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Wileman: Trying days ahead for Wenger and Arsenal

Luke Wileman
8/19/2013 9:53:29 AM
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Havearsenalspentanymoneyyet.com. You probably already know the answer without needing to check out the website, but the answer is there in two big bold letters - NO – with a countdown clock that signals there are 12 days left until the transfer window closes.

That's 12 days remaining for exasperated Arsenal fans to dream of their club making the big signings that have been promised but have so far failed to materialize. The natives were getting restless in North London well before Saturday's home defeat to Aston Villa in their opening match of the Premier League season, but the way the Gunners crumbled against a Villa side that will likely be looking at a mid-table finish magnified the problems facing Arsene Wenger.

To make it even worse, if early prognosis is correct, an injury layoff for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will deny Arsenal one of their main attacking threats until at least Christmas.

Saturday's loss came after what looked to be the perfect start for the under pressure Wenger.

Just six minutes in, Olivier Giroud exposed some horrific Villa defending to tap home the opening goal of the game. However, 84 minutes later, Gunners fans were heading for the exits at the Emirates having seen their side concede two penalties, finish with ten men and lose the match 3-1. Even on the opening day, it was clear to see that one of the best pieces of business done in the Premier League this summer was Villa's ability to keep hold of Christian Benteke.

It's not that Arsenal hasn't tried to strengthen. They have already had a couple of bids for want-away Liverpool striker Luis Suarez turned down, and lost out to Napoli for Gonzalo Higuain. Wayne Rooney's name has also been front and centre on the Emirates shopping list. But talk is cheap.

Signing a striker will not cure everything. Arsenal are so far behind the top three clubs and now also trailing behind their North London rivals Tottenham in terms of quality. As well as attacking help, the also need to improve at the back and in midfield. Their inability to get big names to sign on the dotted line is an indication of how far the club has dropped in the minds of Europe's top players as they perceive a lack of ambition.

Earlier this season I had the chance to chat with Arsenal legend Thierry Henry when he was in Toronto with the New York Red Bulls. We discussed some of his best memories from his time at Arsenal and the players he was alongside in the team that won two championships just after the turn of the century.

While there was great attacking quality in that side with flair players such as Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and Freddie Ljungberg, the heartbeat of that team was Patrick Vieira, driving them forward from midfield. Arsenal are really lacking that kind of leadership in their current squad. There quite simply is zero comparison between the level of quality Wenger had at his disposal in that team and what he has available now.

The club's current predicament has been largely self-induced. It didn't help when they gift-wrapped the title for Manchester United last season by handing over the Premier League's top striker Robin van Persie. Every goal the Dutchman scores seems to be a reminder of how far Arsenal have fallen.

Also, as my broadcast partner Jason deVos keeps saying, if you're going to make promises in sports, you better be able to keep them.

When addressing an Arsenal Supporters Trust meeting in June the club's Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis talked of an increased spending power that would allow Arsenal to compete for the top signings and give Wenger the ability to put together a squad that would be able to end the club's eight-year trophy drought – but so far there's been nothing.

When they won the title in the 03-04 season, Arsenal went all season without losing a game. It was only the second time a team in England had achieved that since the formation of the Football League in 1888. They were great times for Arsenal, but a decade later, the club is a shadow of its former self.

If the Gunners fail to add any big names to their squad before the end of the month, a long and painful season lies ahead.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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