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Monday, March 14, 2011

It's time for something to change at Arsenal ...

Fourty-one years now. That's how long I've been following THE Arsenal.

Sometimes it's been great, the fantastic double winning seasons of 1971, 1998, 2002 for example. OR the "Invincibles" of 2004. Sometimes it's been exceedingly boring or absolutely painful - like most of the 1970's and 1980's.

But right now it's just very, very frustrating.

Arsenal, on their day, with a full strength side, a tail wind, and playing at home at the Emirates Stadium are a match for any side on the planet. The problem is that despite this potential, these days ONLY ever come around a handful of times a season - and there lies the problem.

Arsenal are almost a great side, ALMOST. But the talent is spread too thinly, The Gunners do not have depth within the squad to withstand injuries to key players - nor do they have enough experience within the squad to get battling competitive hard-nosed performances out of players twhen things start to go wrong.

But these failings are not new. Arsenal have gone six seasons since winning a trophy, and EIGHT seasons since the sublime invincibles of 2003-04 ran through the entire league campaign without LOSING once. That's a feat that had not been done in a century of top-flight football in England.

That season was a joy to watch - but after the final game when we beat Coventry 4-3 at Highbury it was also tinged with sadness. I had a feeling that something this good could not continue. It was an obvious zenith - a performance high that would probably never be seen again - during my lifetime at least.

At the time I dismissed it as being a miserable Gooner git. But as the seasons march on - and Arsenal sides seem to get younger and younger, and more and more brittle, it's clear that the current squad mix is definately lacking SOMETHING required to win trophies.

Experience? Definately. Depth? Sure. Bottle? A crude word - but accurate.

I do NOT think that manager Arsene Wenger is the fault - indeed he has created an Arsenal style of play that far exceeds ANYTHING I watched at Highbury during the 1970's, 1980's or 1990's. This Gooner team are fantastic to watch - most of the time. But they need to be able to compete for a 60 game season - not just 30-40 games. Over the course of a season injuries will happen. A football squad needs to be able to cover those injuries. Mr Wenger needs to realise that his expectation of a problem free season IS NOT accurate.

Are you watching Mr Wenger? Are you REALLY watching the failures and identifying the root cause that pops up again and again and again as the last SEVEN seasons have gone on? Because I have been. And I was not surprised at the results at either the Nou Camp or Old Trafford in the last week.

I acknowledge that Barcelona and Manchester United are giant clubs. They are the best of the best, and Arsenal have to try and match them. These two clubs have to be the yardstick with which the Arsenal club, the players AND the manager measures itself.

Mr Wenger DOES need to acknowledge the clear and obvious differences between the sides that he managed between 2000-2004 and the current model. You need steel to go with style. You need to blend youth and experience. And sometimes in order to get that you do need to pay the money to get an established star.

It's time for something to change at Arsenal ... because this side are so close to achieve Wenger's aim of winning with style.

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