By Husmukh Kerai
Arsene Wenger cut a desolate figure in his post-match interview after Arsenal claimed a fortuitous point away to Southampton, denting their push for an all-important Champions League finish.
The Frenchman was frank in addressing the fact that his side were simply not good enough. The Gunners’ performance at St Mary’s Stadium was one which lacked heart or quality. Such a display on the very first day of the transfer window should prove a timely reminder for the 63-year-old that he must put his hand in his pocket this January.
Any potential additions in the window will obviously aid Arsenal’s push for a top-four finish but the effect it could have on the players already at the Emirates Stadium is possibly more significant.
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There is a worrying lack of competition among this current crop of Arsenal players. Seasoned professionals such as Lukas Podolski, Bacary Sagna and even Santi Cazorla to some extent, are guaranteed their slot in Arsene Wenger’s starting line-up regardless of their form.
In recent weeks Sagna has been a shadow of the player who many have considered to be the best right-back in the Premier League, while against the Saints, Lukas Podolski once again failed to make a significant contribution before being substituted after just an hour.
Recruits in either of those positions would be a much-needed kick up their backside, letting players know they cannot just keep going through the motions and continue to command a starting berth every week.
Admittedly results have improved for the Gunners over the past month or so, but realistically in that time they can only claim to have played convincingly against Reading’s leaky defence and for one half against a fatigued Newcastle.
A win against Southampton would have made it five league wins in a row for the north Londoners, but only Theo Walcott can claim to have shown signs of consistent form in that run of games, and that is only the case because the 23-year-old is playing for an improved contract or putting himself in the shop window.
But, Olivier Giroud, Walcott’s rival for that spot in the side, has also shown plenty of endeavour when given his chance to impress. It is no coincidence; competition eliminates complacency among the first team. Excluding central defence, the solo striking position is the only hotly contested position in Wenger’s team at the moment.
Compare Arsenal to their rivals and the contrast in the quality of the alternatives available is clear to see. In their last league games, Chelsea brought on Oscar and Victor Moses, Manchester United used Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa while the Gunners could only call on Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey.
The Gunners’ substitutes more often than not do very little to improve the side or, even worse, actually hinder their chances. While Ramsey still has a promising future, neither he nor Gervinho would get anywhere near their rivals’ first team, and on current performances, they should not be doing so at Arsenal either.
Any team can have an off-day creatively but there were a couple of very worrying incidents for Arsenal fans in the game against Southampton. Too often players showed very little intention of winning the ball back once they had lost it. There was a distinct lack of urgency shown to take the final throw-in of the match in injury time, with all three points still up for grabs, that alone should ring alarm bells for Wenger.
Wenger is far too patient with his underperforming stars; while he does not show a blind or misguided faith in his squad, the Arsenal boss sticks with his out-of-sorts players for longer than any other manager in the division tends to.
Stubbornness is something he has always been accused of, and while it can be a virtue in football management, it is almost as if discarding a player he handpicked would be akin to admitting a mistake. The Frenchman needs to be more cut-throat in his evaluation of his player’s individual performances, or he risks letting their inconsistencies stifle any momentum his team ever muster.
We are led to believe that the money is there for the Frenchman to make top quality additions to his squad this month. He urgently needs to create competition within the club, as failure to do so might mean it is the last time the 63-year-old is allowed to shop as the Gunners’ manager.
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