It’s time for an Arsenal cull
It’s now almost 15 years since Arsène Wenger looked me in the eye and told me that I’d never play for Arsenal again. He wouldn’t have enjoyed delivering the bad news and I certainly didn’t like hearing it but the correct, necessary decision was made. As tough as it was, myself and rest of the ‘dead wood’ within Arsenal’s squad needed to be shifted in order for his Highbury revolution to begin in earnest.
Just over 12 months later, Wenger’s new-look Gunners squad won the Premier League and FA Cup double.
Since then Wenger has generally been a half-glass-full kind of guy. Look past the frown and deep into those dark blue eyes of his, and you’ll almost always find the Frenchman staring intently at the positives.
In recent weeks, Wenger’s optimism has been well founded. On the back of Arsenal’s courageous return from the abyss, eight wins from nine matches has given him immense pride in the players he entrusted with the shirts, and rightly so.
But despite the euphoria over their latest well-earned victory over Man City, I’d still urge the Arsenal boss to remove his red-tinted glasses and pause for a moment’s contemplation.
Character is one (albeit extremely satisfying) thing but facts are another and after 32 matches Arsenal have still enjoyed six fewer wins, endured six more defeats, scored 15 fewer goals and conceded 14 more than Manchester United. They also have 18 fewer points than the Premier League leaders.
Yes, they’ve shown tremendous spirit and bravery to peel themselves off the Old Trafford turf and smash five past Chelsea and Spurs en route to the top four, but the Gunners have fallen some distance short. This, after all, is a club that should be winning titles.
So how can the Arsenal boss close the gap on Sir Alex Ferguson’s champions-elect?
His task should begin by rewinding the clock and getting ruthless.
It must be a summer of tough love at the Emirates. The bar has to be raised and that means a swift, decisive cull is very much in order.
Just like me way back in 1997, it’s obvious that some players’ days as a first teamer at Arsenal are numbered.
In this category I’d place unwanted goalkeepers Manuel Almunia and Vito Mannone, dodgy defender Sebastien Squillaci, surplus midfielder Denilson and the talented but under-utilised Henri Lansbury. The same can be said for Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner, who have had enough chances to impress and fallen just short.
It mustn’t stop there, though. Other bold, painful choices have to be made.
Starting at the back and despite joining only in August, it’s apparent that Andre Santos can’t defend and he just doesn’t look like title-winning material. Back-up defender Johan Djourou is in the same boat.
It’s also time to give up the ghost and concede defeat on Abou Diaby’s fitness. If there’s a bargain hunter out there willing to take a punt on the gifted Frenchman, Arsenal should let them.
In attack, three more misfits must make way for others to come in and blossom. Andriy Arshavin’s love affair with north London has long since lost its sparkle, Park Chu-Young isn’t of a sufficient standard and after a promising start Marouane Chamakh is clearly climbing the walls in readiness for a return to mainland Europe.
The collective exit of these fringe players could recoup at least £50millon in transfer fees and approximately £600,000 a week in wages. Alongside the existing war chest that’s not an insignificant amount of cash.
Where it should be spent is Wenger’s prerogative, but if you imagine the current spirited side boosted by the return of Jack Wilshere and the continued development of Emmanuel Frimpong, Francis Coquelin and Ryo Miyaichi competing for places along with possible newcomers such as Lukas Podolski, Jan Vertonghen, Younes Belhanda, Yann M’Vila, Aly Cissokho, Cheik Tiote and Olivier Giroud it makes me smile. A lot. And the beauty is, it should cost the ever-scrupulous Wenger hardly a penny extra.
Competition for places and genuine strength in depth are trophy-winning formulas, but that’s where the Gunners come up short.
Evolution is no longer enough. The gap is too great. The gulf is too wide. It’s time for Wenger to go back to the beginning. It’s time for revolution number two.
Follow Adrian Clarke on Twitter @sms_adrian
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