Soccer

deVos: Arsenal fans riding an emotional rollercoaster

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Jason deVos, TSN.ca
8/25/2014 11:29:31 AM
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Is there a Premier League fan base that has been on more of an emotional rollercoaster ride for the last few years than Arsenal's?

For 80 minutes on Saturday, Arsenal fans were ruing the lack of a “world class” goal scorer, chastising manager Arsene Wenger for failing to address this shortcoming during the transfer window. Trailing 2-0 away to Everton, Arsenal looked on course for yet another failure on the road against a top-five team – venues at which they had not won in their previous 14 attempts, taking only three points from a possible 42.

It wasn't just the lack of a natural predator that saw Wenger come under fire; most Gunners feel that the absence of a proven goal scorer, along with a dominant holding midfielder and a commanding central defender is preventing Arsenal from being genuine title challengers this season.

Yet the narrative shifted from “we just aren't good enough” to “we have tremendous character!” in the final 10 minutes on Saturday.

First, Aaron Ramsey side-footed home a teasing cross from second-half substitute Santi Cazorla in the 83rd minute to bring Arsenal to within a goal. Then, in the 90th minute, halftime substitute Olivier Giroud headed home the equalizer from a Nacho Monreal cross.

Arsenal fans went from agony to ecstasy in just seven minutes.

Despite the result – and many will argue that the draw was down to Everton's inability to kill off the game rather than anything special from Arsenal – the murmurs of discontent will continue for Gunners' fans.

Olivier Giroud is someone that should be leading the line for Arsenal. I cannot understand why some Arsenal fans do not rate him; he holds the ball up well, bringing Arsenal's wealth of midfield talent into play, is an aerial threat and a physical presence, but most importantly, he scores goals. Last season, only five players in the Premier League (Suarez, Sturridge, Toure, Aguero and Rooney) scored more than Giroud's 16 league goals.

Does Arsenal need another striker to challenge Giroud for a place in the starting lineup? Absolutely – especially if the injury he sustained in the closing minutes of Saturday's game keeps him out for any length of time. But suggesting that Giroud isn't up to the job of being the main man is wide of the mark.

More pressing for me is Arsenal's lack of power in midfield.

One of my favourite teams in the Premier League era was Wenger's “Invincibles” – the team that won the Premier League in 2003-04 without suffering a single defeat. While Arsenal teams have always placed a premium on style, that team also had the steel needed to win the title.

Look at the spine of that team: Jens Lehmann in goal, Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure at the back, Patrick Vieira and Gilberto in midfield and Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp up top. Just the thought of lining up against that team made opponents shudder, because not only could they play, they were also horrible to play against.

That doesn't mean that they ran about simply kicking everything that moved – far from it. It meant that they didn't shirk challenges when they needed to be made, nor do they shirk responsibility when their team needed them to deliver.

Henry was never renowned for his tackling ability or for his toughness, but anyone who watched him play for Arsenal would agree that he had ice running through his veins. When it mattered most for Arsenal, he delivered. The same can be said for Bergkamp.

In midfield, Vieira had the combination of size, strength, talent and personality that the current Arsenal midfield is most lacking.

There isn't a player in Wenger's 2014 Arsenal team that even remotely resembles Vieira, and this is where I feel Wenger's transfer dealings have fallen short.

The additions of Alexis Sanchez, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy have been good ones for Arsenal, as all three are likely to be heavily involved in Arsenal's starting lineup this year. But none of them addresses the most pressing deficiency in Wenger's squad - an all-around midfielder in the mould of Vieira.

I can live with the three central defenders that Arsenal currently has on the books: Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Chambers. But Wenger is faced with a big decision as the end of the transfer window looms: Does he spend big on a holding midfielder and look to add another striker, or does he stay put with what he has.

The fact that Wenger hasn't already addressed these deficiencies suggests that he is more likely to take the latter decision than the former. But unfortunately for Gunners fans, this will effectively keep them out of the title chase, as they lack the key ingredients required for a genuine championship push. I simply cannot see an Arsenal side with Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini as the holding midfielder winning the Premier League title.

Yet another rollercoaster ride is on the cards for Arsenal supporters this season, I'm afraid. Close enough to dream of the trophy, but not close enough to touch it.

Olivier Giroud (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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