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Arsenal still 1,2 players short of reaching former heights

10 August 2015, 21:44

Manchester - Arsenal has built up quite the collection of trophies over the last few months. But the silverware the club really wants, the Premier League and the Champions League, look as far away as ever on the evidence of a season opener that exposed the biggest flaws in Arsene Wenger's teams of recent years.

All the optimism surrounding Arsenal, after a strong finish to last season and good set of preseason results and talk of an assault at the Premier League title this campaign were punctured by a 2-0 home loss to West Ham featuring wasted chances and flaky defending.

It's a familiar story for Arsenal fans.

Also read: Arsenal forward Sanogo joins Ajax on loan

The arrival from Chelsea of Petr Cech, an authoritative goalkeeper with a vast medal collection and a winner's mentality, was heralded by many as a breakthrough signing. One that could turn Arsenal from pretenders to genuine contenders.

Forgetting Cech's mistakes against West Ham, surely it was a striker and a leader at either center back or in central midfield that Arsenal really needed to buy this summer?

Olivier Giroud's scoring record in his three seasons at Arsenal, 11 league goals in 2012-13, 16 in 2013-14, and 14 in 2014-15, is decent but surely not good enough to build an attack around. As it stands, he's the only out-and-out senior striker at Wenger's disposal, with his other options being wide players in Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.

Giroud has one goal in his last 11 matches for Arsenal, and had another of those games against West Ham that makes you wonder what would happen if Arsenal had a reliable, world-class striker leading the line.

"Giroud alone as a striker there, you can't win the league," former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry said ahead of the season. "You need another type of striker."

Wenger also clearly thinks Francis Coquelin is the answer in central midfield. It remains to be seen whether this unheralded Frenchman can maintain his impressive form from the second half to the last season, when he was thrust into the team as a last resort after being on loan in England's third tier.

For the door could be ajar for Arsenal this season, at least in the Premier League.

Chelsea, the defending champion, has decided against major investment from an already-strong base, much like Manchester City chose to do last summer.

Manchester United's new-look team may take time to gel after another offseason of heavy spending by Louis van Gaal, and still have to resolve its own striker shortage and uncertainty over the future of goalkeeper David De Gea.

An aging Man City is restructuring to bring to revitalize its attack, and Liverpool also is in transition.

Now is the time for Wenger to go for it and take the club to the next level, the top level. They have the money, even though Wenger has played down a claim by an Arsenal director, Lord Harris, that the club has 200 million pounds ($310 million) in the bank.

Speculation that Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is on Wenger's radar won't go away but the French coach seems to be veering toward going with what he's got up front.

"I think we have to depend less on one guy who can score. We need to develop the collective aspect," Wenger has said, urging his midfield to weigh in with more goals.

Wenger also believes there is a shortage of strikers around because modern-day European football is focusing on producing "technical midfielders" instead. Arsenal has plenty of them.

Most neutrals will be happy for Wenger to win the Premier League title again, for the first time since 2004, and go deep in the Champions League simply as a reward for all the eye-catching football his teams have played down the years.

Cech should be a success his two errors against West Ham are likely to be exceptions rather than the rule, as he is too good — but a goalkeeper wasn't a pressing concern. Colombia international David Ospina did a fine job when brought in midway through last season.

A striker would have made a bigger difference.

Wenger splashed out nearly 80 million pounds ($124 million) on Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez over the last two summers, giving Arsenal a surfeit of attacking midfielders.

Now, they just need a top striker to feed.

- AP


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