Arsenal Need a Heart Transplant

Somehow, this one was worse than the others. The losses to West Brom, Newcastle, Bolton and others were bitter pills in and of themselves, but the repeat of the fixture which saw Ramsey stretchered off, against a Stoke side who looked to be in cruise control in anticipation of the FA Cup final? On a weekend where we had the most outside of chances at stealing the league, or at least of clinching second? This one should have been ours. Instead, Arsenal fans were treated to a display of first-class apathy with few exceptions, and those of us with any faith remaining in this Arsenal team were punished for that belief yet again.

Which raises the question: If the team as a whole fail to see anything important or special about pulling on the Arsenal shirt, what exactly are we keeping faith in?

Generations of individuals have worn the red and white strip with pride. In most cases, Arsenal's glorious past is still filled with players who, if they weren't exactly good enough, at least they worked as hard as they could. Sadly, that does not appear to be the case with the side as currently constructed. If anything, it is packed with players who possess great physical and technical gifts but wholly lack the desire required of champions. What we were left with on Sunday was the sight of several players who didn't appear as though they cared to be on the pitch or not. History is no help when the present doesn't acknowledge it.

Some will scoff at that idea, their minds already made up on the manager, and are welcome to that opinion. I think it's a question that should be asked: Does Arsene Wenger still have it, the ability to fix what ails the side? On face value, we continue to make the same defensive errors, and the manager in his post-match comments acknowledges this. So if the issues are known, why can we not seem to fix them? The one thing that won't let me throw Arsene Wenger under the bus for the collapse at the end of the season is, oddly enough, his appearance on the sidelines, the anguish at the team chucking away leads or allowing bog-standard goals. He seems physically pained by the team's performance, and that's the reaction you expect to see from someone who has worked his ass off and just watched all of it fall apart. You don't see that kind of frustration when you truly don't know where you've gone wrong. I think he's addressed the problems in training, it's just not getting done where it counts.

What I do think is that he's being badly let down by his players. Yes, ultimately the buck stops with Arsene Wenger, that's true. He's the one who brought these players in, that is down to him. But it just seems he's doing all the right things only to be undone. He's put together a squad that no doubt has talent; you don't beat Barcelona, United and Chelsea without quality. But you also don't beat the likes of Stoke and Newcastle without graft and hard work, and when I look at these players, with few exceptions (Jack, RvP, Sagna, Ramsey, SZCZ, Cesc), I haven't seen enough of it from this group.

Project Youth was put in place because of the stadium construction, and it did its job: we competed at the top level for years while spending little on transfer fees. Arsene did wisely sign up those young players to longer contracts so that we wouldn't see them grow into stars with Arsenal only to leave on a free as soon as they blossomed, which is entirely logical and would mean Arsenal would get paid for any defections. The problem is that to get them to sign longer-term deals, those players had to be put on higher wages to justify the commitment.

What we're left with is a squad peppered with young players on wages far above their station who don't turn up when needed or in some cases ever. It's a strategy that has backfired on the manager, and the only way to rectify this is to get rid of the players who have become complacent before that infects the squad, even if it means selling them for much less due to their wages. That doesn't mean gut the squad, with some suggesting we need as many as 10 new signings, which would be ridiculous. What is important is that when those players exit, they are replaced by players who WILL work their tails off for the club, who've been in backs-against-the-wall situations before and have come through, who won't be fazed by pressure and will step up when called on. Ridding the squad of the illness of complacency isn't like taking out asbestos. We don't need to rip through every wall and replace everything just in case. But surgery is needed on this squad before the infection becomes gangrenous.

People want names. Who leaves? Who stays? Who comes in? Those are pointless questions as neither you nor I will be making those decisions, though it's still fun to toss around who we think fits where. But really, can we stop suggesting Christopher fucking Samba? The Queen Mary turns faster than he does. Let's look at his qualities: A) He's tall; B) There is no B, he's just tall. That's IT. I know he's in the papers having said he'd like to join Arsenal. You know who else would like to join Arsenal? Me. And like you, Chris, I'm not quite good enough. Blackburn have played with 10 men behind the ball for, oh, the entire season, and have still allowed 17 more goals than Arsenal; not only that but they're in a relegation scrap because they've only scored 42 goals this campaign (because they've played 10 men behind the ball). He's not the answer, and Arsenal can do better... and with Vermaelen back, the need for a CB isn't at the top of my own list.

What I would like to see is, as Pat Rice steps down this summer, a defensive coach next to Wenger who will assist him in getting us organized at the back instead of running around like so many headless chickens when the opposition breaks. Martin Keown, Stevie Bould, step on up, and before people question why Arsene would need one of them, let's remember it's not without precedence: Keown's coaching tenure at Arsenal coincided with the stingiest defense the Champions League ever saw. Additionally, a fluid but more direct 4-4-2 type of formation would suit me down to the ground. With the current set-up, when we don't score it seems that we get extremely narrow. When I watch Man U, what strikes me is the space that the forwards always seem to have on attacks. What we don't have are wingers who stretch the field, apart from Theo, so we end up with 7 players around the box, passing around until we eventually give it away. Arsene changed the formation two seasons ago to suit his personnel; this summer, he has the opportunity to change the personnel to give us a more effective formation.

We've got two matches left to clinch 3rd place or better and not have to worry about qualifying for Champions League, even if it's against someone like Celtic (note to Hoops fans: you were never in the tie, let the Eduardo thing go already). I'm not betting on this team stepping up and running through Villa and Fulham based on prior results. At the end of the day, I have faith that Arsene will do what is necessary to correct the flaws in this team: he's done it before, he can do it again. My faith in him has been rewarded before.

Has our faith ever been rewarded by most of these Arsenal players? Not so much. Nor has Arsene's. Let's wait and see whether he is willing to admit that to himself and rid us of the dead weight holding us down. Come June, Dr. Wenger, it's time to scrub in and get out the scalpels. Arsenal needs a heart, and it's up to you to put one in there.