Arsenal left threadbare for Fenerbahce test

Posted by Sam Limbert

Arsenal 130817 [576x324] - CopyAllsportMidfielder Aaron Ramsey (r) ended the game against Aston Villa in defence.

Having written on this blog last week about a sudden burst of optimism with regards to Arsenal ahead of the new season, it's difficult to imagine a more efficient way for that optimism to be totally erased inside 90 minutes.

With an already thin squad, six injuries and a red card was far from ideal on Saturday, never mind the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa itself.

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Despite some distinctly dodgy refereeing, the loss only served as a brutal reminder that the necessary additions haven't been made to the Arsenal squad. Yes, everyone wants star signings to add the quality that would mean Arsenal could realistically think about challenging for the Premier League title, however, the failure to add more than one player in a summer that has seen a multitude depart is ridiculous and has left the Gunners threadbare.

I've always been will ready to defend Arsene Wenger, but I can't establish any logic behind the delay in adding numbers to the squad.

Having worked so hard in the second half of last season to make it into the top four of the Premier League, the lack of investment means that there's a very real chance of Arsenal blowing the opportunity to make it into the group stages of the Champions League.

There's a genuine fear now that Arsenal could have to rely on the Court of Arbitration for Sport's ruling regarding Fenerbahce's participation in Europe, with the Turkish side banned from continental competition by UEFA for match-fixing in domestic competition, to make it through; a decision that's due after the tie has been played.

The issue for Arsenal is that the Champions League holds the key to the big signings. It was clear in 2011 that players were more inclined to join the Gunners knowing a place in the group stage was assured. However, failure to add numbers to the squad before the play-off round could mean the big names remain out of reach for the Gunners, even if Arsenal can afford the players, as the club will fail to qualify.

The summer saga over Luis Suarez will look increasingly daft if Wenger's team have to drop down to the Europa League.

When Arsenal finish the first Premier League game of the season with a back four that includes Aaron Ramsey and Lukas Podolski, it's hard to be optimistic about progression.

So, which players are left to capitalise on last season's effort to finish fourth in the Premier League? Following the Aston Villa match, Wenger mentioned Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all had injury problems. Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta are already sidelined.

Santi Cazorla also didn't look match-fit after a pointless midweek trip to Ecuador with Spain in a shortened pre-season. Laurent Koscielny will miss next Saturday's league game with Fulham, but at least he'll be available on Wednesday.

In a worst case scenario, where all those who picked up injuries on Saturday don't make the trip to Turkey, Arsenal just have 11 players to field from their first team squad list. The likes of 16-year-old Gedion Zelalem has also been thrown in to bolster the ranks of Arsenal's Champions League squad.

There are about as many players left in the squad as there were Arsenal fans in the Emirates Stadium at the final whistle on Saturday. Fans will start voting with their feet and were understandably vocal in their criticisms following Aston Villa's third goal. Wenger always says his job is to make the fans happy. Apart from winning matches, they're making it pretty clear what he has to do to make the fans more content. The fans want it, the squad needs it, the money is there; buy the players. Excuses are now non-existent.

So the number of players and fans could be dwindling, but Wenger and the board resolutely remain. Now isn't the time for serious discussions about their positions because of the urgency and attention that needs to be given to bolstering the squad.

However, should no new playing staff arrive by September 2, those discussions will have to take place. A large part of me feels sorry for the current squad because they're being left exposed by a lack of numbers during this crucial start to the season.

A summer of inactivity surely can't have been the plan, but whatever it was hasn't worked. Now, with just two weeks of the transfer window to go, if action isn't taken, this summer will go down as the beginning of the end for Wenger. For a man that has given so much for the club, it would be a desperately sad conclusion, but one that he'll have brought upon himself.

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