Saturday 24 February 2018

Wenger to make cuts around Arsenal's fringes

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has seen his team tumble out of contention in four competitions this year and they now sit fourth in the Premier League. Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has seen his team tumble out of contention in four competitions this year and they now sit fourth in the Premier League. Photo: Getty Images

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Arsenal are facing a difficult summer thanks to a probable Champions League play-off in August and a possible squad overhaul before then.

Having surrendered third place in the Premier League to Manchester City on Tuesday night, the north Londoners may face the inconvenience of having to qualify for the Champions League through the play-off round.

Should Arsenal fail to get a better result at Fulham on Sunday than City record at Bolton then they will finish fourth, requiring them to play two more games in August just to reach the group stage.

The play-off should not be desperately difficult. Arsenal have recent, successful experience of the stage. They beat Celtic 5-1 on aggregate in 2009, Twente 6-0 in 2008 and Sparta Prague 5-0 in 2007.

Their place in the Uefa rankings guarantees them being seeded, which would allow them to avoid Bayern Munich, Lyon and Villarreal. Udinese, fourth in Serie A with one game left, are the most threatening non-seeds.

Dynamo Kiev and Twente would offer challenging ties, while Standard Liege, AEK Athens and Rubin Kazan might provide more accommodating tests should they win their third qualifying round fixtures.

If Arsenal end up having to participate in the play-offs, it would be a good indicator of how far their season has sunk from its winter heights.

In late February, Arsene Wenger's side were involved in a two-horse race for the Premier League title with Manchester United, had just beaten Barcelona at home in the Champions League last 16, and were set for a Carling Cup final against Birmingham City.

However, they lost at Wembley after gifting Birmingham the winning goal and the trauma of that defeat threw Arsenal into a violent spin from which they have never recovered.

They were swiftly knocked out of the Champions League and FA Cup by Barcelona and Manchester United respectively. Of the 10 league games they have played since, they have won two, drawn five and lost three, dropping them down from second to fourth.

This collapse of form has led to increasing discontent among fans, which manifested itself in booing after the recent home defeat to Aston Villa and the dramatic draw with Liverpool, when the Gunners conceded an equaliser deep into injury-time.

One hope for unhappy supporters is that Wenger will retreat from his purist's approach to both tactics and signings.

Arsenal have played 4-2-3-1 all season and Wenger admitted last week that "against the teams who only came to defend, maybe we have dropped too many points".

There is a sense that they lack variety in attack, as well as the now-traditional absences of an authoritative centre-back and a midfield enforcer.

To those ends, Arsenal are thought to be considering moves for Bolton centre-half Gary Cahill as well as Paris St-Germain defender Mamadou Sakho.

In midfield, recently relegated West Ham talisman Scott Parker is a key target, and his signing would represent an about-turn given Wenger's recent reluctance to buy players in their 30s. Many of the disappointing fringe players are likely to leave, including Denilson, Tomas Rosicky, Emmanuel Eboue and Andrey Arshavin.


Robin van Persie, however, has pledged his future to the club and expressed a determination to help find the consistency to challenge for the Premier League title.

Van Persie did not find the net in a league game until January 1 but went on to claim 20 goals in all competitions in 22 games. Add in the two goals in two games he bagged for his country, and the Dutchman is a man in form.

Of his future, Van Persie was adamant, saying: "I'm an Arsenal player, of course. I have a deal until 2013, so two more seasons."

And, as for the club's disappointment on the trophy front again, he insisted Arsenal are not far from challenging on both domestic and European fronts.

"We came close, very, very close this season," the Dutchman said.

"If you look at our games against big teams, I think we are first in that small league. We gained so many points against them. We need to be more consistent because we have everything in our team.

"To play at the highest level is to be consistent because when you look at Barcelona, they are playing four or five top games after each other, but they are normally still winning.

"Then, you are a really good team and that's what they are doing -- and that's what our aim should be." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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