Jan Molby

Wenger faces biggest test at Arsenal

Arsene Wenger is facing his biggest challenge as Arsenal manager.

During the last six or seven years, they might not have won anything, but they have always been competitive and had a squad that looked capable of growing into a real force.

I don't feel that any more. Quite simply, this is not a good Arsenal team.

In the past, they have always come out of a mini-crisis by winning six or seven games in a row. I don't know if they can do that anymore.

Wenger made three big signings in the summer, going for players in their mid-to-late twenties which is a bit older than his usual signings. Supposedly they were the finished article.

However, on the evidence so far, he looks to have got two out of three wrong.

Santi Cazorla looks a top player, although he has not helped himself with his diving antics against West Brom.

But Lukas Podolski, much as he's an intelligent player with good movement, hasn't produced so far. And I'm not sure Olivier Giroud has the speed to cut it in the long run.

Those three cost £35 million - so there is no guarantee of great results if Wenger dips into the reported £70m kitty at his disposal.

I think the wage structure should be of greater concern - they have all this money lying around, and yet they can't afford to keep their top players, or attract new signings of the very highest level.

You look at who they could go for in January and you could identify players like Bastian Schweinsteiger or Edinson Cavani. But what are the realistic chances of them signing such players? Practically zero.

As such, they are limited to signing second-tier players who may very well see Arsenal as a stepping stone to huge money elsewhere.

You can say modern wages are obscene, but as a top club Arsenal simply have to pay them or get left behind.

That's why the Theo Walcott situation is so important. He is not as crucial to the team as Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas or Samir Nasri, but the symbolic effect of another leading player leaving would be huge.

Footballers of all clubs play hardball in their contract negotiations - look at the way Wayne Rooney and John Terry flirted with other clubs before signing their big new deals - that's a fact of life.

But Arsenal just need to swallow their pride and get Walcott to sign on the dotted line. The immediate boost to his transfer value alone would probably offset the wage increase.

What's more, from Walcott's point of view staying would make the most sense. He says he wants to play up front - and Arsene Wenger is the only manager who has shown any desire to convert him to a central player.

If he goes to Manchester United or Liverpool, he will be playing wide on the right.

An interesting criticism made of Wenger by Arsenal's Supporters Trust is that his job is too big - that nobody can control transfers, wages, coaching and man-management and do all four properly.

Clearly Wenger is a very capable man, but because of all his different responsibilities he has taken a fairly hands-off approach when it comes to dealing with players.

That's fine when you have strong characters like Tony Adams or Patrick Vieira, who can help to ensure discipline, respect and a strong work ethic among their colleagues.

But you look at the present Arsenal squad and wonder where those leaders are.

Wenger's problems are mounting up; negotiating the rest of the season will be a massive test of his mettle.