Saturday, 31 August 2013

Champions League draw highlights Arsenal's need for new recruits - Yahoo! Eurosport UK (blog)

Just when Arsene Wenger thought things couldn't get much worse, they did. If there were murmurings of discontent in N5 before Thursday, those rumblings only grew louder after what can best be described as a day to forget for suffering Arsenal fans.

First, the Germany forward Lukas Podolski was ruled out for up to 10 weeks, further bloating an already heavyweight injury list that is threatening to derail the Gunners' season before it has really started. Then, later in the afternoon, a further blow was delivered from a futuristic conference centre on the French Riviera: a Champions League Group of Death to contend with.

In between came the re-signing of Mathieu Flamini, but on reflection at the end of the day, Podolski's injury and UEFA's draw in Monaco not only drowned out any fanfare that might have greeted the France midfielder's return to the Emirates, but it also served to highlight the inadequacy of Wenger's transfer efforts this summer.

Like the club's only other new recruit, Yaya Sanogo - another free transfer - Flamini is a decent enough footballer, but he's not a game changer. And given the high levels of expectation set by the Arsenal board's brash statements at the beginning of the summer and the quality of higher-profile targets that have since blipped onto Arsenal's radar only to subsequently disappear, his signing should be considered rather underwhelming.

But this isn't about Flamini. It's about what's still missing. And it's about the current situation Arsenal face; namely, getting out of a group containing Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli with a squad that is arguably weaker than last season's given their injury list - Podolski has Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta for company on the treatment table - and the slew of departures from the Emirates over the summer.

Arsenal will struggle with their current resources against teams of the calibre of last season's Champions League finalists Dortmund and Rafael Benitez's Napoli, who Arsenal lost out to in the chase for Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine will no doubt relish that chance to show Wenger exactly what he missed out on. Marseille too are no slouches, having finished second in Ligue 1 last season, and their fearsome Velodrome is a particularly difficult place to go.

The need for Wenger to rectify his transfer failings within the next four days is absolutely paramount if Arsenal are to harbour realistic hopes of reaching the knock-out phase of this season's Champions League.

He currently has a squad that would struggle to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League, as the opening day defeat to Aston Villa suggested, let alone set Europe alight. But Arsenal's aspirations should be, and are, higher than that. They may well have reached the group stage for a 16th consecutive season - quite some feat - but Wenger will want to go further. To do so he knows he needs better players.

There is still time though. And hope - recent reports suggest that a triple bid for Real Madrid's Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil is in the pipeline. Now that's more like it; they, along with Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, make up the kind of line-up that can go places in Europe. Flamini and Sanogo, with the greatest of respect, do not.

The clock is ticking. Four days remain for Wenger to get some meaningful business done. If he can, his side might yet be able to avoid the Grim Reaper's touch in the Group of Death and make this summer's travails nothing more than a bad memory.

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