This Saturday’s FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Hull City is arguably more important for the Gunners than their Yorkshire opponents. It has been almost nine years since Arsenal won a trophy, and time is running out for Arsene Wenger. Here are five things the North London club need in order to return to past glories.
1. A New Manager
Arsenal have the opportunity to claim their first trophy in nine years next weekend when they face Hull City in the F.A. Cup Final at Wembley. However, this is a long time for a team of Arsenal’s esteemed history to wait for a trophy. This simply cannot be down to the players but the management currently in place at The Emirates. Arsene Wenger (Le Professeur) is undoubtedly one of the finest managers that the Premier League has seen and revolutionized the way football was played in England but unfortunately he seems to have lost the Midas touch.
In Wenger’s early days, Arsenal were always considered a difficult team to face and year-in year-out were in with a shout of winning silverware. This unfortunately is not the case these days with the Arsenal men now seen as an easy touch. Wenger’s ability to have his players mentally prepared for big games has been brought into light on many occasions. One such occasion is the 2011 League Cup Final when they lost 2-1 to Birmingham, a team that eventually went on to get relegated from the Premier League that same season.
Further instances where Wenger has failed to instill that winning mentality can be linked back to both the 2007/2008 and 2013/2014 seasons where Arsenal led the league for two thirds of the year only to see themselves implode and finish in 3rd and 4th place respectively. Murmurs of discontent have been spreading throughout The Emirates for a number of years but a failure to win the F.A. Cup Final next weekend could see “Le Professeur” searching for somewhere new to teach.
In all businesses, leadership is required to guide a team in the right direction. The same can be said of Arsenal. Players such as David Seaman, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira,Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry were the backbone of the successful Arsenal teams of the late nineties and early 2000’s an era which saw Arsenal win the league and cup double twice, as well as the Invincibles team that went the league season unbeaten back in 2003/2004. Those teams had steel and determination that was combined with a brand of football that teams across Europe could only envy. Battles between Arsenal and Manchester United were famous, epitomized by the midfield exchanges of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.
This lack of bite and determination is abundantly lacking in the teams of recent memory for the North Londoners. Rarely do you see anyone in the Arsenal team barking out orders or throwing themselves into tackles. The current crop of players are more style than substance. The quality of players such as Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey & Mesut Ozil is without question. However, these players are all too similar. Players such as Steven Gerrard and Nemanja Vidic are real leaders and were ready to stand up and be counted when the chips were down. Arsenal need to go out and buy an out-and-out leader. Unfortunately for them, they don’t just grow on trees.
3. A Striker
The Gunners have always been known for their strikers whether it be Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry or Robin Van Persie. However not since Henry have they had a world class finisher who was consistently able to knock in 30+ goals a season. Wenger realised this at the beginning of this season with his attempt to prise Luis Suarez away from Anfield. Unfortunately for Arsenal, their attempt failed and Liverpool have reaped the rewards. Suarez went on to score 31 goals helping Liverpool to second place and just missing out on the Premier League crown. He also would be named PFA Players’ Player of the year as well as the FWA Player of the Year.
Just think if Arsenal had managed to get Suarez where they would have finished considering they had been sitting at the top of the table for two thirds of the season. Simply put Olivier Giroud is not a world class striker who will stretch defenses and allow Mesut Ozil to truly work his magic. The Gunners need to go out and pinch someone who has a proven goal scoring record in one of the top leagues in the world who does not go missing in the big games.
4. Fortress Emirates
Not since the days of Highbury have teams feared travelling to London to face Arsenal. Too many of the big teams come away from the Emirates with something. Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton & Manchester United all came away with a point this season. This does not include the needless opening day defeat to Aston Villa and letting Swansea leave with a 2-2 draw even after dominating the game. Arsenal finished the season seven points behind eventual winners Manchester City and looking back on the results at home, picking up a few more victories in some of those games would have seen Arsenal there or thereabouts at the very end of the season.
The fear that the fans used to put in opposing teams at Highbury is also noticeably lacking. Given the close proximity of the stands to the pitch, teams would sometimes be intimidated into defeat by the crowd alone. This is lacking at the Emirates with the fans now pushed back from the playing area which gives opponents the feel of no longer being boxed in. Of course Arsenal fans need to play their part in creating a fortress by driving their teams to victory and making teams feel beaten before they even kick a ball.
5. A Defense that Can Defend
All good teams are built on a solid foundation, building from the back. The last time Arsenal went through a whole season conceding less than 30 goals was coincidentally the last time they won the Premier League back in 2003/2004. That year they allowed a mere 26 strikes against them. Ten years have passed since then and not once have they conceded less than 30 goals. It is no surprise then that Arsenal have failed to win the Premier League title in that period of time.
The best teams in the league have a good balance between defense and attack. However, Arsenal seem to have concentrated more on attacking than defending of late. Simply put, Arsenal do not possess the quality of player in the back line to win the title. If you were to have a choice between a back four of Lauren, Martin Keown, Sol Campbell & Ashley Cole and the current one then there would be no question which one you would choose. It’s a case now or never for Wenger to get things right because Arsenal fans won’t stand for many more seasons without winning the title, or any trophy at all for that matter.
Conor O’Reilly, Pundit Arena