Four weeks ago, Arsenal’s title challenge was over. The home defeat to Chelsea had seen everyone and their dog line up to kick Arsene Wenger’s team. While they were still licking their wounds, Manchester City snatched a win against the usual collection of youngsters, sprinkled with experience in the League Cup. Not good enough, not strong enough, need another striker they cried.
Well here we are then, on December 30th, Arsenal are tucked in 3rd, with a game in hand, which is against Bolton Wanderers at the Emirates next week. Win that and they go second in the table. Yet as the Portsmouth fans who have witnessed tonight’s thrashing at the hands of the Gunners said, if they had a predatory striker, they’d have scored 20.
For all the failings that Arsenal are constantly accused off, it’s their lack of that predator in the box that seemingly holds them back from killing teams off that their rivals manage to snuff out. Yet, it feels churlish to criticise a side that have score 51 goals in 19 Premiership games and could be second this time next week. Of course, as my fellow EPL talk writer Eric Altshul wrote earlier this week, Arsenal have a crucial 4 game period coming up from January 27th.
The results against the other big clubs do not determine the Premiership title, you only have to look at Liverpool’s result last season to see how little it effects the Premiership outcome. It is the games that you should win, that slip through your fingers that cost you titles and cups. For every emphatic thrashing of Portsmouth, there’s a defeat at Sunderland or a draw at West Ham United. Those are the games, especially the West Ham match when Arsenal threw away a 2-0 lead that will keep them from going top next week.
Of course, Wenger is one of the best managers at protecting his players and keeping his cards close to his chest. If he thinks he needs a striker, he’s not the type to come out and say it, he usually just goes out and gets his man. Now, with Arsenal having a real chance to get their hands on the Premier League title, having someone who has an ability to scuff the ball in off his backside is exactly what Arsenal need. Financially Wenger could, within reason, land any striker outside of the Premier League to give them that final piece.
For all the doom mongers complaining when he sold Adebayor and Toure, for a combined £41 million, the dissenting voices seem to have grown increasingly quiet. Replacing Toure with the elegant Vermaelen was a masterstroke that has seen the Belgian weigh in with some important goals from the back. With the injuries to van Persie, Bendtner, Walcott, Denilson and Fabregas and the impending African Cup of Nations taking Song, Wenger may be forced into the market whether he likes it or not.
Of course, the one major bonus to the injuries that have blighted Arsenal is the continued presence of Andrei Arshavin, who has continued to rein in his own attacking instincts for the benefit of the team. The lad has given a real team performance over the last few weeks at the expense of personal glory and has re-affirmed his reputation as an excellent footballer.
So Arsenal finish a year which has seen them continue to play beautiful football, but miss out on the big prizes. Perhaps Wenger has already decided what part of the jigsaw is required to complete the beautiful with a little bit of brawn in the box.