For the last four or so seasons Arsenal has been completely dismissed by the main pundits in England, especially prior to the start of the season. The story seems to fall a typical bell-shaped arc: pre-season, Arsenal haven't got a chance of the title and may finish fifth or lower; start of the season, if they keep playing like this they could prove contenders; half-way through the season, Arsenal look like they can really challenge the for the title; towards the end of the season, Arsenal has disappointed again, we all knew it wasn't going to happen.
If you live in England I'm sure you recognise this litany. And as is the case with such things both scenarios of doom are wide of the mark, and that really is missing the point. The fact of the matter is that time and again Arsenal has proven that it compete with the best teams in England and in reality play the best football in this country, and perhaps the world, short of Barcelona to whom, incidentally, their style most resemble.
It is without great controversy that everyone knows and understands that because of the level of football on show and getting so close Arsenal has, in the end, underperformed. The fact of finishing third or fourth is irrelevant because Arsenal have proven to be genuine contenders and to believe that Arsenal will finish below fourth is fanciful. One needn't remind that at the beginning of March the team was still in with a chance to win four trophies. For several different reasons the team has failed and has not managed that extra yard, last year at key moments.
But the talent of the team, the quality of the play cannot be questioned. The questions is has Arsene Wenger recruited the right people for the job, is the team balanced, do they need more destroyers?
I think with the exception of a stronger center-back the team is very good indeed. If anything I believe the team became over-reliant on Fabregas to the point where he would get the ball at times when there where better avenues and too many players were far in too much awe of him. Of course, luckily, Fabregas is a world-class player and invariably he did have a great contribution generally, but I would argue that last year already his performances have not been as good or as influential as in the past, ever since last Summer and the enticement of Barcelona and join the squad that is effectively the World-Champions.
Losing Nasri is for me a greater problem and I read somewhere that he is not a playmaker which I wholeheartedly disagree, in fact some of his best games came when Cesc was injured and he was filling in in the middle. At the end of the day if he wants to leave why keep him? Same as with Fabregas if they want to go, let them go.
Build a team around Wilshere who is going to be English player in many years to come. I truly believe that the midfield trio of Wilshere, Ramsay and Song will prove the best midfield in the league. Up front there is enough talent and with Gervinho coming in, enough diversity. Robin van Persie is as good a striker as any in England he really can do with an injury-free season to really fulfill his potential. At the back Vermaelen is an excellent defender, Sagna the best righ back in the country, and Gibbs will soon be the best at left-back. Undeniably though Vermaelen needs a good partner, Koscielny is a decent player but quite naive at times and without the Belgian the defense leaked goals all of last season, especially when both Song and Vermaelen didn't play.
So I don't think the team is doomed, and I think Arsenal's first eleven is more than capable of fighting for the league and challenging Manchester United and Chelsea, the only other real contenders.
Is Arsenal a poorer squad without Fabregas and Nasri? Obviously, that goes without saying. But perhaps a bit more luck with injuries will prove key. Maybe other players will step up to the plate, Wenger may decide to keep the exciting talent of Lansbury in the first team in the same way he did with Fabregas years ago as a backup and slowly introducing to the first team. Not to forget that there are still more than two weeks to go to the end of the transfer season and £50 million will come in handy to invest in the two or three players that Arsenal may need. Personally, I would prefer someone like Samba coming in but in Wenger we trust.
One final word to remind everyone that Arsenal are the club that have spent the least in the last ten years, compared to everybody else, and it is to Wenger's credit that the team has managed to remain so competitive throughout, every single season, with a fairly young team that is getting better and better.
The team is so close, it does not need much to prevail, maybe the sale of Fabregas and Nasri, and the manner of their exit as well as that of Clichy, will create a siege mentality and bring the group closer together with a desire to show what they can do despite adversities. I for one, believe it is possible, but the squad could do with three or four players to complement the first team.