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Postscript on “The Nine Issues Arsenal Must Solve This Summer”

Back when the previous season ended, I wrote a post on the various issues that Arsenal had to solve in order to improve for the next season. (Read it here if you are interested in a refresher).  Now that the new season has started and the transfer window has finally closed, I figure it’s time to go over and review how Arsenal followed my list, if at all.

1. The Robin van Persie Situation: This was the obvious big issue that the club had to resolve.  To be fair to the club, no one saw van Persie’s statement coming.  Once released, it became nearly untenable to keep him.  Furthermore, I think I wasn’t the only surprised that a bidding frenzy didn’t materialize for him.  Juventus was interested but not at his price (transfer fee + wages).  Manchester City may have wanted him but they appeared to be worried more with getting rid of the excess/plugging in holes to satisfy FFP.  That left only one club really interested in him: Manchester United.  Should Arsenal have held firm and refused to sell him to a direct rival and lose on the 24 million pounds made?  Before you answer that, answer this: What would have happened to the team this season if they knew that van Persie wanted out and couldn’t be counted on?  We like to think players are professional but we’ve seen how this impasse ruins a locker room.  Realistically, there was no good ending to this situation but an ending is better than a cloud of drama.Arsenal - Podolski

2. The Back-up Striker: When we obtained Podolski and Giroud, many thought they would be partners with van Persie in the striking/forward positions.  Obviously, they’ve become his replacements, with Giroud the point of the spear and Podolski either out on the left wing or at the main striker spot with Gervinho out left.  Backing them up is Chamakh and, if Arsene finally decides to give him a central forward role, Walcott.  People will likely be concerned for the strike force if a major injury were to happen but we’re still talking about three forward roles that seven players can share.  (Giroud, Podolski, Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Arshavin).  Would a Llorente or a Lewandowski have made fans feel more confident? No doubt.  Is that confidence worth 30 million pounds or more?

3. Other Contracts: There was an obvious attempt to move players out this summer.  Henri Lansbury and Kyle Bartley, two of the eternally-loaned youngsters, were finally sold to Nottingham Forest and Swansea respectively.  Carlos Vela returned to La Liga with Real Sociedad; this time to stay.  At the same time, the club seemed willing to embrace the modern method for moving players out: the loan.  Denilson to Sao Paulo, Bendtner to Juventus and Park to Celta Vigo were three of the loan moves to clear players off the wage bill.  It’s a fact of the modern soccer landscape that players on big contracts seem impossible to sell – ask Manchester City or Liverpool about moving players on.  That left Arshavin, Squillaci, Mannone and Fabianski as the three contracts I mentioned that stayed with the club.

Arsenal - Cazorla4. Midfield Maestro: “Arsenal need someone who can help pull the strings of attack “ is what I wrote back in May.   I think we can be safe in stating that we got that player in Santi Cazorla.  Through three games, he looks right at home in the “Cesc role” in the heart of our midfield.  His passes are pinpoint and his driving is amazing.  We got ourselves a great one here.  Nothing more needs to be said.

5. Midfield Enforcer: Note that, when I wrote that we needed a defensive midfielder, I didn’t say we needed him to back up Alex Song, but rather to replace Alex Song.  The fact was that Song was changing roles and that he wasn’t the defensive force people have come to think of him.  We needed someone to fill the role that he wasn’t doing or didn’t want to do anymore.  So his loss, to me, isn’t as impactful in the way that some people have spun it regardless of what you think of his sale to Barcelona.  I’m more worried about losing his assists than his break-up of opponents’ attacks.  We didn’t buy a traditional destroyer, but so far, there’s been no need for one with Mikel Arteta willing to do the dirty work while finding ways to keep the ball away from opponents with Diaby and Cazorla.  Coquelin and Frimpong appear to be the players being forged to take the enforcer/destroyer role.  We’ll see if they can step up and deliver when there’s a need for that kind of player in our midfield.

6. Sorting Out the Defending: Back in May I wrote that “What we need is more nous and composure when facing opponents” as opposed to just purchasing a defender.  So far, 3 games and 3 clean sheets point to a refocusing towards that statement.  Steve Bould and Neil Banfield, the new assistants, are getting a lot of the credit for this defensive focus, but we ought to credit the entire coaching staff and the players for recognizing what had been a major issue last year and working towards fixing it.  Obviously, they’ve yet to face the sterner test of players like Sergio Aguero, Eden Hazard or Robin van Persie.  So any backslapping is a bit premature.  Still, it’s good signs on the defending front, specially since we’ve yet to see Sagna at RB this season.

Arsenal - Mannone7. Back-up Goalkeeper: I expected a back-up keeper to arrive and for Fabianski and Mannone to be allowed to leave.  Neither of those things happened and we’ve the same goalkeeper trio that we had last year.  That said, Mannone has acquitted himself well as Szczesny’s deputy against Stoke and Liverpool.  It’s still too early to know if they are growing or if a need will arise once again for a senior, steady back-up.  It’s not the end of the world to go with the guys who know the team, even if we, as supporters, break into hives if we see their names on the team sheet.  After all, goalkeepers often take time to mature.

8. Healing the Relationship Between Club and Supporters: I thought there was some progress made towards this issue during the summer.  Then van Persie and Song were sold.  And people got angry.  Then we didn’t buy anyone by Transfer Deadline Day.  And people were angrier.  I shudder to think what would have happened had we lost the game at Anfield.  The concern here is that some of the more senior and more recognized voices amongst Gooners have joined the section of supporters who are questioning the motives of the club, the board and the manager.  Anyone who thinks that the murmurs and disappointment are coming from a small section of Arsenal fans is deluding themselves.  Just wait till the next poor game/missed chance/bad run of luck happens this season.  It will not be pretty.Arsenal - Arsene and Captain

9. The Future: Given that this item was more about plans for life after Wenger, dealing with the oligarch clubs and finding a peaceful coexistence for the two major shareholders, I didn’t really think there would be a resolution here.  We still need to consider what will happen when Arsene Wenger leaves us.  We still need a plan for competing against the Manchester Citys, Chelseas and Paris St. Germains.  We can’t just concede the title before a ball is kicked in anger year after year and consider Champions League qualification as sufficient success.  And we still have Kroenke and the board at loggerheads with Usmanov.  That situation continues to fester and will continue until we either one is gone or both learn to live with one another.  Stay tuned there.

So the game is on and we are returned to our regularly-scheduled madness.  Here’s hoping we are enjoying the months ahead and that May shines brightly for all Gooners around the world.

BTW, since today they’re announcing the 25-man Premier League squad for Arsenal, let me take a stab at the players we’ll be rooting for in the months ahead:

                    Goalkeepers                         Defenders
1    Wojciech Szczesny
21  Lukasz Fabianski
24  Vito Mannone
3  Bakari Sagna
4  Per Mertesacker
5  Thomas Vermaelen (Captain)
6  Laurent Koscielny
11 Andre Santos
18 Sebastian Squillaci
20 Johan Djourou
25 Carl Jenkinson
28 Kieran Gibbs

Midfielders

 

  Forwards

2  Abou Diaby
7  Tomas Rosicky
8  Mikel Arteta
10 Jack Wilshere
15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
16 Aaron Ramsey
19 Santi Cazorla
22 Francis Coquelin
26 Emmanuel Frimpong
9  Lukas Podolski
12 Olivier Giroud
14 Theo Walcott
23 Andrey Arshavin
27 Gervinho
29 Marouane Chamakh
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