The Arsenal squad that went through the whole season unbeaten in 2003/2004 contained an abundance of exceptionally gifted footballing talents. The squad also had a wealth of leaders, imperious characters whose winning mentality and ability would rub off on their peers. You can imagine arriving in the dressing room at half time after a poor performance.
Having to face the respect commanding Thierry Henry, the towering 6ft4” figure of Patrick Vieira, club captain and notorious premier league warrior, no doubt demanding the highest standards. Both guys were leaders in every form. Intelligent, determined, highly competitive and gifted. The list of competitors goes on Sol Campbell, Jens Lehmann, Lauren, Ray Parlour. All imposing characters, injecting the absolutely crucial elements of resolve, tenacity and physicality into the club's arsenal of weaponry. You absolutely do not want to let these guys down. You want to win with them and for them, they breed that type of mentality.
The Arsenal of present, all too frequently dumped out of the Champions League at the last 16 because of lacklustre performances. First leg capitulations leaving mountains to climb possibly too steep for even the all conquering team of 2003/04. This season's Champions league last 16 opponent Monaco, a solid defensive unit but certainly a lesser power. The first leg saw abysmal performances all around the park, weak body language and lack of fighting spirit.
Half time in the changing room. Who is going to stand up, start shouting, puff out their chest and demand the necessary? Probably not Mr Wenger himself let's be honest. The club captain? Mikel Arteta, softly spoken, diminutive and injured. The captain on the night Per Mertesaker was probably one of the worse performers on the night. Weakness running through the team's psyche like wood rot. The collapse inevitable. "Maybe next year" the cliche of an Arsenal European campaign.
The case for Arsené Wenger's defence weakens each season, delusional when questioned on his European failings (he has never won a European trophy and is the only manager to reach three finals in European tournaments and lose them all). Yes he has always created beautiful football when his team is on song. Sure they will finish in the top four and great credit where it's due for consistently doing so. Greatness and success at this level however are measured on titles.
It's hard to find a title winning team without a group of exceptional leaders. Just look at Man City last season with Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart, and Yaya Touré. It's no coincidence they've fallen off the pace this season with injuries keeping their leaders out. Chelsea have John Terry on the field and José Mourinho, probably the best man manager, motivator and off field leader in the world game.
Arsené doesn't seem to have the presence required alone and needs other characters of the like he hasn't acquired in many years. If he wants to rid himself of the current moniker of “flatters to deceive” he needs to find a true leader.
Who do they need?
In the current market this is hardly an easy task as players with all the attributes required are a rare commodity, truly world class individuals don't come cheap.
Arsené Wenger has a penchant for buying young which makes the acquisition of strong experienced characters difficult. He relies on current players blooming into leaders. Maybe Aaron Ramsey?
Who in the current market could give Arsenal the resolve they need both on and off the pitch? Options could include Iker Casillas, Danni Alves, Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba or Mats Hummels. Even then additional firepower would still be required up front to seriously challenge Chelsea next season.
Or could it be time for Monsieur Wenger and the Gunners to part ways and allow for a change in direction to a more combative, physically geared side?