Arsenal old guard want strong rear guard

Posted by Kevin Palmer

A giant blue cockerel statue provided the backdrop as Arsenal legends Tony Adams and Ian Wright did their best to make some sense of the contrasting summer of transfer activity for North London's soccer giants.

• Cross: Spurs spending irks Arsenal
• Fitch: Carroll and Holtby the stars at Spurs

The latest inexplicable piece of artwork positioned on one of the plinths in London's Trafalgar Square had not been erected in tribute to the club, whose club crest features the very same bird, yet it seemed somewhat fitting that the Gunners icons were being asked to explain the lack of new faces at their former club under the gaze of a such an imposing symbol.

While one half of the capital's traditional "big two" have spent the last few months trying and failing to sign a host of stellar names, their rivals, a few minutes up the Seven Sisters Road, have embarked on a wave of spending that has been as impressive as it has been unexpected.

Arsenal have tended to be the team trying to explain the departure of a star player at this stage of August in recent years, yet it was Tottenham who were filling the rile of expectant victims of an unwanted sale this summer as the Gareth Bale-to-Real Madrid saga could have destroyed their momentum.

Yet instead of wallowing in his own misery at the prospect of losing Bale, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy silenced his critics by spending the money he knew he would eventually recoup. These moves have served to increase the pressure on Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger to respond to the gauntlet being laid down by their noisy neighbours.

Wayne Rooney, Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez have all slipped through Wenger's net over the last couple of months, yet former skipper and enduring Gunners hero Adams was quick to suggest those targets were misguided from the off, as Arsenal's problems lie elsewhere.

"I may be one of the few people out there who says don't buy anyone unless they improve your team," began Adams, speaking at the launch of Vodafone 4G. "I don't think that you should just buy someone for the sake of buying someone, and for me, it is not a question of bringing in forward players to Arsenal as they can already open up teams.

"If I have one big criticism of Arsenal in the last three or four years it would be that they are too open. Everyone bombs forward, the full-backs go, Aaron Ramsey goes, they are really offensive-minded players. They need some security. They need a Gilberto, a Patrick Vieira, a Manu Petit.

"Mikel Arteta does that job to the best of his ability, but I would like to see Thomas Vermaelen tried [in midfield] maybe."

His fellow Arsenal great Wright issued a similar volley of sentiments, yet the often outspoken striker who held the club's all-time scoring record until Thierry Henry snatched it from him, refrained from joining the chorus of criticism that has been flowing in Wenger's direction with increasing force in recent weeks.

"I am totally behind Arsene Wenger in the kind of players he has been going for," stressed Wright, speaking at the same event. "The fact that they haven't won anything for a few years may be part of the reason why they are not coming, but it is down to someone at the club to convince them that Arsenal will get back to where they were and it is the club to come to.

"Until the window shuts, you hope players will arrive, but it depends what calibre of players are out there. You don't want to sign players just to appease people's frustrations that someone should be signed. At the end of the day, Tottenham are signing a lot of players, and hopefully their point of view, it works.

"What Arsenal need is to bring people in who will help the club push for the Premier League, push for the Champions League. That is what we want to see."

While Adams struggled to disguise his disappointment over Arsenal's lack of spending this summer, he was not keen to single out Wenger for criticism, as he suggested the manager who eased him through the final years of his decorated career still has much to offer the game.

"Arsene is a different type of trainer and you have to use what you are good at," stressed the ex-England skipper. "Arsene is great on physiologist and my body was in the best condition pre-match and post-match I've ever been in. I came off the pitch and didn't break sweat at times, which was all down to Arsene Wenger.

"He has a certain way of doing things and he has Steve Bould in there now, Neil Banfield, Boro Primorac, who was a good defender in his time. Hopefully they get a little more access to help get the balance right in the team. Just secure it when they are going forward, that's all I ask.

"The manager has had a lot of success and when I first got into the team, they hadn't won anything in 18 years until our league title in 1989, but the trouble at the moment is the fans are seeing top-class players walk out the door and maybe not-so-good players coming in.

"As an Arsenal man, I class them as the biggest club in the world, so why would you go anywhere else, but I don't think the players today are thinking like that anymore."

Adams concluded by predicting fans will see an open North London derby at Emirates Stadium this Sunday, even though he would prefer to see a little more attention given to the defensive side of the game.

"Arsenal will be committing people forward and I hope they get the balance right, with Spurs probably doing the same," he said. "I'll be super happy if we keep a clean sheet on Sunday. Per Mertesacker, Bacary Sagna, your duty is to keep a clean sheet today. I think [Arsene] has a slightly different mentality to me though.

"As for Spurs, yes they have spent a lot of money and they are closing the gap, but they haven't won a lot in recent years themselves, and let's not forget they are also losing a very good player in Gareth Bale. There is no certainty all their signings will come off, but let's see how it all pans out."

The perception that the balance of power in North London football has shifted to White Hart Lane after this summer's transfer window extravaganza is given its first real test. Adams and Wright are among those clinging to the hope that the old order is not ready to be changed just yet.

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