Emirates elimination: Cause for concern for Wenger’s boys?

It may have only been the re-introduction of Arsenal’s annual Emirates Cup this weekend but have Arsenal fans got real cause for concern ahead of a new season after failing to win their own trophy?

In short, yes. The two-day tournament, now in its fifth year preceding the start of the Barclays Premier League season is aimed primarily at improving player fitness levels, showcasing new summer arrivals and offering the chance to a wider span of supporters who can visit the ever-impressive Emirates stadium for reduced admission fees.

All rather pleasant, but the only real cheer for Gooners this weekend was the return of club legend and cult icon Thierry Henry who was met by rapturous applause in only his second return to a pitch where he brought the curtain down on his glittering and unforgettable career spell in North London.

Playing for the New York Red Bulls of course, it was indeed Henry’s assist to Costa Rican, Roy Miller on the second day of the tournament which gave Wenger a real
defensive headache. Miller’s slid ball across Arsenal’s cavernous defence deflected unfortunately off youngster Kyle Bartley to count as an own goal. The 1-1 score line ensured Arsenal finished the 2011 Emirates Cup behind lesser competitors in Paris St Germain and indeed winners New York Red Bulls. This proved only the second time in the five editions of the tournament whereby the hosts haven’t emerged victorious. Thanks, Thierry.

Met by a chorus of boos at the full time whistle, the 2011 Emirates Cup proved one to forget for Monsieur Wenger. However, the Frenchman remains as stubborn and defiant as ever that the two games were a success and that Arsenal can mount a serious title charge this year, despite failing to strengthen his squad to the audibly apparent frustrations of the disgruntled Emirates faithful.

With a month to go until the close of the transfer window, this time could make or break the once Double winners. With the futures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri very much in the air with both players’ body language this weekend not suggesting much, it seems difficult to trust Wenger’s waning judgement that his young side can compete for an enduring 38 games. In the remaining weeks of both training and the transfer window it will be Arsenal’s challenge to match the consistency and depth of squad of both Manchester United and Manchester City who recently bolstered their front line with the capture of exciting talent Sergio Aguero.

The two Emirates Cup games this weekend highlighted for the umpteenth time that Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci just aren’t strong enough physically and mentally to cope when the sturdy and assured Thomas Vermaelen isn’t available for the first team. It seems no coincidence that in both games including the 2-2 draw with Boca Juniors on Saturday that Wenger’s men lost the lead after being lulled into a state of comfort or complacency, a habit all too familiar for Gunners fans last season. Most notably at St James Park when the Gunners blew a 4 goal advantage to draw 4-4 against Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United.

It seems more prevalent than ever after the Emirates Cup that Arsenal need a centre-back. The bad habits remain and the clock is ticking for Arsenal. Wenger must recognise that beyond the stubbornness of his transfer policies and youth development strategies that in his own words experience is crucial. Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Christopher Samba all fit the bill; commanding centre-halves with plenty of Premier League experience. It seems that Arsenal lack that steely determination to kill off games and shut up shop once in advantageous positions. With Wenger preferring technically gifted players to play out from the back much like Vermaelen, Jagielka seems the most suitable to the Arsenal regime and this has been demonstrated by a £10 million bid being rebuffed by Everton for his services last week.

However, it may not be all doom and gloom for Gunners fans this weekend. Ivorian, Gervinho demonstrated the pace and intricate touches he may bring to the side and full-back Carl Jenkinson from Charlton too had a steady first appearance at the Emirates. Additionally, Gunners fans caught a glimpse of exciting young prospects in deep-lying midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong and attacker Benik Afobe, who may follow Jack Wilshere’s example of a meteoric rise into the first-team this season.

Nevertheless, with arguably the Gunners strongest squad facing the Red Bulls this weekend and emerging with a draw, these results, albeit in pre-season are simply not good enough for Arsenal fans who without Gael Clichy, probably Fabregas and perhaps Nasri may find it even tougher to penetrate the top four of England’s top flight.

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