A number of former Arsenal players have been in the news recently, speaking on the state of Arsene Wenger’s squad and what type of improvements may be needed for the Gunners to re-emerge as title threats in the Barclays Premier League.
Arsenal have gone five seasons without capturing the league crown, falling to fourth spot this past season while seeing Manchester United claim its third straight Premier League trophy.
But ex-Gunner Perry Groves believes that despite the North London side’s slip below Liverpool and Chelsea in the standings, Arsenal is better equipped than any club to topple Manchester United next season.
Speaking to arsenal.com’s Chris Harris, Groves said, “When you lose players like Flamini, Lehmann, Gilberto and Hleb – four senior players – it does create a hole because younger players who come into the side haven’t been in that situation before. That’s what happened last season but the youngsters matured during the campaign and they will be better for the experience.”
“United have a maturity about them, they are physically mature,” added the former Gunner, who played at Highbury from 1986 to 1992. “They have been together for a number of years now and this is their third title in a row so they know how to win championships. They have players who know how to perform in the big games.
“If you look at the age of our squad it’s very young and sometimes as a youngster you need a few experienced players around you when things aren’t going well to galvanise everybody,” continued Groves. “But I actually think as a squad we’re closer to challenging Manchester United than Liverpool or Chelsea because I think we are only two players away.
“The squad looks strong and they are all excellent players technically. I think if we make the right signings we’ll be up there challenging again.”
Another former Gunner, Alan Smith, agrees that a few shrewd buys will make the difference for Wenger’s men in the upcoming season. Smith, who helped lead Arsenal to league championships in 1989 and 1991 during his playing days in North London, told arsenal.com’s Harris that some “astute signings can turn Arsenal’s potential into tangible reward.
“There were periods last season in which they produced some outstanding football, but they never looked like a title-winning team in my book,” stated Smith. “I suppose that was hammered home in the games against Manchester United in the Champions League and then Chelsea. They were just a bit short.”
Smith added that “there is so much talent, so much potential, but the mix isn’t quite right at the moment. Everybody is telling Arsene Wenger that so I think it will be interesting to see who arrives in the summer, I think one or two will come in to give the squad a better balance.”
As far as the types of players offering such a boost to the squad, Smith would like to see “a commanding stopper brought in. He doesn’t need to be technically brilliant, but someone who can head balls away and command the box. It would be nice to see a holding midfielder too, someone to work alongside Cesc Fabregas when we need someone to sit there and break up the play.”
With Arsenal’s defensive inconsistencies this past season, a Tony Adams type in the center of defense would surely stabilize things for the Gunners. Adams, the Arsenal legend who was part of Wenger’s double-winning sides in 1998 and 2002, expects the manager to bring players in but wonders if the sufficient financial backing is there.
Speaking at a Nationwide event this week and quoted in The Daily Mirror, Adams said that “people on the board – and the fans – want more. But they can’t actually back it up with the financial weight to do it. ”
The former Gunner captain and Portsmouth manager even went as far as saying, ”I don’t know who it is, but I think there’s someone on the board who’s not pro-Arsene. I don’t know who it is, but that’s what I’ve heard.”
”The fans have got very high standards now,” Adams continued. “They’re crying out for experience and the fans are not silly, they know the team needs experience at the back and in central midfield.
”Arsene knows, too. He’s not a silly man. But you tell me a player they can get for the money they’ve got. It’s unrealistic. Some of the fans have got frustrated and he will be too, but with a couple of signings I don’t think we’ll be far off next year.
“I expect the manager to spend, without doubt. He will get money and they are quite rightly being cagey about how much, because he’s not a fool and doesn’t want to put the price up on his transfer targets,” added Adams. “I’m sure he’ll go out with a determined mind to try and strengthen in certain areas.”
Adams’ former teammate in defense, Lee Dixon, has heard the criticisms of Arsene Wenger for his club’s recent drought without silverware, but believes the Arsenal manager is still the best in the business.
“Everyone has got their opinion and some have been critical but Arsene Wenger is still Mr Arsenal, as far as I’m concerned,” Dixon told Arsenal.com.
The former Gunners right back mentioned the rousing reception given by home supporters to Wenger before, during and after the final game at Emirates Stadium as a sure sign that Arsenal fans still have faith in him.
“He can do little wrong for me; I still rate him hugely as a manager and what he’s done for this football club has been phenomenal,” stated Dixon. “It was disappointing to end the season with no silverware, but I don’t think the team needs a huge amount of surgery, it just needs strengthening in certain areas.
“We can all have our opinion where that is, but I’m not the Arsenal manager and I’m certainly not one to criticise Arsene Wenger in who he buys and who he sells.”