Since the move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, Arsenal fans have been waiting for their beloved Gunners to mount a serious title challenge – they’ve come close a couple of times but fell short usually around April.
Every Gooner has an opinion as to why this is the case but a common theme is a lack of recruitment in key areas. Arsenal has bought some fantastic players recently but many feel they lack depth in midfield and are missing a world-class striker.
Great strikers are a rarity anyway so perhaps it was unsurprising that Arsene Wenger failed to bring one in, however the Gunners manager maintains that internal solutions are sometimes just as good as external ones.
Under pressure to mount a serious challenge the Arsenal manager took the risk of allowing Theo Walcott to develop into a lone striker, preferring him in the majority of Arsenal games this season over stalwart Olivier Giroud.
Little was expected of the young Englishman, at least first, but he has flourished in that role and been a main provider of goals for the Gunners this season, both in scoring and assisting. Luck has nothing to do with it either as the former Southampton trainee has worked hard to improve his off the ball work and his hold-up play – an area many felt he would struggle.
Internationally, Theo is preferred on the right but he has expressed his desire to replicate his club progress with country and possibly replace Wayne Rooney as a choice striker. Sooner rather than later Rooney will need replacing and Walcott believes he can be the one to do so with the England Captain dropping into midfield.
Alan Shearer recently wrote in his Coral blog that every player has his day and when it’s over, it’s over and you need to replace them – it’s the case for Wayne Rooney as much as it is for John Terry or any other player in their 30s. Persisting with a player when they are past their best isn’t the killer, he implied, but not replacing them is and Arsenal fans know this better than anyone.
Undefeated in 49 games, the Invincibles were a team had reached their peak and when you are at the Zenith of your strength there is only one way to go. Not replacing Henry, Vieira, Pires, Gilberto, Bergkamp (until Özil came but even then he still has a lot to prove), Campbell and Lehmann held Arsenal back for quite a few years. Keeping the faith with average talent like Denilson, Bendtner, Gervinho, Djourou and Almunia held them back even longer.
Alan Hansen once famously said “You can’t win anything with kids” and whilst he was wrong about the exceptional Class of ’92 at Manchester United he’s been right for every other club that has tried project youth, including Arsenal.
Something changed at Arsenal in recent years thought and Wenger supplemented his best young British players with top quality imports and world-class bargains like Cazorla, Özil and Sanchez and even Petr Cech who is a much belated but nonetheless welcome replacement for Jens Lehmann
Sanchez has been a revelation for Arsenal and his partnership so far this season with Walcott has been immense – they’ve built a real understanding and seem to complement each other well. But it is nothing compared to the Walcott/Özil partnership which in 1495 minutes of football has created 51 goals at an average rate of 1 per 29.3 minutes. It’s an incredible statistic.
Theo Walcott isn’t Thierry Henry, neither was Van Persie, but it’s not always the talent that needs replacing. Cech is not Lehmann, Alexis is not Pires, Mesut is not Dennis but they don’t have to be direct replacements but they do that to replace their effect on the team, although that can be spread amongst many players, so in some senses this Arsenal team is making progress in replacing the legends that went before.
Holding midfield is still the unanswered question for Arsenal but who is to say there isn’t an internal solution for that one too? That might be pushing it a bit far and much will rest on the January transfer window and following Shearer’s advice of replacing those who need replacing, which for Arsenal is ultimately Arteta and Flamini. For now we can enjoy the growing stature of Theo Walcott and the improving results of the team and hope we do the right thing in the next window.