I have always said of my teams, “if you’re going to lose, then just come out and suck and not drag out the experience for us.”
Well, Arsenal followed that directive perfectly last night, utterly collapsing within the first 12 minutes and saving the crowd at the Emirates the nuisance of watching the full 90.
Coming into this season, I really thought that this would be the season of reckoning for Arsene Wenger – the season where finally we miss out on the Champions League and where the deficiencies of our roster and transfer policy would be evident to even the most optimistic of Arsenal fans and most importantly, to Wenger himself. Well, thanks to Villa, Everton, and Spurs all melting down during one time or another, that has proven not to be the case.
But maybe the kind of humiliation we experienced yesterday will serve the same purpose. But is it too late? Will truly critical players like Fabregas and Adebayor leave? If they elect not to, will Wenger bring in the 4-5 experienced players that Arsenal clearly need to compete at the highest level? I think many of us in the latter-day school of Wenger-sceptics have known a day like this would come, when there could be no excuses of officiating or luck or field conditions or whatever.
The truth is that Arsenal is lucky to be in fourth place in the Premiership and have had an extremely advantageous draw of opponents in the Champions League (Steve McClaren!?!). Maybe Wenger’s youth-heavy system is good enough to sustain this kind of outside-looking-in existence. Maybe that’s all that is called for in the modern game, just qualify for the Champions League and make the knockout round and let the ducats flow in. Now, I don’t actually think that either club or its supporters think that’s enough, but let’s stop behaving that way.
The truly frustrating thing about this most recent period with Arsenal after the Champions League final loss is that they’re not actually that far away from competing for silverware. We were closer than we are now, but it’s still right there within our sight. At bare minimum, I suspect one true leader in defense and a real shark in holding midfield would’ve been enough to compete in yesterday’s match. While those aren’t easy to find, they aren’t impossible. In fact, here right now is a list of players in those two positions who I bet Arsenal could go get if they really wanted to.
- Carlos Marchena, 29, Valencia. Valencia could very well be in a fire sale situation there, and while I am unsure if we need Villa, there might be value in their captain who has medals from Euro 2008 and the 2001 UEFA Cup. He can play either in defense or in central midfield, both are weaknesses right now.
- Neven Subotić, 20, Borussia Dortmund. US fans will want to throw up, but he is considered one of the best defensive prospects in Europe. Plus, he will have had a full season of experience with Dortmund by the time he came here. Still, might be a bit too green for what Arsenal’s looking for.
- Per Mertesacker, 24, Werder Bremen. While he is locked into a contract until 2012, would Bremen really prevent the 6-6 “defense pole” (that’s seriously his nickname) from going to Arsenal? He’s another who played for Germany at Euro 2008.
- Naldo, 26, Werder Bremen. Enormous 6-5 defender nicknamed “the Ox,” he’s the only player on my brief list that would require a foreigner slot. But the big man not only defend, but is a real threat on set pieces, another area where Arsenal have looked lame at times.
- Jeremy Toulalan, 25, Lyon. France’s replacement for Makelele in the center of their midfield might be ready for new challenges after Lyon’s league winning streak comes to an end this season.
- Lorik Cana, 25, Marseille. This 25-year old Albanian-Swiss midfielder is nicknamed “le destructeur” and recently was named captain of league leading OM, the same club where we got Flamini. Watch this video and tell me he doesn’t look like someone we could use. Plus, doesn’t someone half Albanian, half-Swiss just sound like the kind of player Arsenal would get?
- Piotr Trochowski, 25, Hamburg. A member of Germany’s Euro 2008 side, he might be ready to step up to bigger team. Everton and Chelsea are supposedly also interested.
- Gareth Barry, 28, Aston Villa. Don’t laugh. If he’s good enough for Liverpool to chase after like they did, he’d probably work for us too.
- Daniele De Rossi, 25, Roma. I suspect it’ll be hard to pluck De Rossi from his hometown club, but it has to be worth a shot because Roma don’t appear to be going anywhere too quickly. I love this player and think he’d quickly become a legendary tough guy if allowed to marshal Arsenal’s midfield.
That list of 10 took all of about 20 minutes to put together. The talent is out there, Arsenal just have to be willing to splash some cash to get it.
Anyway, I hope yesterday was finally the day that turns our stubbornness in the transfer market around. The reality is that I don’t know what Arsenal will do? No one but Mr. Wenger ever does. The first good indication is if you hear Arsenal’s name thrown around in transfer rumors regarding incoming players. In the last couple years, you only heard Arsenal’s name come up regarding outgoing guys. If you hear Arsenal come up even for players you don’t eventually get, at least it means our proverbial bait is in the water.
Like everyone else, all I can do is wait and see.