Wenger paying the price for thrifty ways

Martin Rogers

For years, Arsene Wenger has operated as if Arsenal's transfer fund was his own private stash of money.

Lavish spending on the biggest names in the market? Not for Wenger. Indeed, the manager has appeared to turn his nose up at that kind of retail therapy, preferring instead to develop his own players from the youth ranks.

The concept of an all-conquering Arsenal squad comprised primarily of talent that emerged from the club's own system is Wenger's dream. The problem is that it's taking too long to accomplish and seems as far away from fruition as ever.

Arsenal has not won a major trophy in three seasons and its last English Premier League crown came in 2004. After another week of misery ended with a 3-0 defeat at Manchester City, Wenger finds himself in a deep hole. He's not going to be sacked despite whatever speculation you may read, but the state of the program he has overseen for more than a decade is on the line.

The only way out of this predicament is to do what he dislikes so much – start splashing the cash.

This Arsenal squad is very good and certainly capable of making inroads into the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League. However, it lacks the depth, ruthlessness and strength at all positions to compete for this season's EPL title.

In any one-off game, Arsenal is still capable of matching most teams on the continent, regardless of what recent results suggest. Winning the league is a different story, though, requiring the sort of metronomic consistency last seen at Arsenal during its 2004 unbeaten season. Unsettling matters, such as former captain William Gallas' disciplinary problems, do nothing to ease the awkward situation.

At this point, the Gunners must worry about preventing themselves from slipping out of the Premiership's top four as Aston Villa continues its impressive form. Ten points back from Chelsea and Liverpool, the title is probably already gone.

Wenger's spending powers were restricted during the period leading up to Arsenal's move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, but he is no longer operating under such budget-conscious conditions. He stubbornly refused to spend last summer, even after Alexander Hleb moved to Barcelona and Mathieu Flamini joined AC Milan on a free transfer. As a result, the midfield core relies too heavily on Cesc Fabregas, who himself is on the shopping list of some of Europe's top clubs.

Support is needed. Not in the guise of a bargain buy plucked from France or Africa, but a proven midfield star who has shown the ability to perform at the highest level.

Arsenal can afford it. Can Wenger afford not to?

The First XI

1. Get him an Advil

There are few players in Europe with as much talent as Bayern Munich striker Lukas Podolski. However, the Germany international's Bayern career is on the rocks now, with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann unimpressed with either his attitude or his play this season.

Podolski has been left out of some key games and now, to make matters worse, Landon Donovan is set to arrive on loan to put his position in further jeopardy.

2. Get him a beer

Guillermo Barros Schelotto signed off his spectacular Major League Soccer season in the best way possible. The Argentinean veteran confirmed himself as the best player in MLS with a decisive display for the Columbus Crew in Sunday's 3-1 championship game victory over the New York Red Bulls.

If the Crew don't find a way to bring him back for at least one more season, they will have failed themselves, their passionate fan base and soccer in the United States.

3. Get them some earplugs

Sao Paolo moved to within touching distance of a third straight Brazilian championship, but only after a torrid experience away to Vasco da Gama. Sao Paolo's bus was stoned by Vasco fans as it entered the stadium, the players were locked out of their changing room and they were told not to warm up on the pitch or they would be attacked.

Despite the turmoil and a constant stream of abuse from the stands, Sao Paolo collected a 2-1 victory.

4. California dreaming

Columbus head coach Sigi Schmid returned to Los Angeles, where he was fired as coach of the Galaxy four years ago, to lift the MLS title with a preseason underdog Crew team. But Schmid's future with Columbus is in some doubt as he would clearly prefer to return to a job near his home and wife, Valerie, in Southern California.

5. Catch a flight to …

Cluj. Romanian champion Cluj has been an entertaining and courageous newcomer in this season's Champions League and will try to keep its bid for a second-round spot alive when it hosts a revitalized Roma in Group A on Wednesday.

6. A round of applause for …

• Jose Mourinho – The Inter Milan head coach has been under fire recently but masterminded a precious 1-0 victory over Juventus on Saturday to go further clear at the top of Serie A.

• Jonathan Sesma – Villarreal had not lost in La Liga all season and Valladolid had failed to win away from home. But two goals from Sesma set up a 3-0 victory for Valladolid in one of the shock results of the Spanish season.

7. Get them a Kleenex (and a doctor)

Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain, Portsmouth's Jermain Defoe, Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus' Tiago Mendes are four high-profile players to be struck down with untimely injuries ahead of Champions League and UEFA Cup action this week.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

More officials. Plans to introduce an extra assistant referee behind each goal are already underway and being tested in European under-19 competition.

It is a decent idea and should help eliminate contentious goal-line decisions, as well as easing the pressure on the referees when things get packed for corners and free kicks.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Sven Goran Eriksson. If the Mexican media and public get their way, Eriksson's tenure in charge of El Tri will be terminated after less than six months.

With a superb crop of young talent at his disposal, Eriksson is expected to produce better than squeaking through to CONCACAF's next stage of World Cup qualifying ahead of Jamaica on goal difference.

10. Get excited about …

The Confederations Cup 2009. The draw, made last week, placed the United States in by far the stronger of the two groups, meaning it will face Italy, Brazil and Egypt – while Group A includes Iraq, New Zealand, South Africa and Spain.

However, the competition will give Bob Bradley's side a good idea of just how much ground it needs to make up in order to be competitive at the World Cup. Also, the tournament will provide an indication as to South Africa's readiness to host soccer's biggest show.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Because you can get away with showing up at work with a ridiculous haircut like this one sported by Tottenham's Benoit Assou-Ekotto.