It’s all smiles in the red half of north London this week, with Arsenal having banished their Old Trafford hoodoo and emerged triumphant from a potentially season-defining FA Cup quarter-final clash against Manchester United.
It’s a bit of a stretch to say Arsene Wenger’s job was on the line, but with England’s biggest domestic cup their only realistic hope at major silverware, the fixture against their old rivals had significant stakes.
The Gunners duly produced what was needed to come away from Manchester with the chance to retain their FA crown significantly bolstered, but whether or not fans will be happy with the situation remains to be seen.
Though much-needed, their 2-1 win over United hasn’t halted the theory that they’ve made little or no progression from last year. They’re on course to replicate their FA Cup success, sure, but barring an incredible turnaround against AS Monaco they’re due to be dumped out of the Champions League at the first knockout-round hurdle, and they haven’t ever really been involved in this term’s Premier League title race.
It doesn’t take a mastermind to see that there’s a definite demand for improvement, and Wenger would be wise to supply this summer if he wants to be remembered for the right reasons, not for stepping away from the Gunners after a decade of fruitless endeavours in the league.
Such times call for big decisions and controversial methods, the like that get the fans on board whilst also drastically changing the fortunes on the pitch.
Without doubt an area Arsenal need more strength in is between the sticks. The battle for the No.1 spot at the Emirates Stadium has this season, in my opinion, been fought for by two candidates who aren’t fit to lace the boots of some of the ‘keepers Wenger has had in the past.
Wojciech Szczesny doesn’t look like he’s made of elite stuff, not yet at least, and David Ospina, though an astute shot-stopper, isn’t commanding like so many of the men Arsenal’s rivals can boast.
Curing the problem
The obvious remedy to such a flaw is to bring in someone who is both experienced at the highest level but still not past his prime. Iker Casillas now, and I say this begrudgingly, seems like his best days are behind him, but Chelsea’s Petr Cech looks more with each passing week like being the man Wenger needs.
I’m not daft enough to think such deals are done simply. With Jose Mourinho probably of the opinion that Cech is one of the greatest servants he has ever had he would prove an obstacle in himself with regards to Arsenal making a move. And yet there must be hope in the form of the 32-year-old being desperate not only for game-time, but for opportunities to remain in football’s highest echelon.
Of the elite clubs around Europe there are seldom who would need Cech as part of their unit. The likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid all either have No.1s central to their plans or, in the case of the latter, have lofty aspirations for other targets - see Madrid’s longing for David de Gea.
As a result Cech’s options are thin on the ground if he wants to leave but still have the benefit of European football next year and be in with a chance of winning major silverware. Arsenal are far from ideal given his ties to Chelsea, but logistically they’re better than almost any other suitor and they remain, for now at least, in the very top bracket of English clubs.
To capture a name of such prestige would be an eye-catching statement of intent from Wenger, whilst at the same time offering him a presence as the last line of defence that he’s not had since the days of Jens Lehmann. Szczesny and Ospina might both grow to become world-class ‘keepers, but based on recent exploits neither is as assertive nor assured as Cech.
Last season alone the Czech international conceded 24 goals across 34 games as opposed to Szczesny’s 41 in 37 games. Say what you like about the respective strengths of the defences in front of them, but those kind of stats you simply can’t ignore when the sides in question are both at the top end of the table.
The purchases of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in the past two years have demonstrated Wenger’s ability to attract flair to north London. Now he needs to prove that he can acquire, and then blend, stoic defensive individuals to the mix if he’s to hope of challenging for the biggest prizes.
Chelsea and Arsenal fans, what would you think if Cech moved to the Emirates Stadium? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below...