Another year, another disappointing exit from the Champions League.
For all the improvements that have been made throughout the season, there still remains the sense that Arsenal are playing catch-up behind Europe’s elite.
Whilst being third in the league, a point behind second, and another Wembley jaunt or two to come, is far from an unsuccessful season, as Lewis wrote earlier it’s hard to ignore that as much as we’ve grown, the gold ring that we’ve been trying to reach is as far away from our fingertips now as it was this time last year.
Yes, Alexis Sanchez has been a huge success in his first year in English football. And yes, Mesut Ozil is now displaying the form that convinced many of us to say he’s the best number 10 in the world, but at the end of the day, we’re back in the same position we were in twelve months ago, starting every question with either “What if……” or “If only…..”.
What if Laurent Koscielny had been fit throughout the season? What if Mesut Ozil hadn’t injured his knee? If only Mathieu Debuchy wasn’t the most unlucky right-back in the world? If only Olivier Giroud had taken one of the half-dozen chances he had against Monaco? If only we didn’t commit so many bodies when attacking late in games?
The list goes on.
As valid as all those queries are, none of them can be used as excuses for us to be behind Chelsea. They’re looking at their season, a season that already has one trophy secured and a league title on the way, and they have the same “What if….”s and “If only…..”s of their own. What if they didn’t forget how to defend from set-pieces? What if there wasn’t a campaign against them? (they’re seriously asking that) If Cesc didn’t run out of steam as soon as the Formula 1 season starts. 13 games in 2015. 0 goals. Three assists. Eeesh.
It’s easy to feel forlorn over how Arsenal have fallen short this year, and it’s even easier to try and explain it away with ifs and buts.
However, the question has to be asked: Are we good enough to win the league or the Champions League?
Right now, the clear answer to that is no.
The Champions League is a bit of a reach right now, seeing that the current holders have Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema up front, the Spanish league leaders have Messi, Neymar and Suarez, and the German league leaders have Robben, Ribery and Lewandowski.
The best young player in the world plays in Italy. The best centre-back in France.
The difference is class is huge.
It’s not as big a gulf in the Premier League, but the gap is still there.
Chelsea’s goalkeeper is better than ours. So is Manchester City’s and Manchester United’s. Even Tottenham’s. Coquelin has been decent since his return from loan, but is he in the same class as Matic or Schneiderlin?
Attacking-wise, we’re good. Our ability to kill off teams in the lower half of the table is what has us in third place right now but out of all the strikers in the Premier League, who would you take over Giroud and Welbeck? Costa? Sturridge? Aguero? Rooney? Kane?……………..Ok, the last one is a misnomer, but it shows the difference between what we have and what everyone else has.
Right now, we’re almost good enough. Almost. Nearly.
For quite a while, that placated us, partly because we had factored in the restrictions that paying of the stadium debt had put on us, and partly because the squad was so young that we were willing to wait and see how they would develop.
The latter still applies today. Bellerin, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, plus the likes of Zelalem and Crowley to come from the youth system, all have huge potential, but now that the Puma and Fly Emirates deals are in the bank, we now have to ask if whether the older players are good enough to keep around, because we can now afford to replace them if needed.
This might seem very disloyal, but if the only reason Arteta is at the club next season is because he’s captain, then that’s not good enough. If the only reason Szczesny remains is because he’s been at the club since he was 16, then that’s not good enough either. The same applies for Theo Walcott, Per Mertesacker and as much as it pains me to say it, Jack Wilshere.
With the way elite clubs are hoovering up all the top talent available, no matter what the expense, we have to try to keep up. Remember that Barcelona bought Luis Suarez because they didn’t have a good enough attack to win La Liga with. That was an attack that had Alexis Sanchez in it.
Real had done the same 12 months previously when they bought Gareth Bale and thought Ozil was expendable. That’s what we’re up against.
Right now, our idea of a player that we can have in reserve just in case we need him, is either Tomas Rosicky or Abou Diaby. With Man City, it’s Stevan Jovetic, who can’t even get into their Champions League squad. Our best 1st XI may be as good as their best first XI, but our squad depth lets us down when we most need it.
The fact that Alexis was exhausted with 25 minutes to go in the Monaco game on Tuesday proves that. We had to give him a rest earlier, but we just couldn’t afford to.
If we’re to have any chance of winning either the league or Champions League next year, then the focus has to be on improving the depth of the squad, even if it is at the expense of players who are popular amongst fans.
There are only a select few clubs in the world who can spend £50 million on a player right now, and we’re one of them. We are in a supremely powerful financial position, it would be foolish not to exploit it.
We need to buy a top-class goalkeeper, and we desperately need buy a top-class defensive midfielder. There’s £50 million to spend, plus whatever we’d recoup from selling Walcott and company. Arsene could buy whomever he wanted with that sort of money.
Last summer, he did. It’s imperative that he does so again.