As Arsenal’s league challenge crumbled, perhaps not unexpectedly, with successive defeats against Manchester United and Chelsea, the building process for next season will have come to the forefront of Arsene Wenger’s mind.

2009/10 promised so much, but the side that Wenger built were shown to be exactly what they were all along; pretty on the eye, occasionally stunning but ultimately not quite good enough. It may be that the Champions League will suit their style more than the domestic campaign, so it may not be a total disaster just yet.

However, Wenger may come to look back at two key moments that decided their fate with a mixture of anger and regret. The first, a serious injury to the in-form Robin van Persie, would have been guaranteed to leave Le Boss fuming.

His hatred of ‘meaningless’ international friendly matches will have been exacerbated by the unfortunate incident, which left the Dutchman with an ankle that needed more than a little rebuilding. His manager’s blood pressure would have been at the level known as ‘DANGEROUS’ when he received the news from Pescara.

But for many Arsenal fans, the biggest incident didn’t take a second to occur, it took a whole month. Wenger’s stubborn refusal to sign a striker during the January transfer window was bewildering, especially given the oft-repeated statements from the club that he had more money to spend than Bill Gates.

As names were mooted and ultimately ignored, the frustration of global gooners was almost overpowering. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Marouane Chamakh, Louis Saha, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Mario Balotelli, Lacina Traore, Edin Dzeko, Carlton Cole and even (God forbid) Roman Pavlyuchenko were all being ‘considered’.

The fact that February came around and the only new footwear on the shelves of the Boot Room belonged to a 35-year-old centre half who’d played once all season (for Notts County) added to the quiet murmurings of disappointment around the Emirates Stadium.

Many supporters failed to be soothed by the argument that Nicklas Bendtner would soon be fit so everything will be OK, leaving Wenger having to placate a significant amount of them, perhaps for the first time during his spell in north London.

It proves to be an interesting end of season for The Gunners. Chamakh, out of contract in the summer, will say ‘au revoir’ to Bordeaux, and Wenger will be hoping he chooses Arsenal. However, the signing of a man who’s scored 67 goals in well over 250 matches is hardly likely to set the world alight.

There are those that feel Monsieur Wenger missed the boat during the window, though, and that another opportunity may not come along for a long time. Chelsea and Manchester United have dropped points with some regularity this season, and may not do so again for a while.

Although Arsenal’s defending hasn’t always been solid, in general the partnership of Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas has worked well. In midfield, the likes of Abou Diaby, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Andrey Arshavin, Theo Walcott, Denilson and Alex Song have created hundreds of chances.

And there’s the problem; without van Persie, the likelihood of turning those chances into goals diminished almost overnight. Carlos Vela and Eduardo are good link players, but neither of them is ever likely to become a prolific goalscorer. Bendtner, even when fit, is too inconsistent to make a difference.

Whenever Arsenal have come up against the better sides, they’ve simply not been good enough. But the bottom line is they’ve had opportunities, and no-one has stepped up to claim them. A midfielder such as Nasri, for example, will convert perhaps one chance in every ten; A van Nistelrooy would score one in two.

Wenger often seems obsessed with players who can play the beautiful game, and he should be applauded for that, but one wonders if, when looking at the front line, he should concern himself with someone who only cares about putting the ball in the onion bag.

The legendary Ian Wright scored some wonderful goals in his career, but what endeared him to everyone at Highbury was that he took as much delight in finding the net with a deflection off his backside as he did with a 25-yard screamer.

And there, as they say, you have it. Arsenal lack a finisher, nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps Arsene Wenger needs to be reminded that it’s goals, not pretty passes, that ultimately win matches.


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Photo Courtesy: Tsutomu Takasu