Offer Arsene Wenger a choice between the past and the future and the Arsenal manager won't usually spend hours agonising.
Wenger has key decisions to make
Offer Arsene Wenger a choice between the past and the future and the Arsenal manager won't usually spend hours agonising. A preference for the promising over the proven is invariably evident. Now, however, the Frenchman finds himself in a rare quandary. Where Patrick Vieira is concerned, even Wenger may be a nostalgic. The Emirates Stadium contained plenty of them as the former captain's name rang out in the weekend wins over Atletico Madrid and Glasgow Rangers. At the same time, Arsenal's emerging players, epitomised by Jack Wilshere, were making an emphatic case for selection.
These are complex times for Wenger. A manager who has almost opted out of the transfer market for established players has a sizeable budget after disbanding his African contingent by selling Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City. Wenger tends to ignore calls to buy but, just as he may make an exception in recruiting the veteran Vieira, he has the opportunity to spend. Indeed, one man is hoping he will. "Going to Arsenal is my dream," the Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh said after one bid from Wenger was rejected. "I am at the end of my contract and the club want to turn this into a money issue. What the club are asking for is not fair."
The composed finishing of Eduardo, who scored the second in the 3-0 win against Rangers, shows Wenger possesses a predator. Chamakh, at 6ft 2in, is a different type of striker and one, Nicklas Bendtner apart, that Arsenal lack. Indeed, while they are often said to need three players - a tall target man, a commanding central midfielder and a dominant defender - the only requirement is quality, not quantity. Among the accusations levelled at Wenger is that he possesses a small squad. Yet with Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky returning from injuries and Aaron Ramsey, Johan Djourou, Kieran Gibbs, Carlos Vela and Wilshere a year further in their development, that is not the case.
The Emirates Cup showed that Wenger has enviable dilemmas. Inevitably, they involve his flair players. While Samir Nasri is sidelined for three months, options still abound. Pre-season has revealed a fondness for a solitary striker, pitting Eduardo against Robin van Persie. The equation on the flanks includes Rosicky and Theo Walcott, plus Wilshere - man of the match in successive days - and Andrey Arshavin.
The impudent Russian, who scored his second goal against Atletico from an improbable angle, appeared the master and Wilshere, who mustered a brace against the Scottish champions, the eager apprentice. Fabio Capello's presence in the stands encouraged talk of an England call-up for the 17-year-old, who is yet to start a Premier League game. Wilshere, sensibly, said: "I'm just concentrating on getting in the Arsenal team."
When Arsenal are at their best, however, a note of caution is required. They enjoy exhibition football even in the context of Premier League games, so friendlies provide an ideal opportunity to showcase their skills. The start of the season, though, provides a stiffer test. Three of their first four fixtures are away and at Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City. Factor in a potentially tricky Champions League qualifier and the preparation pre-season matches provide can be questioned. With a healthy transfer budget, the sense that a world-class talent is announcing himself and the option of re-signing a totemic captain, Wenger's decisions are taking on a still greater importance. For once, he may be agonising over them.