Thursday, May 19, 2011
Parker can be short-term fix for Arsenal
As a half-empty Emirates Stadium witnessed Arsenal embarking upon what, technically speaking, has to be termed a lap of honour - although the grim expressions on their faces indicated otherwise - a typical Arsene Wenger signing had just completed a virtuoso performance 200 miles further north.
Young, quick and French, Charles N'Zogbia appears a prototype of Arsenal recruits (although the cynical might argue that, with his end-of-season excellence, he would be an exception in the current crop of Gunners). Yet while N'Zogbia's scintillating performance on Sunday handed Wigan a lifeline and helped relegate West Ham, it should prompt Wenger to act in a very different way.
Experienced, English and vocal, Scott Parker is everything the majority of the Arsenal team are not. After a campaign when even the most ardent disciple of Wenger may conclude that the Frenchman's blueprint is flawed, the newly-crowned Footballer of the Year is an obvious and available antidote to many of Arsenal's failings.
Without reinforcing the spine of the side, there is a risk that next season could conform to the pattern established over the last few years, of nearly men who contrive to repeat their past mistakes. Of the quartet of positions where Arsenal can lack the knowhow to close out games or the ruthlessness to decide them - goalkeeper, central defence, central midfield and striker - Robin van Persie's fine form makes the last the least pressing priority, while Thomas Vermaelen's injury problems, coupled with the underachievement of Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny, means the back four requires urgent attention.
While Wenger tends to stockpile players who can operate in the middle of the pitch, however, several should be concerned about their future. Denilson has regressed, Abou Diaby has marred further indications of his potential with moments to illustrate why he continues to frustrate and Tomas Rosicky, a nominally attack-minded footballer who appears to have abandoned all interest in scoring goals, has rarely resembled the shining talent seen before a serious hamstring injury derailed his Arsenal career.
Moreover, while the athletic Alex Song is nominally the defensive midfielder, the Cameroonian doesn't always shield the back four with the rigorousness Parker can. The 30-year-old possesses the stamina and the long-range shooting to make him more than simply a holding player but, in superior sides, that is likely to be his lot. That he combined well with Jack Wilshere in England's March win over Wales is a promising sign and, while his game may not be ideally suited for the Champions League, a competitor is well equipped to win the midfield battlegrounds of the Premier League.
Yet the case for Parker is about more than simply his tackling or his tireless running. A never-say-die attitude has been apparent in West Ham's car crash of a campaign; it is something Arsenal have lacked in a traumatic two-and-a-half months since their Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham. In a season where the captain's armband has been worn by such unlikely and uninspiring leaders as Rosicky, Squillaci and Manuel Almunia, the reliance on Cesc Fabregas and Van Persie to rouse their colleagues has been exacerbated. Arsenal's organic method has produced technicians, but not towering personalities.
While Wenger has long been reluctant to pay sizeable fees, or even to award lengthy contracts, to players in the second half of their careers, he set a precedent last summer by buying Squillaci. If he can break his self-imposed rules for such an undistinguished player, it makes more sense to waive them to recruit the man voted the division's outstanding individual.
Admittedly, were Parker to stay three or four years, there would be a minimal return on Arsenal's investment and Wenger's economics degree was evidence of his financial acumen long before he was making huge profits on Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor.
But the equation of supply and demand can be altered by circumstances and while there is likely to be interest in Parker from elsewhere (Tottenham have twice attempted to buy him and the midfielder's late father, Mick, was a Spurs fan), the sellers are compromised by their predicament.
Quite simply, beggars can't be choosers. West Ham cannot complain about the state of their finances - as their owners do - and then expect anyone to pay over the odds for their players, especially when relegation means their departure becomes inevitable. In other words, Parker should be available below his market value.
The other element is the motivation of a man who has won silverware for his personal achievements to help a team succeed. The intelligent addition of the occasional old head can be catalytic, as Gerard Houllier showed when Gary McAllister played a pivotal part in helping Liverpool win three cups in 2000-01. Sir Alex Ferguson is not averse to restoring veterans to a stage they had vacated and, if signing Laurent Blanc backfired, buying Edwin van der Sar has proved a masterstroke. Reproduce his West Ham form and Parker has the potential to be as influential. While Wenger invariably looks long-term, the short-term fix is just across the capital, looking for new employment.