Arsenal are stuck between two eras
Many good football teams with a distinct style are built around one player (or a few players in the case of Barcelona) who embody their identity; as we saw yesterday, Napoli’s Ezequiel Lavezzi epitomises their exuberance especially in the counter-attack, while you have Xavi, Leo Messi & Andres Iniesta for Barca’s aesthetic and technical prowess.
Arsenal, however, are stuck between two eras – that of Cesc Fabregas (and to an extent Samir Nasri) and that of Aaron Ramsey & Jack Wilshere, neither of whom are currently ready to fill Fabregas’ boots for different reasons. The Gunners need to transition from the previous era to the new one – Arsene Wenger wanted one of Juan Mata, Mario Goetze and Santi Cazorla do that, and move out wide once Ramsey was ready. However, he failed to secure any of these targets.
Now, Arsenal lack an identity which would have come from a playmaker – while Robin van Persie is excellent and undoubtedly a talisman, not all of Arsenal’s play goes directly through him, which makes it more difficult for him to influence their general style and identity.
Wenger needs to be careful that his side manages the transition well. If they don’t make the Champions League, it will be that bit more difficult to keep the new era on track. In previous seasons when key players were sold, like Thierry Henry, their replacements were able to fill their boots immediately. However, Henry was sold just as he was past his peak, at a time when Emmanuel Adebayor was approaching his own. Fabregas had to leave earlier than Wenger would have liked, due to different circumstances – his love for Barcelona and his wish to return more than anything.
Because of this early departure, Wenger’s planned internal replacements were not quite ready, so he attempted to find a temporary central player who would eventually move out wide once Ramsey was ready to play in that playmaker role.
Now, though, it’s difficult: Wenger has had to accelerate Ramsey’s development. He was supposed to stay under the tutelage and behind the shadow of Fabregas until he was ready. Wenger’s hand was forced, and after he failed to replace Fabregas, he now has to throw Ramsey in at the deep end, which could be thoroughly detrimental to the youngster’s progress. It would be incredibly unreasonable to expect to successfully build a team around the 21-year-old Ramsey.
The big difference between the early careers of Ramsey and Fabregas is that while Fabregas was eased into the team at an incredibly young age with little pressure on him, Ramsey is still being integrated into the Arsenal team, and began this process at an older age, with much more pressure and spotlight on him. This is why Arsenal were able to build the team around Fabregas at Ramsey’s current age, while the Wales captain is still not ready. It’s also pertinent to remember that Fabregas was and is a unique talent – similar things should not be expected of Ramsey.
Still, you can probably expect Wenger to go back in for a playmaker who can play out wide in the summer – which may well prove difficult, however, with Mata & Cazorla gone and Goetze pricy. A loan move for Gourcuff might appeal to the manager, form and availability dependent. Although, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s rapid progression, a playmaker/winger’s arrival could well signal the end of Theo Walcott’s Arsenal career, or perhaps just his stint as a winger.
In any case, you can probably expect Arsenal to let a winger go if they do in fact permanently sign a playmaker/winger in the summer. This might well turn out to be Arshavin, although perhaps we should take into account the departure of on-loan Yossi Benayoun.
As Calum Mechie put it for SBNation, Arsenal don’t lack leaders – they lack a point. Now that Fabregas is gone, Arsenal need somebody to define their style of play, otherwise they will continue to suffer an identity crisis, and fluctuate between styles, never truly being able to do any proper justice.