By Alex Young
The start of a new calendar year usually brings refreshed hope and enthusiasm for the 12 months ahead; more vigour, more vitality and verve.
But with most New Year resolutions, this optimism is dashed sooner rather than later, and that positivity seems to have vanished from the Emirates Stadium even quicker than elsewhere.
With three games played so far in 2013, Arsenal are winless. A turgid display against Southampton saw the Gunners lucky to escape with a point, while an all-too-common defensive lapse allowed Danny Graham to force a replay for Swansea in the FA Cup third round.
And, on Sunday, as Arsene Wenger deemed it himself, a “nervous” display against champions Manchester City saw Arsenal slip to a 2-0 defeat.
Indeed, Wenger – usually a master of the point-blank refusal to acknowledge a below-par performance – refreshingly frank in recent appraisals – bemoaning a lack of “authority” and “confidence” against City.
New Year resolutions are varied – ranging from improving health to broadening one’s horizons. However, one resolution that Arsenal fans will be unable to maintain is the traditional ‘saving money’ with, as has been widely reported and succumbed the majority of the pre-match talk, tickets costing £62 a pop.
It is doubtful forking out a large sum of money for a depressing 90 minutes of football was high on fans’ resolutions at the turn of the year.
And the doom and gloom continued with the news that Mikel Arteta will face up to three weeks out after damaging his calf during training on Saturday.
The Spaniard has been a rock in an otherwise weak Arsenal squad this season – with the club victorious in just one of the seven Premier League games he has missed this term, a 14.28 per cent win rate.
Arteta has embodied the confidence and authority that the Gunners missed against City – with Abou Diaby unsuccessfully rushed back from injury to fill the void.
But why do Arsenal find themselves in a panic to fill spaces and search for a reliable face? Because the club do not have the strength in numbers they once add. A paper-thin squad is in dire need of bolstering – and Wenger has identified that concern and insists he is working hard on recruiting new talent.
In January 2004, Wenger broke the club’s transfer record with the signing of Jose Antonio Reyes to push the likes of Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp. Arsenal went unbeaten, leapfrogged Manchester United and won the Premier League.
Arsenal need the talented presence of such players to fire-up some of the more under-performing members of the squad – much like Andrey Arshavin also provided upon his arrival in 2008 – and force a more consistent string of displays.
But, while the north London outfit were just four points behind United nine years ago, they are an insurmountable 21 points off Sir Alex Ferguson’s side with 17 games still left to play, and you can only see that gap increasing.
Indeed, Arsenal’s return of 34 points after 21 games is the lowest of any season under Wenger.
So, while others around the globe are trying to stick to their new aims and goals for the New Year, it is Wenger’s turn to learn from past mistakes, loosen the strings on the club’s purse that the fans are generously filling up week in and week out and try to rejuvenate a faltering campaign with Bayern Munich in the Champions League approaching on the horizon.
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