What Arsenal need to do to challenge Manchester United

If, heaven forbid, Santi Cazorla played for Manchester United he’d slot right in. So too would Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. To be honest, few Arsenal players would look out of place at the champions if Fergie managed to snaffle them. 

Arsene Wenger’s squad contains a lot of exceptional, individual footballers. 

Why then, when the Gunners form a guard of honour to applaud the Premier League’s finest onto the pitch this Sunday, will they be trailing United by an incredible 21 points?

It’s a good question. The margin seems too wide. And more pertinently, what can the Gunners do to bridge the ever-expanding gap?

For now at least, forget about money…

The most important factors are discipline, desire, and talent; three ingredients that create a virtually unbeatable footballing cocktail. 

Think about what Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund produced in the Champions League this week. 

Think about what Manchester United have been doing for two decades under Sir Alex Ferguson. 

Think about what Arsenal have done since being stunned by Spurs at the beginning of March. 

Discipline. Desire. Talent.

Since that loss at the Lane, the Gunners have collectively immersed themselves in all three qualities and what a difference it’s made. On top of their game, it’s been hard to live with them. Below par, they’ve still found a way to get a result. 

On current form they’re in title-winning shape. 

Unfortunately, Arsenal’s side haven’t married the three together, often enough. Not just this season but ever since they finished four points behind Fergie’s men in 2008. Not since the Invincibles of 2003/04, have they held it together better than anyone else. 

When Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie were all on song in a red and white shirt, the team’s all-round discipline and desire often lacked something. Why that happened, is an argument for another day. 

Right now, the vibe is good. As a team they seem to know what they want, the best way to get it, and together they’re determined not to fail. The difference in attitude and application is obvious. 

The challenge now is to bottle this focus, and learn how to tap into it for 38 matches; not just at the beginning and the end of the season. 

As well as that, inevitably, there’s the spending…

Arsene Wenger’s pool of players still isn’t quite strong enough to worry the likes of United. It needs more depth. 

Serious cash was shelled out on Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Cazorla last summer and all three have proved to be well worth the outlay. Without them, the absence of Van Persie could have been crippling; but it hasn’t been. Together, they’ve filled the void. 

This time last year, when the Dutchman was flying in north London, Arsenal still finished 19 points behind United. 

To bridge that chasm properly, Arsenal’s next phase has to be even more ambitious. 

To compete with United, City and Chelsea they must go after the same calibre of player. Rather than walking away when the stakes get high, it’s time to offer special contracts to special players; time to put up a fight. It’s the only way. 

Look at the key men which form the spine of Ferguson’s team; Ferdinand, Carrick, Rooney, Valencia, and Van Persie; all snapped up from English rivals for what appeared to be hugely inflated fees - riskily high prices. All have done the business. 

By splashing out in excess of £20million on an individual you’ll either find a talent from outside the Premier League that’s gifted enough to make an impact immediately, or you’ll acquire someone with proven experience and ability in the division. 

It has to be done. 

Arsene Wenger’s task now, is to choose the right men to beef up the areas which need it most. 

In goal, in the centre of defence, in the midfield engine room, up front; right down the middle, the Gunners could do with an injection of added class and experience. 

With major investment in proven talent, and the retention of this exceptional focus that’s been the hallmark of their late season fight back, Arsenal might not challenge for the title in 2014, but they will at least give Sir Alex Ferguson something to think about. 

With discipline, desire and talent, any footballing tide can turn.  

Bet on Arsenal to finish in the top four at 1.30

Read more from the footballer turned journalist Adrian Clarke