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Balls, balls, balls
Kick-off time

We’ve finally arrived at the start of the new 2011/12 season. As usual, Arsenal will be involve in 4 competitions with the Premier League starting today. It has been a rather unsettling post season leading up to the pre season. The way last season ended, it left a lot of bitter taste in the mouth of all Arsenal supporters. Hopes were high that the club and management realised what was missing and work to overcome that. Are we anywhere near solving the shortcomings of last season? One way to look at it, is to look at what Arsene Wenger said at the end of last season.

Here’s him talking about adding to the squad;

We need to add, of course, and we will do. But we have a strong base. We have enough quality to beat anyone in the world, even with the current squad. I always try to get value for money. That is the job of a football manager. In England, it is a bit more difficult because player inflation is higher than everywhere else. When you only have a few players at many clubs, the price is too high.

And if we are going to get an injection of money from the billionaires that currently owns the club;

I think it is the responsibility of a football manager to behave in a responsible way, of course. You cannot think that if there is not enough money to run the company then someone else will come in and give his money. That is not how we want to run the company.

On where the weakness of the squad is;

We have shown that we have the technical quality to win the league but certainly not the defensive solidity to do it. Mentally of course I hope that the team has learned a lot this season because we could not cope with the number of games nor the pressure in the important moments of the season.

On why we will be going for a different strategy in terms of recruitment;

If you speak about the quality of the Club and the style of football we play we have many offers on the table for players who are desperate to join us. But if you speak only about money, we are certainly less attractive than some other teams.

Whether the team’s focus will change;

Personally I feel we played too many games in December, January and February. At the end of the day, it took a little bit out of us. But it worked against us, completely against us. From then on it became more difficult. No, because you can do the same next year and win the Carling Cup in the last minute. We have to accept that is the beauty of the game and the cruelty of the game.

What does all that tell us? Better to put things into point form.

  1. The existing squad is a very good squad. There’s no need for wholesale changes but we have to wise on who we want to bring in. Players who can be the significant alternatives that allows us to either win games or to hang to on leads. But these players will not be bought at the expense of the club’s values. The wage structure remains and the spending will only be done based on the budget that we have.
  2. Without doubt, Wenger understands and admits that our defence is not good enough. Depending on just 2 quality central defenders is not plausible when we are aiming to succeed in various competitions. Mentally short can only be altered by 2 different means. Either the players themselves mature mentally and become stronger or more experienced heads need to be brought in to overcome this deficiency.
  3. There would be no focus of only one single competition. We know that the Premier League is the one Wenger wants to win the most but he will not do it at the expense of other competitions. To do that, we simply need a bigger, more competitive and balanced squad where the reserves are capable of performing when called upon.

At this moment today, we cannot say for certain that these targets have been achieved. The squad looks no better than the one that finished last season. Apart from the goalkeeping position, we’ve arguably become weaker in other positions. Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski will look to share the burden of being No. 1 at the club. This is at least one area where we can be proud of. Collectively, no other club in the league has the cumulative quality and talent that we have here.

The same cannot be said of our defence. Gael Clichy has moved on to Manchester City and his position will be covered by Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore. The latter two has not shown enough in previous games to prove that they will be a step up from the prior incumbent. I’m not doubting the talent for one bit but there’s real doubts over whether these 2 can perform consistently, let alone stay fit enough to last the entire season.

Carl Jenkinson has been brought in as right back cover for Bacary Sagna. That marks the end of Emmanuel Eboue’s tenure as an Arsenal player. While we lose the wonderful persona of the Ivorian in the dressing room, it would be remiss to think that the change is not something which is better for the club. Sagna remains the model of consistency and will play most games, unless injured/suspended. From what has been seen of Jenkinson in pre season, he has definite pace and talent to become a good player but will do well to learn as much as possible in his first season in the top flight.

The centre back position is the one that made the most headlines in the summer. Plenty of names has been linked with us and at this stage, some are still linked with us. Christopher Samba, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are the more prominent three (Titus Bramble doesn’t count and you know why) that has been mentioned to be on the verge of deal one point or the other over the course of the summer. Scott Dann is the late comer to the party but like the others, there’s no further confirmation as to whether any deal(s) are in place.

The return of Thomas Vermaelen has certainly given us a big boost at the back. He’s by far the best option we have at CB and to be utterly frank, we’ve missed his tenacity and resoluteness when defending. He will of course be first choice. After that, Laurent Koscielny looks to have been earmarked to be the Belgian’s partner. The Frenchman was steadily improving over the course of last season and I’m hopeful that he will kick on further this season. Then we have Johan Djourou. Was very impressive last season but has since suffered a major drop in form and confidence. There’s still a very good defender in him but perhaps starting the season on the bench might not be such a bad thing for him after all.

Beyond those 3, I’m terrified of the option. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason why Sebastien Squillaci was bought in the first place. Whether he was the third or 65th on the list of targets hardly matters now. What last season has shown is his inability to cope with the English game. Susceptible to high balls and pace, if I hadn’t been so angry, I would’ve felt sorry for him. Which is why there’s a clamour for fresh blood to be brought into the club. Unless we are buying an existing world class CB, we are definitely looking for a player to be either 3rd of 4th choice centre back. This will need to be sort out by the end of the transfer window, not only because Kyle Bartley has left on loan for another season.

We can’t really talk about the midfield without mentioning Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, might as well get to it. Those 2 has been angling for a move away from the club since the season ended. Fabregas wants to move back to Barcelona and we all know the reasons for him to do that. There’s never a single party that is at fault. Arsenal should have set a deadline and give the Spanish champions and ultimatum on the transfer fees. Without that, we are going into the season still in the dark as to whether we will have our captain for the season. He is by far our best player and there’s no doubting that we will miss his qualities on the pitch. The formation that we are using was drawn to suit him and if he goes, it is probably best that Wenger finds another formation which will suit the quality of his existing team.

The Nasri bit is something which is harder to understand. There was never any word about the possibility of him leaving. Even when he did not sign an extension, we all thought that he will do it post season. Sadly, that did not happen. It is funny to see players absolving themselves from blame when talking about the team’s failure to win any trophy. I’m not him, so I can’t decide whether it’s the money or the ambition that is fuelling his desire to leave.

No matter how you look at it, these rumours are never good for the morale of the team. Decisions need to be made quickly and we will need to reinvest back into the team with the money that we gain. All that because there is a good group of players in midfield. In Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and the emerging Emmanuel Frimpong, we have players who may not command massive transfer fees yet but they are more than capable of pitting themselves against the best.

What is real exciting is the potential we have in the wide roles. Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin will be joined by Ryo Miyaichi, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain (although some may thing he will slot in midfield) and Gervinho. The last one could also play as a striker. There’s real pace in those options. Something that we could very well utilise if we still have Fabregas in the side for the coming season. This position in particular points to a very bright future for Arsenal. At least there’s additional speed option if/when Walcott gets injured.

The striking positions is somewhat reminiscent of the potential problem that we have in defence. Robin Van Persie will spearhead the strike force. The Dutchman is in a rich vein of form going back to the start of the year. However, we also need to take into account of his past. He has suffered injuries in every season since he joined us. I’m hoping that would change this season but the manager will need to plan for alternatives.

At the moment, all those arrows are firmly in the direction of Marouane Chamakh. He had a good first 4 months last season but just like Djourou, his form dipped at the turn of the year. He will need to rediscover that purple patch or we’ll be in a lot of trouble. No club can challenge in 4 different competitions with only 2 recognised strikers. While Joel Campbell has been added to the squad, it is hard to say for certain that he will perform in his first season in the English league. That makes the decision to let Nicklas Bendtner go, rather discomforting. Although, this may be more the Dane’s decision than Wenger’s.

I know it’s long and I must congratulate you, if you’re still here. Those thinking that we will drop out of the Champions League spot will find that no such thinkers exist here. I think we will still finish in the top 4, even with this current squad. There’s still time for Wenger to do his business and we definitely need to do just that. Concentrating on one particular competition would help but we already know that is the the way Wenger wants to go about. The fight to overcome the trophy drought will continue and hopefully that will be broken this season. Though, I will admit that it is much likelier to be in the cup competition than in the league.

I’m sure we will all find some positives to kick start the season. The team definitely need us behind them. Time to take all those frustration and anger and channel it towards supporting our team. The team that we’ve missed seeing for 2 months. Welcome back Arsenal, good to see you again. Let’s have a good one.