been replaced by the current Ramsey, who believes too much of his own hype. Yes, he is a decent player when attacking and can score goals, but his forays up the pitch leave Arsenal defensively exposed, doubly so when paired with Mathieu Flamini in the middle. Ramsey’s goal touch has largely been poor of late in comparison to the recent past, often losing the ball in the final third through both poor touches and no-look passing that allows our opponents to start a quick counter, e.g. twice vs. Southampton in the 4-0 thumping and in other occasions since. My personal feeling is that he should be moved on in the summer as it is quite clear to me that he has no willingness to alter his game to suit the needs of the team.
Theo Walcott was invisible again today. 2 goals in 22 matches now if I’m not mistaken. That is extremely poor for a player who only wants to play through the middle. At 27, Theo is not going to develop anymore and it is worrying that he has been a passenger for much of this season. Most of the clever, bursting runs of old between defenders seem to have disappeared after the knee ligament injury he sustained vs. Spurs. Theo also has very little defensive work-rate and does not really scrap for winning the ball off of opponents so, if he isn’t scoring, he isn’t adding anything to the team. My opinion is that Arsenal should move him on in the summer too – 3 more years on his contract after his extension last July, with Theo offering so little, does not seem like good business sense to me.
Kieran Gibbs is another I’d like to shine a light on. He has been pretty poor this season, seemingly unable to push Nacho Monreal for the left-back spot and performing in a manner to not make Arsene Wenger take notice when he does play, mostly in Cup matches. 213 minutes in 13 matches is a pretty damning indictment, his only saving grace this season being that goal vs. Spurs when he was pushed up into the left-wing spot. Gibbs is 26 now, an age where he should be pushing for a first-team spot with good performances but he has been wilting away for the past 18 months. Gibbs has 2 years left on his contract and it is my opinion that Arsenal should be looking to bring in a younger player to learn from Monreal, as Gibbs clearly isn’t.
Mathieu Flamini’s contract is apparently up this summer which, for me, cannot come soon enough. He was very good in his first season back at the Club, the 2013-14 season, where he shined in midfield. However, since Cazorla was moved into midfield from the wider areas, Flamini seems to have suffered and tries to do too much on the pitch and, as he is a fairly limited player in terms of ability and even fitness at this point due to his age, this really does not work. Yes, Mertesacker left him exposed vs. Barcelona on Tuesday night but, as soon as you saw Messi sprinting in, you knew Flamini was going to give away the penalty with a rash tackle, as he so often gets yellow-carded for poor tackles. He has been left to do too much work by Ramsey a lot of the time when the two have been paired together, but Flamini’s decision-making on the pitch leaves a lot to be desired and, at 31 years of age (32 next Monday), is not likely to improve.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another player that Arsenal should move on in the summer. The Ox has shown no improvement in the last 3 years as a player and that is worrying. Some of that may be down to injuries (he’s injured again now too until the end of the season), but some is down to the player himself. Oxlade-Chamberlain seems quite unwilling, like Walcott, to do the defensive work required when Arsenal don’t have possession and loses the ball quite often in and around the opponent’s penalty box, again much like Walcott and, to a lesser extent, Ramsey. The Ox can be exciting to watch, with a willingness to take on players, but that comes to nought when he keeps losing the ball in promising positions. Just 2 goals in 33 appearances this season is not good enough and, with 2 years of his contract remaining, it is my opinion that he should also be moved on. Arsenal are not currently short of players who can play on the right, with Alex Iwobi, the impressive Joel Campbell, Serge Gnabry and the currently-away-on-loan Chuba Akpom all with the skills to play there next season.
Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are another two who, this season, have not been able to add anything significant to the Club due to injuries (both players) and lack of form when appearing for the club (Arteta). I think it is a foregone conclusion that both players will leave the Club. Arteta has been in a steady decline for the past 18 months, the emergence of Cazorla as a deep playmaker next to Coquelin, in addition to persistent calf muscle injuries, has made his decline rapid. Those 2 goals he gifted away to West Brom, when we were in a winning position, cemented him in leaving as a player at the end of the season in my opinion. Rosicky, who is still a fine player and one of my favourites, has a body that is just not up to the rigours of Premier League football anymore and has, sadly, spent far too much time of his Arsenal career on treatment tables. I really hope Rosicky is able to continue his career for another year or two (he’s 35 now) in another league, one that is less physically imposing, as he is a joy to watch. However, should he retire after the European Championships, I don’t think many will be surprised.
What of potential replacements? That depends on who will be in charge next season. If Arsene Wenger is still in the manager’s seat, then I can’t see many changes forthcoming. If Wenger is still in charge, I’d expect Flamini to get another 12 month contract, with some or all of Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley and Jon Toral joining up with the senior squad to fill gaps left by departed players as Wenger has not shown a willingness in the past to sign enough in one year to fill all of the gaps in the squad that exist. Serge Gnabry and Carl Jenkinson will likely also re-join the first team squad, with the strong possibility of Chuba Akpom doing the same.
If the Board takes the view that this season has been one of a seriously missed opportunity in the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League and Wenger gets replaced, then I can see a new manager coming in and immediately stamping his place on the squad by getting rid of players like Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who, on the whole, simply do not offer enough end product, in addition to removing fringe players like Isaac Hayden (I think Wenger may sell him on in the summer too). As for that replacement, I suspect Diego Simeone and Frank de Boer are high up on that list, as both have shown willingness to promote players from within if they demonstrate the required quality, which is something Wenger has always tried to do to his credit, with mixed success. Simeone and de Boer are of the age where retirement will not be on their minds for some time, so the Club can build for long-term success around their next appointment. Remi Garde is another possibility, but he may stay at Aston Villa to help them get back into the Premier League – relegation for them is now a foregone conclusion really, as there simply aren’t enough fixtures left to turn it around.
Whomever is in charge next season must sign one more centre-back as Gabriel seems to not have big match temperament (e.g. complacency in the match away vs. Manchester United, getting into an altercation with Diego Costa earlier this season at Chelsea that got Gabriel sent off, etc.), another striker to take some workload off Giroud due to the ineffectiveness of Walcott and one more defensive midfielder to replace Arteta and Flamini.
Right. Phew. That’s all from me until next time.
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.