To be perfectly Frank, Arsenal need to spend

Double-winning legend fears another season without silver
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The Independent Football

It is a brave man, inside or outside Arsenal, who questions the maxim "Arsène knows". Bravery was never a quality conspicuously lacking, however, in Frank McLintock, captain of the Double-winning side of 1971, who was inducted last week into the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame in a glitzy ceremony in central London. Still as fond of the club as ever, he nevertheless watches events, and games, at the Emirates with as much bewilderment as pride.

The pride is easily explained, especially by one who initially played through times inconceivable to the younger generation of supporters. He wondered if joining the club from Leicester City in 1964 was the worst mistake of his life; for one League game at Highbury against Leeds the attendance was 4,544.

"Arsène's got a nice way of playing that goes right through the whole club," McLintock said, "one- or two-touch passing and moving." There was pleasure, too, in watching the young Gunners in the Carling Cup on Tuesday, especially Jack Wilshire in midfield: "He reminds me a little bit of Liam Brady."

Bewilderment stems from a transfer policy that he finds inexplicable in the apparent reluctance to pay the going rate, the latest example being Bordeaux's striker Marouane Chamakh. "I can't believe they're not going out and buying at least two players. I know they've been trying to get the lad from Bordeaux but didn't want to pay the money. They might get him in January, but the season could be over by January. They've got 40-odd million [for Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor] and spent 10. I didn't know we were a selling club, I thought we were a big club."

Any suggestion that Wenger is less than infallible can, of course, be taken badly even from such a revered figure as McLintock. "Arsène's done a great job, I think he's a great manager, but the trouble is if you ever make a valid point about Arsène and the club, it's like criticising the Pope. Everybody gets up in arms. There are certain players at Arsenal who Arsène's talked about coming through, who if they play to 30 won't be good enough for Arsenal in my opinion."

As Manchester City buy their way towards the top, McLintock even fears that failure to strengthen in the winter window could lead to a worse season than last time for Arsenal. "I think they're possibly three, definitely two players away from winning the championship. If they got two crackers in January, then if we're not too far behind we could still win it, but if we don't, I think we'll have a similar season to last year: playing great, everybody loving us, finishing possibly fourth or maybe even fifth or sixth.

"I don't think it would cost so much to make Arsenal a real quality side. We're still a bit lightweight in the centre of midfield and we need another player up front that's big and strong. Nicklas Bendtner's improving but he's still got quite a bit to go if we're wanting to win the championship."

Frustration is compounded by the knowledge that Wenger, aside from the odd (very odd) purchase such as Francis Jeffers, has an extraordinary record of finding value in the players he buys. Thomas Vermaelen, the Belgian defender from Ajax, has proved the latest gem at £10 million, which McLintock, as a former centre-half, is quick to acknowledge: "Bob McNab came over from America, we were always saying Arsenal needed a centre-half and now I'm saying to him, 'We've got a cracker here'. He's athletic, has a great spring, alive and alert, taking charge and telling other players about pushing up after the ball's cleared, and settled in from his very first game. If he can keep that up, he'll be a fantastic player for Arsenal. He's winning headers in the box both ends of the pitch, and that's been one of the failures."

He believes Vermaelen's success has compensated for Touré's departure and, like many Arsenal followers, does not regret Adebayor's going. "I thought Adebayor wasn't playing anywhere near as good as he had been before he got his big pay rise. It seemed from a distance that his work-rate went down and he never scored nearly as many goals. Touré also had an average season, though I like him [more] out of the two of them because over the years he's given his heart and soul to Arsenal.

"I think Adebayor was a little bit out of order. He was brought into the game by Arsène Wenger, he did very well, he got the money he was looking for and then all of a sudden he gets transferred and doubles his money. So I don't know why he was so angry."

As for Adebayor's looking back in anger against Arsenal recently: "I don't think in 40 years of football I've ever seen anyone running 100 yards from one end of the pitch to the other. There was intent there to say two fingers up to the Arsenal supporters. It was unnecessary."

McLintock will watch the Champions' League tie against Olympiacos on Tuesday convinced that Wenger's team should make further progress towards qualifying as usual from their group. The worry, shared by many, is that without the necessary strengthening, they will once again not be able to take the final step in either that competition or the Premier League.

"We can pass teams off the pitch but we're not physically strong enough against certain sides who can out-muscle us. Chelsea don't get out-muscled. I think they've got the best squad at the moment." To an old loyalist, that is hard to take.

This week's Champions' League games


Arsenal v Olympiacos

Unlikely to gift Greeks a two-goal start in the first five minutes, as they did Standard Liège, Arsenal should record a second win to go top of the table. Zico's Olympiacos began with a late win at home to AZ Alkmaar.

Fiorentina v Liverpool

Liverpool, who made hard work of beating Debrecen 1-0, will need to be wary of Fiorentina and Lyon. But the Viola did not make sweet music at home last season and now the striker Alberto Gilardino is banned.

Rangers v Seville

Majid Bougherra's equaliser in Stuttgart was a huge bonus, offering hope that the Scots can make the group a three-horse race. Seville beat Unirea Urziceni comfortably, and Luis Fabiano is the man to stop.


Apoel Nicosia v Chelsea

Cypriot football is on the up, as Michael Ballack can testify after Germany drew with the national team, who also only lost 1-0 to Petr Cech's Czech Republic. Apoel marked their debut at this level with a goalless draw at Atletico Madrid.

Manchester United v Wolfsburg

Uefa's coefficient system means Wolfsburg, with little European pedigree, do not rank as highly as German champions should, but they dismissed CSKA Moscow 3-1. Paul Scholes' header saw off Besiktas.

Steve Tongue