Arsenal to open war chest
Once the trophy had been hidden away, Arsenal’s euphoria subsided. “We were second in the league and didn’t win the Champions League, so to win the FA Cup makes it an okay season, but not more than that,” said Freddie Ljungberg.
Thoughts were already drifting to the future and the improvement needed.
The way Arsenal were outplayed by Manchester United will leave more of an impression on ArsÃ¨ne Wenger than the silverware in his luggage, and he talks of a twin-track summer: keeping his squad together and signing new talent.
The process has started with the securing of Dennis Bergkamp for a final year and Wenger has made it clear he wants “one or two world-class players”.
“I feel we want to improve in every area,” the Frenchman said. “If you look at this game you can see we can improve. I am very confident that we have 90% of what is needed. If we find one or two players we will do it. We have the money, we can buy reasonably.”
A right midfielder seems a certain target, with Manchester City’s Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stuttgart’s Alexander Hleb under consideration. Wenger also raised the possibility of signing a goalkeeper to challenge Jens Lehmann.
The German is banned from the first two Champions League games of next season for splashing match officials with water after Arsenal’s elimination by Bayern Munich. Wenger was asked whether Lehmann was sure to be his first choice after this match-winning performance.
“At the start of the season I cannot guarantee it because he is suspended in Europe,” he said, hinting at not wishing to chop and change. “I will have to decide whether I start with him or not.”
Wenger added that Lehmann would “normally” be first choice, but not to begin with him would be significant. Arsenal had played seven league games by the time two European matches were completed this season, and it is unlikely Wenger would entrust Manuel Almunia or Stuart Taylor with such a stretch. If a new keeper is counted on and impresses, Lehmann may have to be patient.
Lehmann said Wenger was now “quite satisfied” with him and that, after this display, he expects to be the first choice next season.
Wenger’s omission of Sol Campbell was a sign not just of the England defender’s lack of sharpness but the manager’s belief in Kolo Touré and Philippe Senderos, though he said Campbell would be back in the team at the start of next season.
With Edu going, the latter two now complete Arsenal’s collection of central midfielders. Van Persie believes he will benefit from the retention of Bergkamp, who said: “Next year will be my last” and confirmed he will then get a testimonial.
“What is important is to keep our players,” said Patrick Vieira, “because that’s the way we will improve and if one or two can come that will make us stronger”.
He sees Ashley Cole as vital. The captain has played hardball with Arsenal over his contract in the past and hinted that the club should improve their wage offer to Cole.
“In the last few months he’s shown through the way he plays that he loves the club and how he wants to stay,” Vieira said. “So I think if the club want to keep him they have to make the effort and that’s normal.”
The midfielder described the final as proof that United will be strong title challengers with Arsenal next season. “There will [also] be Chelsea, Liverpool and — you never know — Everton and Newcastle can surprise somebody,” he said.
Wenger seems keen to bring more variety to his team’s play, having suggested this month he might sign a young striker who is strong in the air, but “not necessarily a big name”.
Arsenal’s season has ended without the two big trophies, but the FA Cup was welcome. “It’s really important because winning nothing would put more pressure on ourselves,” Vieira said. Plenty of recent performances, if not this one, have been positive, but Wenger knows that his work over the summer will be decisive. — Â