The last time the Gunners won a trophy was the FA Cup in 2005 when many of the team dubbed the ‘Invincibles’ were still in the team. The 2003/04 side went an entire Premier League season unbeaten with the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis, Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, and Patrick Vieira in their ranks.
Boss Arsene Wenger opted to build the new stadium at Ashburton Grove and subsequently the Frenchman had to tighten his purse strings in the transfer market. The club sold off a string of its finest assets – top players like Ashley Cole, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Robin van Persie.
A substantial section of the fan base seemed to turn on both the board and the manager this term after yet another unfruitful campaign with Arsenal just craping into fourth place ahead of North London rivals Tottenham on the last day of the season.
Now, however, it seems the club and the manager are prepared to spend big – speculation over their potential speculation was fortified by remarks from chief executive Ivan Gazidis who insisted Arsenal were prepared to compete with the big guns of Europe like Bayern Munich to pay big transfer fees and big wages.
Arsenal have been linked with a number of top quality forwards this summer – the likes of Stevan Jovetic, Wayne Rooney and Gonzalo Higuain. After selling Van Persie to Manchester United where he went on to be crowned a Premier League champion this season, the Gunners have relied solely upon French striker Olivier Giroud as their only recognized centre-forward.
Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and even Gervinho featured up front for brief spells but Giroud was Wenger’s only real option to lead the line.
The ‘Invincibles’ team had Thierry Henry, then the best player in the world at the peak of his powers, along with an aging Dennis Bergkamp, France international and World Cup winner Sylvain Wiltord and Nigerian Nwankwo Kanu.
The club have officially announced this week the signing of highly-rated French youngster Yaya Sanogo on a free transfer from Auxerre. The 20-year-old striker will surely not be the only striker Wenger signs this summer but, to start off with, he’s a decent addition to bring depth and potential to the squad.
Now, if Arsenal really do keep their word to the fans and bring in a top quality forward like Higuain who now looks the most likely, they would have a lot more room to maneuver in terms of their options up front.
Wenger could stick with Giroud as a target-man of sorts or alternate him with the new signing. He could even revert to the ‘Invincibles’ formation of 4-4-1-1 or keep his 4-4-3 from recent years with Walcott and Podolski flanking the centre-forward.
At the very least, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are showing a willingness to change – the fans and the media may have forced their hand in many ways but the Gunners spent most of last season with only one gun in their arsenal and that has never been the case since Wenger arrived 17 years ago.
Looking at the squads of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and even Tottenham it’s almost outrageous to think that Arsenal really thought they could compete with just one out-and-out striker this term.
United lost out on the title to City the previous season despite having Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck and Dimitar Berbatov to choose from up front.
The Red Devils bought Van Persie and ran away with the title whilst City placed in second despite starting this season off with Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli. Even Spurs have Jermaine Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor.
It’s almost baffling that Wenger relied on Giroud for pretty much the entire campaign and it was a big gamble in the first place given that he’d just arrived in England and would reasonably need time to adapt.
With all that in mind, it’s actually quite remarkable and certainly encouraging that Arsenal managed to clinch fourth place in the end. Their unbeaten run at the end of the season also bodes well for their next campaign.
They’ve now laid the foundations from which to build on but to really challenge for silverware they need to bring in one top quality striker and, realistically, that may not even be enough. If they really want to win trophies next season they may well need to bring in two quality strikers to compete with Giroud and young Sanogo for a place up front. Now that would be a proper arsenal.
image: © Jan S0L0