Wenger will regret not adding a striker

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Arsene Wenger has done a lot in his 13-plus seasons in charge of Arsenal Football Club.

He has won the Premiership title three times, claimed four FA Cup crowns, and led the Gunners to the final of the 2006 Champions League.

In short, the Frenchman is the main reason why Arsenal is viewed as one of Europe's top clubs.

However, he may also be the reason why Arsenal fails to add to its list of honors this season.

The club has not claimed a new piece of silverware since winning the FA Cup in 2005, and the fact that Wenger failed to address the club's biggest need in the January transfer window, which was the addition of another striker, will likely prevent them from putting an end to their title drought.

The Gunners have already been bounced from both domestic cup competitions, and they currently trail leaders Chelsea by six points with a massive game at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Arsenal has never won the Champions League, and they face a tricky Round of 16 encounter with FC Porto, not to mention potential showdowns with Europe's other heavyweights.

Wenger's side appeared to have its title hopes dashed in late November when they suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat at home to Chelsea, leaving the club 11 points back of the Blues.

Arsene Wenger may be the reason why Arsenal fails to add to its list of honors this season.
But a bit of good fortune allowed Arsenal to take over the top spot with a mid-January win over Bolton, only to see the team take one point from its next two games and fall six points off the pace.

Now, a loss at Stamford Bridge would surely put an end to any realistic chance for Arsenal in the league, but this could have possibly been avoided had Wenger been willing to dip into the transfer market.

For all of the good that Wenger has done in north London, the one thing that has prevented Arsenal from achieving even more success has been the boss's frustrating reluctance to spend money.

Wenger has firmly established a reputation as one of the most shrewd evaluators of young talent in all of Europe, but it is his reliance on young players that has also cost his team.

Too often, Wenger has turned to his young starlets when a starter goes down, instead of putting some money into a veteran replacement more suited to take on the role immediately.

This season is yet another example as star striker Robin van Persie suffered an ankle injury while playing for the Netherlands in a friendly against Italy in November.

Van Persie appeared to be on his way to a fantastic season, with seven goals in his first 11 games, but his absence, which could last until the end of the season, left a major hole in Arsenal's attack.

Wenger had a suitable replacement on hand in Croatian sniper Eduardo, but like Van Persie, he is about as durable as ice cream in the summer sun.

Even 22-year-old Nicklas Bendtner was sidelined for over three months with a groin injury, leaving Wenger to rely on captain Cesc Fabregas and Andrei Arshavin for much of Arsenal's scoring.

The funny thing is that even Wenger acknowledged his need for a striker just prior to the opening of the January window, and yet still did nothing.

"It's true that we have problems with our strikers, even I say that," Wenger told the club's official website. "Everybody tells me to buy strikers, but when I look at the league, nobody has scored more goals than us.

"We have players who move the ball well and everybody gets in dangerous positions. And that's why, with the confidence high, everyone can score goals. But we are still in the market."

Whether or not they actually were in the market is open to debate.

The club was linked with a number of strikers throughout January, including West Ham's Carlton Cole, 19-year-old Lacina Traore of CFR Cluj and Bordeaux frontman Marouane Chamakh.

Cole would have been a nice addition, but he was still recovering from injury, while Traore would not have been able to have the immediate impact the club needed.

However, Chamakh would have made a lot of sense as he would have been able to come in and have an impact right away.

The 26-year-old has scored seven goals in Ligue 1 for Bordeaux, and would have given Wenger a nice target up top for players like Fabregas and Arshavin to work off of.

Everton's Louis Saha has been injury-prone over the years, but he has also scored 11 goals in the Premiership this season, and would have brought valuable experience to the position.

Instead, Wenger decided to do nothing, leaving his team short-handed for its most crucial stretch of the season.

Successive matches against top-six sides Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool would be tough on any team. But to enter that run without a true striker is just plain foolish.

Arsenal was in the thick of the title picture just a few weeks ago, but a scoreless draw against Villa and a 3-1 defeat to United have left their title hopes hanging by a thread.

Sunday's loss to the Red Devils especially highlighted their lack of a true striker, as Arshavin was deployed up top by himself and was subsequently swallowed up in the middle of the field.

The diminutive Russian is a dangerous presence on the wing, where he can run at defenders and beat them with his world-class dribbling ability. However, he was forced into the lone striker role on Sunday and the Arsenal attack predictably suffered.

Wenger is right when he talks about Arsenal's success in scoring goals - the team leads the league with 60 in 24 matches - but they have come up small in the biggest games this season, scoring a combined six goals in five games against United (twice), Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.

Fabregas has been nothing short of fantastic this season, scoring 14 goals and chipping in 14 assists, but the club's fourth-leading scorer is central defender Thomas Vermaelen, indicating that the young captain is being forced to shoulder too much of the scoring load.

Making Wenger's reluctance to spend money even more puzzling is the fact that it was reported in September that Arsenal turned a $55 million profit last season and seemingly had plenty of money to spend.

Also, Wenger actually went against his beliefs and spent $24 million on Arshavin this time last season, and has gotten nothing but positive results in return.

"The rules in professional football are to win and balance the budget," said Wenger. "That's the basic rule, and I always did fight for that. All the rest is half-cheating.

"I don't speak about what's happened here, but that's what I'm for. For every club it has to be the same, for everybody. I always pleaded for financial fair play."

The problem with financial fair play is that it doesn't exist in English soccer, and when you actually are one of the big fish, you need to take advantage of the situation.

Essentially, Wenger is saying that he wants to win, but that it must be on his terms, even if it means squandering some of the club's substantial resources.

So while Chelsea and Manchester United chase yet another league title, Arsenal fans will have to be content with another top-four finish and no trophies.

But at least the budget will be balanced.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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