February 25, 2015. Not of any historical significance to Arsenal but one that compounded their misery further.
On that day the Emirates was buzzing with expectations of the Gunners firming their last-eight spot in the Champions League. But by the end, the excitement was overridden by despair. Once again Arsene Wenger & Co had choked when it mattered.
The 3-1 loss in the first leg of round-of-16 clash against Monaco exposed several missing links in their jigsaw.
Lack of proven goalscorer, a midfield enforcer and a defensive lynchpin were for long considered as weak spots but were never truly strengthened. Unfortunately, all three departments decided to tumble on the same night.
Olivier Giroud forgot his shooting boots at home, Francis Coquelin chose a bad night to let go of his duties as a defensive midfielder and skipper Per Mertesacker decision to rush to stop a counter rather than fall back to safety, which resulted in Monaco’s second that doomed Arsenal.
It was yet another night that raised doubts about Wenger’s ability to put together a team with a solid structure.
The outcome meant Arsenal were in need of a miracle in the second leg to avoid going out at this stage of the competition for a fifth successive season. They did win 2-0 at Monaco but went out on the away goals rule.
The problems had persisted last season as well , which Wenger failed to fix. The result –- they blew a golden opportunity to seal their first EPL title since 2003-04 as they finished second to Leicester City. Their opponents -- Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool –- were struggling but Arsenal couldn’t capitalised, getting cold feet at the turn of the year.
This season, Wenger has decided to jump into the transfer market quite early rather than sitting on the fence and making panic buys a few hours before the window closes. He was unsuccessful in luring Jamie Vardy but added some steel in midfield with the acquisition of Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach.
With the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez reluctant to commit their future with the Gunners, Wenger had to plug the holes and he has started at the earnest. Xhaka will add the firepower to the midfield, which at times was easily overrun.
Now the attention shifts to the all-important position upfront, which right now belongs to Olivier Giroud. Danny Welbeck, the only one who could have pushed the Frenchman, is out injured and won’t return before February 2017. Theo Walcott failed in his incursions in that position and lead the line day-in and day-out. It’s fair to say that Arsenal are threadbare in that department.
After an unsuccessful chase for Vardy’s signature, lots of names have been linked with Arsenal. Romelu Lukaku, who wants to play in the Champions League, Alvaro Morata, who Real Madrid bought back from Juventus, Lyon frontman Alexandre Lacazette and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain, who has grown frustrated at the Serie A outfit, are some of them.
The last one in the list has been courted by them since his days with Real Madrid but the Argentine decided to shift to Naples two years ago rather than moving to London. But if he decides to take the leap this time around, Arsenal, and Wenger in particular, will have a frontman with the ability to score those 30-plus goals a season, which is of paramount importance for a club that needs titles to show for their fancy footwork.
While they haven't been linked heavily with a defender, they need reinforcements in that department too. Especially, at the heart of it, where Laurent Koscielny will need a solid partner as Mertesacker isn’t in the same form as he was a couple of seasons back. No arrivals will mean Gabriel will be the only option available to replace the German but the Brazilian has frailties of his own, which may get exposed in big ties.
While Wenger kept insisting throughout last season that there are no constrains of competing in the transfer market for a right player, now is the time for him to come true on his word and bring in the personnel to pep up the squad.