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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
How Arsenal can improve
By Tom Fordyce

Arsene Wenger looks skywards
Who will Wenger decide to replace, and with whom?

Sounds like a strange thing to say, doesn't it, when Arsenal have won the Premiership title without losing single league game all season.

When you are unbeaten during an entire Premiership campaign, where is the room for improvement?

Simple answer: everywhere. The team that rests on its laurels is the team that prepares to be overtaken.

The Arsenal of 2004 have been fêted as one of the finest sides in English football history.

The weak capitulations to Manchester United and Chelsea which ended their Treble dream were seen as aberrations which could have been avoided.

But the close season may give a different perspective. What if, rather than throwing away a possible Treble, Arsenal actually did fantastically well just to win the Premiership?

No cash to spend

Cast your mind back to last August. While Chelsea splashed out millions and United spent like European aristocrats, Arsenal's outlay was less than £2m.

Jens Lehmann, signed from Borussia Dortmund for a paltry £1.5m, was not Arsene Wenger's first-choice goalkeeper. Gael Clichy cost £250,000 in compensation to Cannes, and Philippe Senderos came from Servette for a nominal fee.

Thierry Henry stretches out his arms
If Henry was injured, how would Arsenal replace his goals?

It left Arsenal, on the surface of it, way behind their title rivals. The team which had just blown the title was barely being bolstered, let alone dramatically improved.

Wenger had a converted midfielder at right-back (Lauren), a hitherto average midfielder at centre-back (Kolo Toure), a lack of cover in midfield and a strike force that relied almost exclusively on one man, Thierry Henry.

Bar the January arrival of Jose Antonio Reyes, all those situations remain the same.

Wenger is not a naive man. He knows that, had any of his key men suffered a serious injury, the title challenge could have collapsed.

Henry has 30 Premiership goals this season. The next highest league scorer at the club is Robert Pires with 14. Beyond that, you have to go all the way down to Freddie Ljungberg and Dennis Bergkamp with 4.

Henry looks after his body like a track and field athlete. Arsenal have one of the best medical back-up teams in Europe.

But he could still get injured - and if he did, Arsenal would be unable to make up the goals shortfall from any other source.

Every team in the Champions League would struggle without their key striker. Imagine United without Ruud van Nistelrooy.

But Arsenal would be hit harder than any of their rivals.

This summer, Sylvain Wiltord is expected to leave the club.

Reyes, while Wenger's first-choice partner for Henry, will not hit his best for another couple of years. Returning loanee Francis Jeffers is unwanted at Highbury.

That would leave Arsenal relying on a 35-year-old Dennis Bergkamp, unproven 21-year-old Jeremie Aliadiere and the fading Nwankwo Kanu should Henry be sidelined - hardly the foundations on which Champions League triumphs are built.

Defensive concerns

There is a similar lack of cover throughout the team.

In the centre of defence, Toure and Sol Campbell have been exceptional all season.

But should they be injured or suspended - likely in the course of full season - you are left with Martin Keown (38 this summer and likely to move on) and Pascal Cygan (improved, but not enough). Senderos is highly-rated but is untested and has been out with injury all year.

Left-back is well covered. But the only competition for Lauren on the other side is Toure - and that simply opens up problems elsewhere.

In the midfield, it's all about competition for places. Arsenal do not have the strength in depth to handle the prolonged absence of Pires or Patrick Vieira.

Ljungberg has struggled to re-capture the form of two years ago. The whole midfield unit has suffered from having to play too many high-pressure games in succession.

Wenger has the option of giving Jermaine Pennant another chance. But with respect to Pennant, who has been one of the few successes in relegated Leeds' dismal season, he alone will not convert Arsenal into European champions.

Transfer targets

It almost makes gloomy reading for Arsenal fans. It shouldn't.

The team has achieved incredible things with limited resources this year. Wenger now has cash to spend, and has already identified several potential summer targets to David Dein.

It's just to say that, now the title has returned to Highbury, appreciate what the club has done. And be grateful that Wenger is already looking forward to the challenges of next season.






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