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.


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15 responses to “Arsenal are stuck between two eras”

  1. Daniel Yunghans (@matchday5) says :

    Where does Jack fit in when he comes back? Does Arteta go back to the bench and make cup appearances? Do you think he and Ramsey could develop into an English Iniesta/Xavi?

    • Sam says :

      It’s a bit of an issue, but I’d probably put Jack in front of the sitting midfield two, behind the striker. Although he’ll eventually take Arteta’s position probably. I actually thought Cesc & Nasri were our Xavi & Iniesta – they were unplayable against Birmingham on New Year’s Day – but I suppose Ramsey & Wilshere could be a (British) Xavi & Iniesta.

  2. Rosie 47 (@rosie_47) says :

    Good read mate, I certainly think that when you take into account the impact of Fab’s departure on the team it belies the myth of Arsenal’s ‘continuous decline’ over the past few seasons. The decline was very sudden: it started in the summer and we are still experiencing it now. It’s easy to explain really, because the point of Fabregas era Arsenal and Wenger’s ‘project’ was to build a team which would grow together and stick together and it would certainly never undergo a transition, precisely because Arsène knew that the financial implications of the stadium move would make funding a transition impossible (or at least very tricky.)

    I do, however, believe that a team which plays without a ‘point’ is anathema to Wenger – and last season’s unsuccessful forays into the market, coupled with the labours of this season, mean that we can expect more decisive action after this season’s close. I wrote about the significance of last summer and the limbo we currently find ourselves in at, would love it if you’d have a read and let me know what you think!

    • Sam says :

      Cheers, glad you liked it. Completely share those sentiments, well put.

      I agree entirely with the start of the second paragraph especially; I believe Wenger will strive to sign that player who will help almost justify us as a club and give us an actual style, and I don’t think he’ll hesitate in paying high prices for them.

      That’s another reason for my post the other day – Wenger knew we needed a Mata to define us, and has seen the consequences of not having one – so he wouldn’t have cancelled the deal.

      Thanks for the comment! Will take a look at your post as soon as I can.

  3. Div says :

    Good piece – well done. have a gold star. mother will be proud etc

    I think Aaron and Jack could both be very good players for Arsenal – just think it’s missing a certain something…. currently. Which is probably Manuel’s point, ci?

    Whilst i do think the majority of Arsene’s more expensive signings haven’t been great – ie, where shall we say, £8m upwards ? I do think Goetze is going to be a truly great player. Thats said, he was expensive last summer – this summer he’ll be a lot more.

    • Sam says :

      Slightly condescending but I’m sure it was in all good spirit, ha. Thanks.

      They certainly could be, and most likely will be, but they’re not really moulded yet. Almost all teams need a style of player to define them – whether that’s a playmaker, target man or perhaps a hard man. Fabregas was that player for us, and now we lack that like I said.

      Maybe £10 million upwards; Arteta, Koscielny and Vermaelen have all been very smart purchases, while Arshavin and Reyes for example haven’t worked out that way. I share that thought, although I am wary of young players and their potential inconsistency and mental weaknesses – Nasri for me is the epitomé of that because talent he has in bundles, but he went hiding at the back end of last season. Thanks for the comment.

  4. says :

    Sack Wenger and everything will be fine again. Trust me

  5. reece says :

    wilshere is a much better player when he is further up the pitch in my opinion, evidenced by his AMAZING pre season form, drive past players with such ease. This is definitely something we lack at the moment, sure the current midfield can get past players in the center of the pitch, but in the final 3rd? they struggle to create any openings. Ramsey thrived next to fabregas before his injury, he was an amazing passer and also took better shots. Ramsey next to arteta looks lost.

    • Sam says :

      In response to your final point, it’s not exactly a reflection on the quality of the players he’s alongside, but the difference in position; in the same team as Fabregas, Ramsey played deeper and wasn’t relied on for much in terms of creativity, but now, with Arteta playing that deep role, Ramsey’s required to be the focal point in terms of creativity. He’ll get better in time, but he’s not there yet.

  6. stephen says :

    what do you think of alex chambo playin in the ‘hole’.personaly i would like to bealive that he can offer much more creativity than ramsey does.

    • Sam says :

      He may well be a good option in there – he played centrally for Southampton and I think he’ll eventually be a centre midfielder. We haven’t seen him there and his able to be a playmaker; thread the passes, control the tempo etc though. It might be worth a try though.

  7. mike says :

    This is just the point, Wenger can never land his targets, and it is always price. Arsenal can never seem to bite the bullet for the sake of the team. That is the problem.

    • Sam says :

      I actually wrote an in-depth post on my full thoughts on that issue, who it is that I think is shirking paying, or as you put it biting the bullet for the sake of the team. It’s the post before this, so not difficult to find if you fancy another long read!

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