By Chris Myson
Arsenal and Liverpool may have served up some significant entertainment on Wednesday but fans of the Gunners will have left the Emirates Stadium thinking they have simply seen more of the same.
Impressive goal-scoring displays from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, combined with another inspirational performance from Jack Wilshere, a player who is already the heartbeat of this Arsenal side, allowed them to battle back and secure a 2-2 draw.
But before the final half-hour surge to pick up a point, the Gunners had produced a woefully inept performance that highlighted all the problems that it seems everyone – apart from Arsene Wenger – can see so clearly.
The manager insisted again after the game that his side were making progress. It was hard to agree with that view after watching Liverpool go 2-0 up thanks to goals from Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson, and in reality it should have been a lot more.
A side better than Liverpool – like Manchester City did earlier this month – would have ensured the game was beyond Wenger’s hosts even by the time they did produce a response.
Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Aaron Ramsey can all be questioned for the part they played in the shambolic first goal scored by the visitors.
Wojciech Szczesny was a bundle of nerves and lacking authority all night, while Mertesacker continued to be run ragged by the visitors, and not just by the magnificent Suarez, even by the likes of Henderson and Stewart Downing.
The club’s only in-form defender, Kieran Gibbs, had to be substituted through injury in the first half and will now miss three weeks of action, giving Arsenal fans nightmares over the regular return of Andre Santos to the back four.
Even the defiant Wenger had to admit that news came as a “big blow” when he discussed the injury to Gibbs in his post-match press conference.
Goal.com understands Arsenal remain well in the hunt to sign Barcelona star David Villa on deadline day, a player they have targeted throughout the last month.
Undoubtedly, Villa would be a fantastic attacking signing. This is a player who has won everything there is to win at club and international level and achieved significant personal milestones in front of goal, such as being Spain’s record scorer.
His signing would no doubt be phenomenal for the club; it would excite Arsenal fans and give the frustrated supporters a significant lift. But even the brilliant Villa is not a miracle worker.
For all their flair, this is an Arsenal team with no foundation. It is built on sand. What the team needs is organisation and discipline and the potential arrival of Villa – which remains far from a guarantee – would do little to solve that.
With £50 million burning a hole in his pocket, Wenger has said he has been unable to find players on the market who could improve upon his current squad options.
On the back of another desperately disappointing performance, Arsenal fans will surely find that very hard to believe and going all out for Villa comes across as a major gamble if that is his only plan to get the club into the top four again.
Mikel Arteta is not the strong, disciplined holding midfielder the club are trying to mould him into, nor is Ramsey and there are question marks over Abou Diaby’s suitability – even on the rare occasions when he is fit to play.
As well as more strength in midfield, they also need defensive reinforcements. There is little cover at full-back and relying on Santos at left-back in the Champions League ties against Bayern Munich would surely not be a viable option.
In the centre, Mertesacker’s early-season renaissance has come to an abrupt end and Vermaelen is performing as inconsistently as he has done at any stage of his career at the club to date.
Arsenal are still in the running for the top four and Tottenham’s dropped points at Norwich City ensured they remained right in the race despite their under-par display against Brendan Rodgers’ side.
It has been said before, and will no doubt be said again, but Wenger has to dip into his pocket and bring in more than the classy Villa to save this stuttering Arsenal season.
Going forward they still have firepower and play attractive football, but without some strength, organisation and leadership, the Frenchman’s proud record of consecutive Champions League qualifications could be coming to an end this year.
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