SAME OLD ARSENAL
I am seriously tempted to just copy and paste any of the many season previews I have done on Arsenal over the years. It feels like Groundhogs day, we are consistently repeating the same mistakes, our preseason transfer activity or lack of, is almost the same. Since the Invisible, Arsenal has not had a spine, we are always short of 3 players to properly challenge for the League title not to talk of the Champions League.
Last season, Arsenal was the only team in the whole of Europe in all divisions of the game not to sign an outfield player. We started well as we usually do with an early signing, very solid to give us hope and address one of the positions we are crying out for. We signed a World Class goalkeeper in Petr Cech to finally replace Jens Lehman, 10 years later after the said keeper had helped a ”small” London club to a host of titles including a Champions League. Even that signing was because he lost his place in the team. The Central Defender, Defensive Midfielder and World Class striker never happened. We went on to lose our best chance at winning the EPL in 12 years to LEICESTER CITY by 10 points. We didn’t score enough goals despite having the most chances, thanks to Mesut Ozil, but we lacked the necessary bottle to win when the chips were down.
The disappointment that was last season has morphed into a never ending pain and suffering in the transfer market. After the very excellent early signing of Granit Xhaka for around £34 million to finally address the gap left by Patrick Vieira over 10 seasons ago, we reverted to form. We embarrassingly failed to attract Jamie Vardy from the Champions Leicester City even after meeting his wage demands and triggering his release clause. That set the stage for every player using our interest to either secure a new contract or bring them to lime light enough to get a lucrative contracts somewhere at other clubs. We signed a youngster from Bolton in Rob Holding and a Japanese prospect Takuma Asano. We flirted again with Higuain who ended up in Turin for £75 million, Lacazzete whom we made a grossly inadequate bid and Morata who we didn’t even bid for. There have been whispers of Draxler and we lost Henrik Mkhitaryan to Manchester United, a player we had tracked, whose skill set we needed and who had expressly confessed to being a Gunner, very painful.
This is a football club with the highest cash balances in the whole world and the most expensive ticket prices. We have just signed some excellent commercial endorsements and the TV money is about to kick in. We are poised to start the season with only one Striker of average quality who is not even available for selection and a central defense short of Per Mertasacker due to injury till 2017. This is beyond irresponsible and totally disgusting to say the least. We have once again managed to mess up our season even before it kicks off. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. The EPL is poised to be the most competitive in years. Quite apart from the obvious influx of the best Managers in the game in Conte, Pep, Klopp and the returning Mourinho, the other Premier League clubs have all strengthened their ranks. We are not only standing still but we are in reverse.
STATE OF THE SQUAD
In Petr Cech and David Ospina, we have a very good number one and two, as good as any in the league. Convincing Ospina to stay on as deputy is one of the few good things in an otherwise dismal summer. I expect Cech to continue his solid performances and grow more into a leadership position. When called upon Ospina is a capable deputy who should get the cup games EXCEPT the Champions League.
This is a mixed bag, at central defense, we were good until the injury to Mertasacker. Koscielny was always going to get a break after his Euro exploits. Then Gabriel got injured in the last preseason game. Arsenal have Chambers and a very raw Rob Holding who has zero Premier League minutes. There have been moves to sign Mustafi from Valencia and since Mertasacker’s injury we have been seriously linked with Johnny Evans. If I know Arsenal, Johnny Evans will be an Arsenal player soon, while Mustafi joins a more serious club.
At fullback, we have Monreal and Gibbs on the left. At a point it appeared Gibbs was going to leave to get more playing time. Indeed West Ham wanted him on loan, he is another experienced back up who makes the squad thick. I expect another stellar season from Nacho; my Nacho on the left.
The emergence of Hector Bellerin has been one of the most exciting things about Arsenal. He made the EPL team of the season in what was his first full season. Noises about his Catalan roots, rumors of interest from Barcelona and his inclusion in the Spanish Euro squad are all testaments to how far he has come. I expect him to build on last season, and the sky is the limit for him. If Bellerin is fortunate then his good fortune came at the expense of his French team mate Matthieu Debuchy. The experienced defender lost his place due to a series of unfortunate injuries and the stellar form of Bellerin. His refusal to fight for his place was disappointing and questions still hang about his future. If he leaves, we have to get in someone with a lot of players linked though both Chambers and Holding can play there if required.
Overall we must sign at least one experienced central defender and pray nothing happens to Koscielny all season, oh dear, I forgot Arsenal players are made up glass.
Arsenal are well stocked with midfielders. The depth of talent can rival any of the top sides of the EPL. In Xhaka, Alhaji Elneny and our Coq, finally we have solid defensive minded midfielders that can play together and give us tactical variety. Elneny has been an excellent acquisition and has had a very good preseason, his first full season should see him stamp his authority in the team. Xhaka is just bubbling under the world class category, his drive and natural leadership qualities are sorely needed in a somewhat timid team.
On the attacking side of things, we have so much quality. The returning Santi Carzola, the irrepressible Mesut Ozil and a player who was one of the best in the Euros in Aaron Ramsey. On the wings the return of the Ox for yet another season of expected breakthrough, the under appreciated Campbell gives us options on both wings. Alex Iwobi has made the left side his own with solid performances and it will be interesting to see if Serge Gnabry will get a role in the team. Jack Wilshere will be like a new signing if he can remain fit though I am not counting on it.
Our midfield will play a pivotal role in our success season. We need to find a system that brings the best out of our players especially Ramsey. Mesut Ozil needs runners and will always create. The likes of Oxlade-Chamberlin must stand up and be counted especially when it comes to goals. We expect big things from Xhaka at the heart of midfield. The midfield must offer protection not just to the center backs but also the full backs. Defending is everybody’s business. The ability of Wenger to get the best out of his best unit will define our season.
We are stuck with Oliver Giroud, who won’t be ready for the first two games of the season. A decent striker who scores 15 league goals on average, he divides opinion like no other player in the squad. The truth like Thierry Henry said last season is that we cannot win the league with Giroud because of his limited ability technically and conversion ratio. He is a good team player and contributes well as a focal point, constantly an aerial threat and an efficient outlet with his hold up play. It is not his fault that he is the best striker at the club, that buck stops at Arsene Wenger’s desk.
Alexis Sanchez is everyone’s favorite player and a truly world class player. A match winner who unfortunately is deployed on the wings and saddled with so much defensive work as the role demands in the modern game. We have to find a system that gives him the freedom to roam and play closer to Giroud as if to replicate the latter’s successful partnership with Griezmann for France at the Euros. It is very important to keep him fit by resting him when necessary. We cannot keep losing him for two months because of fatigue related injuries. He is human even if it is hard to believe sometimes. This is yet another BIG season for Theo Walcott who has said he now wants to go back to the wing, a player who, obviously, neither the manager nor himself know his position after a decade of top flight football. Personally I would have sold him and increased our offer for other players. We are stuck with him and we have to hope that his preseason form is not deceptive as his position.
Chuba Akpom has had a good preseason but I don’t expect him to play more than Capital One games before going out on loan. I really don’t consider Takuma Asano a first team player and I don’t know much about him, aside from playing excellently in two Olympic games and scoring beautiful goals in both matches, I think we are loaning him to a smaller European team due to work permit issues. I don’t want to consider Yaya Sanogo as an Arsenal player.
We HAVE to sign a striker and we can do worse than signing RVP… We can sign Bendtner. The paucity of options and our inability to find a player for a position so critical is frankly criminal. I am sure Lyon won’t sell Lacazatte and the Icardi links look like they were used by his agent to secure a better deal.
Once again we find ourselves in a position where we are short of at least two players to be complete as title challengers. This is more so in the light of the business done by the Manchester clubs and Chelsea. Even Liverpool have strengthened. This again is of our own making. The way we go about our transfer business is rank amateur. We live by rules that no longer apply hence our inability or unwillingness to buy the very best players. The Manager simply refuses to spend as according to him it is as if he is spending his own money. Thus we have cash that won’t help us win points on Match Day. I love Arsene Wenger but I feel his time has come and he should step down. My fear is that when the time comes we will get someone mediocre to replace him instead of the elite managers like Simeone, if only right?
Arsenal will do very well to finish 4th. The Manchester clubs will come 1st and 2nd with Chelsea close behind or maybe they can go all the way themselves. Arsenal, Leicester, Liverpool and Spurs will do battle for 4th. The likes of West Ham will also have eyes on 4th and will push hard. It is going to be a long and agonizing season. You will see another failed campaign similar to the last 12. I will happily love to eat the humble pie but I will rather not expect much. As the saying goes ‘blessed are those who expect nothing… for they shall never be disappointed’.
C’mon you Gunners!!!