Crisis, What Crisis?
Charlie Nicholas says that despite a turbulent pre-season, Arsenal will be contenders.
By James Root
Last Updated: 31/07/07 11:01am
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Former Arsenal striker, Charlie Nicholas says that even though their captain has left for Barcelona and potential takeover bids have left a cloud of doubt hanging over the club, the Gunners are in fine shape.
Nicholas, who scored 54 goals in 184 matches for the Gunners, believes that Arsene Wenger has a strong enough squad to challenge for the Premiership, even though Thierry Henry has moved on.
"I'm quite content with the shape of Arsenal's squad," said Nicholas.
"There's no doubt in my mind that as much as Thierry Henry achieved, Arsenal needed to freshen up. In my opinion it would have been perfect if he would have stayed and became the father figure for the young talent that is coming through, but he was having problems.
"Last season, in the build up to the North London derby he had a fall-out with Arsene and he moaned about playing up front on his own. They may have been relevant points but Arsene is the gaffer! He's the one who has brought greatness to Thierry, to the club.
"Arsene didn't want to sell Thierry, but he had to let Ljungberg and others go because they weren't performing to the level of the past.
"I think the make-up of the side and the level of performance in the camp will be much, much better this season. Yes they will miss the talent - there's no doubt about Thierry's talent - but they have a team spirit that's building."
Both Henry and Ljungberg have since questioned Arsenal's ambitions after sealing transfers away from North London which disappoints Nicholas.
"I thought Freddie Ljungberg's comments were a cheap shot. He has been great for the club, but only as much as the club has been great for him. Arsenal gave him the chance to build a profile off the pitch, not just on it."
And Nicholas believes the time was right to let the Sweden captain go.
I said on Soccer Saturday that he had played his way to the end of his Arsenal career and people were saying to me 'but Freddie's only 29'. It didn't matter! Freddie's work off the ball was due to the vision of players like Dennis Bergkamp and Henry - that helped him become a star.
"Freddie couldn't change the format of his game on his own, so I thought his time was up then."
Many Arsenal supporters will be sad to see him go though, and some will point to a limited number of options on the left-side of the Gunners' midfield, but Nicholas is not concerned.
"I think the manager was quite happy to take the money for Freddie because Tomas Rosicky, Aleksander Hleb, Theo Walcott and a few others were way ahead of him in the pecking order and I'm not saddened to see the back of him, but I respect what he has done for the club. He has been a very successful player but it was just time - Vieira had to move on, as did Robert Pires and it was Freddie's time."
But there are areas in the squad that Nicholas would like to see Wenger strengthen.
"I would like another defender," said Nicholas. "Arsene has a balance now with Bacary Sagna coming in, who can play all along the back four, and we know that [William] Gallas can do the same.
"I think Phillipe Senderos will potentially leave, [Johan] Djourou also. We are still a little bit vulnerable and I would like a physical presence at the back.
"My one worry is in goal. Jens Lehman is a very talented goalkeeper, but we need a bit of stability there and Jens is still a bit unpredictable for me. It will be interesting to see how Luckasz Fabianski fits in - I would be tempted to give him a start in the Emirates Cup.
"I think Arsenal will be better than they have been over the last couple of seasons and have as good a chance of success as any other club, including Man United and Chelsea.
There is a particular player that Nicholas is looking forward to watching this season, a player who he expects will take the Premiership by storm.
"The one player that you need to watch this season is Robin Van Persie. Although there have been obvious comparisons, he is different to Bergkamp although he does have an aggressive side to him, like Dennis.
"He has a left foot to die for and he's also pretty decent in the air too. In my opinion he has more goals in him than Dennis had.
"I remember Henry saying last season that he's played with some great players, including Bergkamp and Zinedine Zidane, and he said the one young player who had the talent of any of them was Van Persie. I'm a great believer in him and I think he will score 20 plus goals and will be the star of the Premiership this season."
The most important factor for Arsenal supporters is whether Wenger will sign a new contract and stay beyond this season, and Nicholas is in no doubt that the Frenchman will sign a new contract.
"I was a little concerned a few weeks ago," said Nicholas, "but I spoke to a few people close to the club and close to Arsene and it seems to me that, yes he's upset with the David Dein situation, so was I, and he would like it to be rectified and for David to come back in. But I feel that this is Arsene's club, his team.
"The Emirates stadium has his profile all over it - the club has his fingerprints all over it and I don't see where he's going to get the same success at another club, such as Real Madrid, where he would not be in control in the way that he is at Arsenal. I think Arsene will be at Arsenal for the foreseeable future.
Another on-going saga that has dominated the back pages this summer has been the potential takeover at Arsenal and Nicholas feels that although it is not helping Wenger's situation at the club, the board should give it some serious consideration.
"The takeover talk isn't helping the situation with Arsene. I can understand the viewpoint of the board members at the moment and there's no doubt that the American guy (Stan Kroenke) is serious, but Arsene is not one who runs out and spends £20million for the sake of doing it - there has to be a reason behind it.
"This takeover has cast some doubt over the club which isn't helpful, but you can't dismiss potential investment. Arsenal are going to be raking in a lot of cash with the increase in capacity at the Emirates Stadium and in two or three year's time they will reap the benefits. But the facts are that Arsenal fans want success.
"Foreign investment hasn't affected Manchester United and I don't think it's a deterrent to the club. If I had one wish for Arsenal, it would be for them to win the Champions League and then they'll truly become a great, great club. Added finance would go a long way to allowing Arsene to take Arsenal forward further still."
Charlie Nicholas was talking to James Root