Thursday, 28 April 2011
Arsenal's Dave Mackay Moment
Over the last few days the blogosphere and Twitter have gone crackers predicting any number of things that Arsenal, and Arsène Wenger, should address over the summer. Any number of people have predicted any number of players that Arsenal should sign.
Seeing a passing bandwagon I feel compelled to jump aboard but, typically, try and look at it from a different way. I think there are problems at Arsenal but I don't think they are necessarily as deeply rooted as others have put it or claim it to be.
Before I do, I notice that Wenger has an admirable effect on his disciples. Many Arsenal fans are suggesting the sorts of names that Wenger would normally be associated with - young, skillful players like Eden Hazard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain et al. Some more daring sorts have looked to young, English players that Wenger has deliberately moved away from signing after the Richard Wright and Francis Jeffers affairs.
I'm not denying that Arsenal could do with a centre-back (they may do given Vermaelen's injuries - I'd go for Mertesacker or Metzelder as cover. Arsenal probably need a centre-back who is great in the air and can dominate the box) and a left-back (Baines is a fine shout) but my feeling is that they need players of a certain type rather than a certain player.
That isn't to say that either or both Gary Cahill and Leighton Baines would be fine additions to the Arsenal squad although, as above, I'm not certain either would add what they need most: a certain mentality and a certain type of experience.
A certain type of experience?
Cesc Fabregas has played over 300 games for Arsenal, 58 caps for Spain and has won both the European Championships and World Cup. So Fabregas may be young but it would difficult to argue that he, and, say, Clichy (who is two years older), are inexperienced individuals. There are players in the Arsenal squad with lots of games under their belt but that doesn't translate into calmness and cool-headedness.
Fabregas is a truly wonderful player - one of the few players I would actively go out of my way to watch play the game. However, he can be the sort of player that goes missing when the team needs a fighter and, more worryingly - and jarringly compared to the other superb Spanish midfielders of this era - does not control games in the same manner.
Although I spend blog almost entirely about football (and to the occasional gripe of my cricket loving friends) I am a big admirer of Stephen Jones the Welsh rugby player. He is not as naturally gifted as James Hook, his main competitor for the number 10 shirt, but Jones often comes on for the last 15-20 minutes - because of his influence, his coolness of thinking and his ability to marshall his team and control a game.
All this leads me back to the picture at the top of this blog. Whilst I am sure Arsenal need players like those listed elsewhere around the blogosphere, my view is that Arsenal need what my mother would call ''an old head''. Someone looking for an Indian Summer in their career, someone who has seen it all, done it all and got Terry Butcher's bloodied shirt.
A couple of great examples are Scottish.
Dave Mackay signed for Clough's Derby and shone at the age of 34 and within a year had inspired them out of the old Second Division (and from that point Derby flew). Within two years he was FWA Player of the Year.
Gary McAllister signed for Liverpool at the age of 36 and won five trophies in a year - he was fundamental to that season and played a big part in Gerrard's development as a young midfielder.
With that in mind, Arsenal could do worse than look towards AC Milan for their new recruits. Any of Pirlo, Seedorf and Gattuso would all add significant value to Arsenal. I don't think any would jar too enormously with Wenger's philosophy. It doesn't hurt that all are dripping in medals.
All, in different ways, would add critical experience, cool headedness and control to Arsenal. In many ways, this is what Lehmann could bring to the squad but it extremely difficult for a benched goalkeeper to make an influence on a pitch even if his experience will be useful in other ways. If I were Wenger, I'd try and buy any of those three players or players of a similar ilk.
So examples? Liverpool in the early years of the last decade with McAllister, Manchester United nearly signing Raul last summer, Manchester City signingVieira last January, AC Milan recently picking up van Bommel (aged 34) and, back in the day, Derby showing that an old-stager like Mackay can be crucial. Sometimes teams who are on the cusp of greatness need a man in his Indian Summer to shepherd in that greatness. Wenger would do well to study ancient and recent history.
That said, I can't see Wenger signing a player in his early to mid 30s who add guile and canniness to their midfield.
The reason I have gone on this tack is because I don't think Arsenal are actually far behind - if they are behind at all - Manchester United and Chelsea in terms of technique or ability. I think they are behind them in terms of attitude, mentality and experience. If that is the case Gary Cahill, Leighton Baines and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will add something but they will not add the certain something that Arsenal need.