Have Arsenal Been Out-Gunned For Top 4?

Under normal circumstances the old Gunners' cry of "this will be our year" would be on the tips of many Arsenal fans' tongues. However, the likelihood of Arsene Wenger leading his troops to the title looks to be about as far away as it ever has, if not further. Since 2005, Arsenal has slowly slipped backwards every season. Their decline from greatness has even become something of a perverse form of torture for many of the Gunners fans, as they are now significantly lagging behind not only Manchester United and Chelsea but Manchester City too.

For the last two seasons running, the Gunners has finished 12 points behind the eventual winners. For the fans this is hard to take. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of the board, and maybe even Wenger, who all seem more than happy to see the North London outfit perform well in the profit margins. In short, there is a diametric difference between the fans and board.

In May, Wenger said that despite everything the season had still been a successful one for the Gunners. This of course, was the Frenchman's last throw of the dice with his squad as he tried to psychologically stimulate his shell-shocked troops. When his words had no effect he eventually admitted that the 2010-'11 season had been the toughest of his career.

He said; "The last (season) was the toughest season in my career. Emotionally, it was very difficult because we were on a low and then you could see the last three or four weeks were very difficult."

Arsenal only won three from 15 after losing to relegated Birmingham City in the Carling Cup Final. To put it succinctly, the Gunners season crashed a burned after March 1. Now, as we head towards the 2011-'12 season and turn over a new leaf, Arsenal should be chomping at the bit ready to go. Instead, we have had to endure a summer of transfer speculation as players refused to commit their futures to the club and in doing so they have sapped the confidence of the club. And when you play a style of football where confidence is its very foundation, it means the following season is already looking like an uphill battle.

Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, arguably the clubs two best players have both stated their intentions to move on to try and win something while they still can. For Fabregas, that means his on/off transfer/love affair with Barcelona is back on the cards and realistically it should be wrapped up before the transfer window closes. The problem for Arsenal here, and Wenger knows this, is that Barca have the required £40 million in their bank accounts ready for the deal. But they will drag the negotiations on as long as possible in order to reduce the fee by as much as possible.

This leaves the Gunners in an awkward place, there is no guarantee that the deal will go through so; do they replace Fabregas now with money they don't necessarily have? And face his fee being negotiated down as a result of now needing to sell him. Or do they wait until deadline day for the £40 million and hope to replace their captain with whoever is available? Because no matter which way you look at Wenger's squad, there is no ready made replacement for the Spaniard.

Then we have Nasri, Emmanuel Eboue, and Nicklas Bendtner's potential transfers, before we even mention the departure of Gael Clichy to Manchester City or Denilson's loan move to Sao Paulo in Brazil.

All is not well at the Emirates.

Last season Arsenal was some way behind their rivals in terms of squad strength and there were numerous areas of the pitch that needed strengthening. Not one player of stature was added to the team last year and the Gunners found themselves slipping backwards. This summer has only seen two arrivals, Carl Jenkinson from Charlton and Gervinho from Lille for a combined fee of £11.5 million between them. Again, they both look like classic Wenger signings, but neither will improve the team enough for a title bid.

Like every season since 2003, Arsenal needs a top quality goal keeper. In previous years the thinking was that if the Gunners were going to challenge for the title they needed to have someone of stature between the posts and since 2005 that has not been the case. Last season the goalkeeping issue was a major point of concern for football pundits and Arsenal fans alike and the lack of depth in that position was one of the deciding factors in the Gunners eventual 4th placed finish.

However, when all things are considered, Arsenal do not need that player this because they will not win the league. Many openly questioned the wisdom of selling Clichy to Manchester City without taking Shay Given plus cash but why bring in a top class 'keeper when the rest of the team is not up to scratch? His arrival would only stunt the development of Wojciech Szczesny. Last term the young Pole was one of the season’s great positives and he has done enough to warrant his inclusion for the foreseeable.

Defence was a problem last year and once again it will provide more than its fair share again. A quick glance at the Gunners squad reveals only six players of regular first team quality, and only two of those are full backs. Thomas Vermaelan will return to bolster the defence and in all probability he will also take the captains armband should Fabregas decide to leave, while Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs will provide the width on either side of the four man defence.

The only real question Wenger has to ask of his defence at the moment is who to go with between Johan Djourou, Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny. Thankfully Squillaci seems consigned to the bench while a blind man could tell you to go for the reliable Swiss. However, the haphazard Koscielny started both games in the recent Emirates Cup so the only real thing you can take from that is that Wenger isn't sure about who to trust with Vermaelan and he may yet look to bolster his back-line with a centre half of Gary Cahill type qualities, especially if he is nervous about dropping out of the top four.

That may come to pass if Spurs or Liverpool can strengthen significantly in certain areas, for Tottenham that means a new centre forward while the Reds will be looking to improve a one-paced defensive unit.

Midfield wise, the arrival of Jack Wilshire solved many problems but no sooner has the 19-year-old bedded in and it looks like his preferred partners, Nasri and Fabregas are both moving on. This will leave Wenger with significant ground to cover. Wilshire, phenomenal talent that he is, is still learning his trade and badly needs some experience beside him to help him out when times get rough.

Alex Song is not that kind of player, and if Fabregas moves on much will be expected of the Cameroonian in terms of leadership and most importantly, creativity. Nasri may stay and rotate with Aaron Ramsey or Abou Diaby but that will still leave the Gunners extremely light weight through the middle, especially if, as expected, Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin are positioned out wide.

So once again, midfield will be a problem area. In the longer term, Wilshire's arrival may mean Wenger could revert to a 4-4-2 away from the 4-5-1/4-3-3 that he has used over the last couple of seasons.

Up front, Arsenal fans will have great hopes for Gervinho. The Ivory Coast international is not the most prolific of strikers, he only scored 50 goals in 160 games in France, a much weaker league, but he is physically strong, if not tall - he stands at 5' 10", and he may be just what Wenger needs if the Gunners are moving towards a more counter attacking style of football with Robin van Persie dropping off as a link.

But when all is said and done, Arsenal has not improved enough to win the league and they still face the prospect of moving ever backwards again, if they lose certain players.

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