x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Winds of change are needed at Arsenal

Procrastination in the transfer market is costing Arsenal, but time is running out to make the additions, desperately needed, to the squad.

While Hurricane Irene was battering the east coast of the United States, a perfect storm was engulfing a football club from North London.

As Arsenal's defence was breached eight times in a game for the first time since 1896, Arsene Wenger settled for referring to "very special circumstances".

He did not elaborate and was wise not to. As the Frenchman accepted, 8-2 defeats, even at Old Trafford, are not the occasion to cite excuses.

A one-off result had a unique backdrop. This was a day when injuries and illness, when suspensions and sales, when fatigue and an unfriendly fixture list all took their toll. Factor a marauding, magnificent Manchester United into the mix and almost everything that could have gone wrong did.

The context may not ease the pain, but it explains the scale of the thrashing. Wednesday's win over Udinese was a huge effort (as well as illustrating Wenger's ongoing value to Arsenal) and occurred while United had a midweek off.

Four days later, Wenger was without Thomas Vermaelen, his premier centre-back, his first-choice full-backs, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs, his three foremost defensive midfielders in Alex Song, Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Frimpong, plus the flair of Jack Wilshere and Gervinho.

The departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri would have been troublesome enough had they left at the start of the summer; instead, nearing its end, replacements have been harder to secure.

While some of United's bench have global renown, several of their Arsenal counterparts could walk the streets surrounding the Emirates Stadium without attracting attention.

Nevertheless, this was an unprecedented humiliation.

It is tautological to call it the greatest crisis of Wenger's wonderful reign; such has been the extraordinary consistency of his sides that they have never reached the critical stage.

Now, perhaps, they do. The circumstances have been cruel but where Wenger can be faulted is in his failure to reinforce a defence that was woefully inadequate at Old Trafford.

His procrastination has highlighted the failings there. When Phil Jones opted for United ahead of Arsenal, it was early June. It is now late August and a centre-back remains on the wish list, just as it was when last season concluded.

The process should have been accelerated long ago because, as they showed on Sunday, Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou are not the answer.

An offer for Everton's Phil Jagielka was rejected and last week's bid for Gary Cahill was deemed derisory by Bolton (by the by, with Cahill's contract expiring next year, it was not as insulting as Wanderers would suggest), but Arsenal are no longer in a position to haggle. The prospect of paying over the odds does not appeal to Wenger, but inaction can be costly, too.

It is bemusing, too, that no attempt was made to sign Jose Enrique, one who earned Wenger's admiration, when Liverpool pounced. As the Spaniard had acquired a reputation as one of the Premier League's finest left-backs at Newcastle United and cost less than Arsenal recouped by selling Gael Clichy to Manchester City, the books could have been balanced and the back four bolstered.

Personnel problems were coupled with a chronic lack of organisation in a defence who had never played together before, and surely never will again.

In the days of George Graham's rigorously drilled back four, an invisible line connected Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Nigel Winterburn. The positioning of Carl Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny and Armand Traore was so haphazard it could have been borrowed from a Jackson Pollock painting.

After the biggest loss of his reign comes one of the most crucial passages of time. The final 48 hours of the transfer window assume enormous importance for Arsenal.

*****

A new season can provide a new start. Indeed, for some the novelty is that it offers a chance to start.

Last year, Ivan Klasnic was a perennial substitute, coming off the Bolton Wanderers bench 22 times without beginning a league game.

This time around, in a squad stripped of Daniel Sturridge and Johan Elmander, he has begun every game and scored on each occasion. Having acquired a reputation as the best finisher at the Reebok Stadium, Klasnic is now getting the opportunity to illustrate it.

*****

Events at the DW Stadium on Saturday had a novelty. It would not normally be described as a shock when a striker scores, but Franco di Santo is no average attacker. Seventy-two games in England had brought the Argentine a mere two goals. Within the space of 26 minutes, a further two followed in Wigan's win over QPR. Perhaps this represents a turning point. If so, it would be welcome for Wigan, whose lack of a clinical finisher has been their greatest weakness.

 

sports@thenational.ae