The lack of world-class talent, and its role in preventing us from realizing past glory.
This article will address what I feel has been the main issue that has prevented the mighty Arsenal from being genuine title contenders the past 7 years.
When Wenger first joined Arsenal in 1996, he brought with him a great deal of change. His transfer signings went beyond anything one could predict and he unearthed talents such as Vieira, Henry, Campbell, Pires, Toure, van Judas etc. He was able to take advantage of the fact that he was able to shape the team and make it his own. Bringing in so many new faces at the same relative time period meant there was less of an entitlement of senior players at the club feeling that they deserved a starting place. Also, we must be cognizant of the fact that Wenger developed those players into world-class talents and he’s never been one to overspend to acquire those types of players.
Fast forward to the current crop of Arsenal players and players with much less experience are demanding they be starting every week and being played in certain roles. This is one of the few downsides of Wenger’s daring approach to give young players an opportunity. However, I accept that the game has evolved and that Wenger is currently dealing with a “me-first” generation where players’ demands continue to escalate in unreasonable manners. Although this is a huge issue, my article will look to compare and contrast our current roster with the world-class talent during the Invincibles season.
I identified five key players that I believe to be world-class talents and were integral to the glory years where Arsenal was always a contender and occasionally won the Premier League. These 5 key players played in essential positions that helped us dictate and dominate games. They should come as no surprise to any of you and are the following:
Sol Campbell – He was a rock for us in the heart of our defense at CB and was a no-nonsense player who provided invaluable leadership to our team. He is still regarded as one of the best CB to ever play for Arsenal and I believe he is well deserving of that recognition with two Premier league titles and three FA Cups to his name. Centre backs are one of the more overlooked positions on a roster, despite the fact that defense wins championships and CBs provide a necessary stability to any side. While Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Koscielny are all good defenders in their own right, we have failed to adequately replace Campbell since his departure.
Patrick Vieira – An individual who really made the box-to-box midfielder role his own, and was renowned for his galloping runs forward and domination of the midfield. He was an astute reader of the game, an excellent passer, a fearless tackler and an emotional leader. He could singlehandedly change a result and elevated the games of those around him. Opposing players feared the presence of Vieira and much like Campbell, Arsenal has failed to even come close to replacing him. When healthy, Diaby has had flashes of brilliance that mirrored Vieira’s passing and momentum charging forward, but his game has never been about being a vocal leader or a no-nonsense player.
Robert Pires – My favourite player to ever don an Arsenal jersey, Pires was a classy winger who accomplished everything from an offensive standpoint. He scored as if he were a striker, delivered many crafty passes and had an unparalleled combination of speed, movement, ball control, and on-pitch intelligence from out wide. Because he was such an immense threat on the wing, Pires opened up space in the middle of the park for Vieira, Henry and Bergkamp. Arsenal has lacked the creativity, directness and delivery from a wide position since Pires’ (and unfortunately to a lesser extent Na$ri’s) departure.
Dennis Bergkamp – A player capable of producing some truly spectacular moments and he had a strong desire to win through any means necessary. He was the epitome of a complete footballer who understood the game at another level. Defined by a sleek, fluid technique, Bergkamp also had the mental toughness that current Gunners are lacking. Wenger’s attempts to develop complete footballers have been in vain; current youth are not willing to develop their talents in various positions and want to make an immediate impact in their preferred spots. In an era where capitalism dominates, loyalty is extremely tough to come by. Bergkamp was and still is the epitome of a true Gunner through and through that wore his heart on his sleeve.
Thierry Henry – What more can be said about this football icon who is considered as one of the best strikers of all time? He was so fast and agile that he made everyone else look slow yet had the ball control and flair to take on defenders in tight spaces. He was dangerous from set pieces, could play a dangerous ball in the final third to a teammate, score from 35 yards out, create goals out of absolutely nothing and had unmatched movement. Despite not being the exact same type of striker, van Judas was a world-class replacement and Wenger failed to replace him after letting him go this summer. I rate Giroud relatively high, but I do not believe he will ever reach a world-class level like his predecessors.
Two areas that could be strengthened with class talents in January are the holding/box-to-box midfield position and right wing. If we can somehow acquire both, the onus once again falls on Wenger to groom them into world-class talents. Victor Wanyama of Celtic, Etienne Capoue of Toulouse or Kevin Strootman of PSV Eindhoven would fulfill the first need, while Jesus Navas of Sevilla, Isco of Malaga or Cristian Tello or Isaac Cuenca of Barcelona fit the latter need. All the suggested transfer targets are relatively young and can be groomed by Wenger, with the exception of Navas who is already a world-class talent. In my opinion, a world-class striker is not necessary if the delivery is top notch. It will be sufficient if Giroud can prove his ability to score goals whenever given the opportunity to. A support striker with a different playing style that complements Giroud would go a long way in providing us with a fresh approach, while also contributing if Giroud goes on a run of poor form.
I strongly believe it is this lack of world-class talent at those five key positions that is holding us back from the results we desire.
I accept that with Arsenal’s wage and transfer policies it may be impossible to ever build a squad as divine as the Invincibles, but our current roster is still a far cry from that of the glory years. One world-class talent in Cazorla and a burgeoning world-class talent in Wilshere are not enough for Arsenal to be consistent contenders. Finally, I would like to point out that I’m not saying we have zero talent in our squad; simply that we lack two to three top-end talents that would allow us to compete with teams like Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Do you Gooners agree about the lack of world-class talent currently in our side? Do you think a world-class striker or CB are more imperative than my suggestions? Let me know what you think, all comments appreciated!
Written by: The Gooner