Lee Dixon: Arsenal have really suffered this season but a few tweaks could ensure the future is bright

The Weekend Dossier
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The first thing to say about Arsenal is that the title race is not over.

They may have dropped points to Liverpool and Tottenham this week but they are still in it, and as a former player it was drilled into me that the club never gives up until the bitter end.

Getting a point at White Hart Lane is not a bad result, although it seems it when you have been 3-1 up. That game summed up Arsenal's season in 90 minutes. They played some fantastic attacking football, passed and moved intelligently, played with pace and purpose, but then gave away some sloppy goals and threw their winning position away.

It makes you wonder how many body blows the team can take in one season. Drawing 4-4 with Newcastle when they were 4-0 up; losing the Carling Cup final to Birmingham in the last minute; then following that by losing to Barcelona in the Champions League and Manchester United in the FA Cup in less than a fortnight.

Arsène Wenger talks about the team's spirit, which they demonstrated on Wednesday when they began the game so well. But my concern is the manner in which they seem to lose their way when things go wrong.

In all the analysis of Arsenal's season, we must not forget just what Arsène has done for the club. He won two Doubles and then oversaw the transformation to a new stadium, with a brilliant young team that plays wonderful, attacking football. Arsenal are the blueprint for how to run a football club – the only thing missing for the past few years has been a trophy or two.

Arsène is a very intelligent man, and he will recognise that the club are at a crossroads now as American Stan Kroenke completes his takeover. There will be greater pressure on him to win things, and the manager may not get it all his own way quite like he has in the past.

I respect Arsène totally for what he has achieved, and the work he continues to do at Arsenal. I am not a manager. Arsène is. However, in my opinion, having watched Arsenal a lot this season, there are three areas that I feel need to be looked at in the summer.

The most important change would be to bring in an experienced player who can be the leader on the pitch, someone like Clarence Seedorf. He is 35 now but the way he played for Milan against Tottenham last month was outstanding. I'm not saying Arsenal have to go out and buy him now, but he would certainly have been a great asset this season.

Arsenal would not have thrown away so many points from winning positions, 13 in all this season, had a Seedorf-type character been in the team. That kind of player knows what to do in all situations, like on Wednesday against Spurs.

Cesc Fabregas gave an interview this week saying the younger players turn to him for assistance, but I do not think Cesc is that type of person. I am talking about someone senior that Cesc can turn to, with real experience.

That is one of the things that Arsenal have really missed this season. Every player needs a bit of help at various moments in games, when you are having a stinker or have just taken a kick, and having the right words of advice at the right time is priceless.

Secondly, I would like to have seen Arsenal buy a real goalscorer. If I had been Arsenal manager I would have moved heaven and earth to buy Darren Bent. It has become clear this season that Arsenal need another striker, because Robin van Persie needs help up front. He has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, and if you get 50 per cent of games out of him then you are doing well.

Someone who is more at home playing as the lone striker would also be a more natural fit with the formation Arsène likes to play.

My third suggestion concerns the defence, which is a real headache for Arsène. But they don't need to go out and buy a new set of defenders – maybe one commanding centre-back and maybe more pressure on the full-backs too. When they get Thomas Vermaelen back they will be fine, as both Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou have shown signs they can be good centre-halves for the club. It's a mentality problem in my book.

It seems that Pat Rice could be retiring at the end of the season after an amazing career at the club. That might give Arsène a chance to bring in a new coach, and I would nominate Steve Bould, who is currently the coach of the under-18s. He knows all about how to defend and he could change the way Arsenal try to win the ball back.

Too often I do not see a planned response when Arsenal lose possession. They rely on the opposition making a mistake rather than actively going out to win the ball back in numbers, in an organised pack. That's a team problem, not just the defence. Steve could drill them better, and also improve their defending from set pieces, which has been a major weakness this season.

Arsenal could yet win the Premier League title, which would be quite amazing given their up-and-down season. That would not change the fact that they need to strengthen in the summer.

There are still twists to come in title's tale of the unexpected

It is amazing that Chelsea still have a chance of winning the title after they spent two months walking around in the wilderness, staring at the trees, in the middle of the season. But now that Carlo Ancelotti has bombed out his £50m striker Fernando Torres, the defending champions have put together an impressive run of form and cannot be ruled out.

Arsenal also have a chance, in what could yet prove to be the closest finish ever. Everyone, of course, would gladly swap places with Manchester United, but both challengers have to play the leaders in the final weeks of the season, so anything is possible.

United should have had the title in the bag ages ago, but their away form is indifferent with nine draws and just five wins. It is good for morale not to lose games, but not enough of those draws have been turned into victories.

They also have the welcome distraction of the Champions League semi-finals with Schalke to cope with. I really think there are a few more twists to come, because results have been unpredictable all season, at the top of the table and at the bottom.

United will probably go on to win it, but whatever happens, two teams will be left kicking themselves at the end of the season, thinking about what might have been.

Five Asides

1. During my time we used to drop trophies too – not let leads slip

Seeing Real Madrid players dropping the Spanish Cup from the top of their bus reminded me of the time I almost broke the old League Championship trophy with Arsenal. Someone dropped the lid and I noticed the figure of the lady on top was bent right over. I had to decide whether to straighten her, and risk it snapping, or leaving her leaning over at a very odd angle. I just left it, and I think it got repaired when we handed it back. Well, I hope it did...

2. City must handle the pressure better this time

The battle for fourth place is a rerun of last season, and once again the pressure is on Manchester City rather than on Tottenham – it would be more serious if they were to miss out again. Fans might prefer to win the FA Cup but I am not sure the owners would agree.

3. Houllier can learn from canny George

I hope Gérard Houllier is recovering well. I know how hard it is for football people to give it up, but he must be thinking about retiring. He should take a leaf out of George Graham's book, who has come to terms with being out of management and is enjoying himself.

4. Parker's prize won't lessen pain of the drop

Scott Parker is a great choice as Player of the Year, though I can't think if the winner has ever been relegated before and it could happen this year.

5. Brighty goes up the hill backwards

I went cycling this week in Surrey with Magnus Bäckstedt, who was one of the world's leading professional riders a few years ago. He was so strong that he actually pushed Mark Bright up Coombe Bottom – which before you ask is a hill near Dorking.

Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Manchester United vs Everton

Dixon's verdict: Their treble hopes may be over but United will still be looking to finish the season strongly. Victory here could, temporarily, stretch their lead at the top to nine points and they should get the win.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win

Aston Villa vs Stoke City

Dixon's verdict: Aston Villa appear safe after two wins in two games but the illness of the manager could have an impact on proceedings today. Stoke are on a high from reaching the FA Cup final and that may continue here.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction Draw

Blackpool vs Newcastle United

Dixon's verdict: Blackpool fell into the bottom three last week following yet another defeat and they could struggle to get out of it. Newcastle reached the magical 40-point mark in the week and I fancy them to get a point.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Draw

Liverpool vs Birmingham City

Dixon's verdict: Last Sunday's late show at Arsenal followed a fine win over Manchester City and King Kenny's side will maintain their form here – against a side they have, remarkably, not beaten in seven years!

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win

Sunderland vs Wigan Athletic

Dixon's verdict: Sunderland are another team on an abysmal run but I think they need just one win to be safe. Wigan looked good in beating Blackpool but can differ in performance from week to week.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win

Tottenham Hotspur vs West Bromwich Albion

Dixon's verdict: Harry Redknapp's side showed fight and spirit to come back to take a point from the derby match in midweek and will have too much against a Baggies side who lost a first game under Roy Hodgson last week.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Fulham

Dixon's verdict: Mick McCarthy's side found themselves at the bottom of the table again last week but have a fine chance to make up ground against a Fulham side with just one win in 16 away games this season.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Draw

Chelsea vs West Ham United

Dixon's verdict: Chelsea are clicking back into gear and retain slight title hopes, so will relish the chance of a home match against a struggling West Ham. Fernando Torres won't get a better chance to open his account.

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win

Bolton Wanderers vs Arsenal

Dixon's verdict: Both side have endured demoralising weeks, Bolton getting thrashed at Wembley while Arsenal continued to drop points. I think it will be the London side who recover best to take the points.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10.35pm)

Prediction: Away win

Blackburn Rovers vs Manchester City

Dixon's verdict By not playing until Monday, City could well be kicking off out of the top four and that could have an effect mentally. Ewood Park can be a tough place and they may have to settle for a single point.

Kick-off: Monday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights Sky Sports 1, Tues, 1am)

Prediction: Draw

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