The new season is just a day away. Usually at this time of the year, I’m flushed with optimism and excitement. This time around, only the latter emotion have surfaced with the latter very much in the hiding. Let me make it clear that this is a new feeling for me. Even the failings in past transfer windows and the persistent selling of our top players, I’ve always felt that we were capable of challenging.
Unfortunately, that feeling has deserted me on the eve of the 2013/14 season. Much of the frustration lies with Arsenal’s activity, or rather the lack of it, in the transfer window. A window which the club CEO said at the start of it, that we are at a new financial freedom and we will be at the forefront of some of the biggest transfer deals of the summer. Or, so I was led to believe.
There are valid points that the transfer window isn’t close yet and there are ample time from now till the supposed end of the window on the 1st of September. We may or may not eventually make signings by the end of the window. On 2nd of September, we may be celebrating 2 or 3 signings of world class stature. Yet, does it really make up for all the anguish us fans are facing at this point in time in the uncertainty whether our team are going to get reinforcement or not?
(I get that depending on when you read the above, you may be laughing or crying, depending on how it turned out)
What I don’t get is this.
Why not complete the transfers at the start of the season and allow these new players to join the group during the Asian Tour, for some team bonding and acclimatisation? Maybe clubs are reluctant to part with their respective players but as we have seen from previous seasons, sometimes clubs could do little to stop their player from leaving. Or maybe there’s a discrepancy between our valuation of a player and what the selling club values.
The last point if true, would be a ridiculous one. How can a manager who in the past have shown that he has absolute faith in the likes of a Denilson or a Gervinho or an Almunia, so undervalue a player he wants to sign? It’s all good to stand firm on one’s belief but to get what we want, more often than not, we have to compromise our stand to get it.
On the other hand, feels like the first time in ages that we have not sold the best talent in the squad during this off season. We all remember what happened in the past seasons and thankfully, we don’t have to go through any of that again. The club has also released/sold a large number of players that used to served as reserves, back-ups or away on season long loans. All of these, no negatives can be found from it.
It is largely the same group of players who will start the season with one more season of playing together under their belt. Players who will be familiar with each other’s game and hopefully, halfway to reaching telepathic levels. Fingers crossed, we have the likes of Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky over their persistent injury troubles. For others like Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs; hopefully they will kick on this season after ending last season so well.
Even without considering the injuries that Arsene Wenger announced or confirmed in his Aston Villa pre-match press conference, there are already concerns over certain areas of the squad. Thomas Vermaelen is out without a specific return date in mind. That leaves us with just Koscielny and Mertesacker as the centre back options. Yes, Bacary Sagna has played there in pre-season and at Sunderland last season but can anyone convince me that a specialist centre back wouldn’t be a better option than Sagna?
Another position where option remains sparse is the striking one. Olivier Giroud is the only striker capable of playing as the focal point of our attack, in the current formation that we play in. No matter how much we can point at the good statistics that Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott holds in terms of goalscoring, neither have shown enough to warrant a start as the sole striker if/when Giroud is fit and ready to play. I have no doubt, as I’m sure you all are too, that we are at least one man short in this department. Maybe Yaya Sanogo is the answer. But again, you will have little data to back a 20-year-old former Ligue 2 striker is the answer.
The injury suffered by Mikel Arteta 2 days before the start of the new campaign only served to show the paucity of options in central midfield. The departure of Francis Coquelin is felt more than one anticipated. I still think that Coquelin could turn out to be a very good club and international player. His absence is certainly felt now. There were earlier bid for Lars Bender, whom if I’m not wrong is a defensive midfielder. If only we could have made Bayer Leverkusen an offer they couldn’t refuse.
As it is we head into the opening match against Aston Villa (a top of the table clash, I’m getting that in real early because I might not get another chance to say it this season) we are furiously trying to mend the team together and field a strong starting XI. The squad basically picks itself now and leave very little room to suggest an alternate line-up.
Szczesny — Sagna — Mertesacker — Koscielny — Gibbs — Ramsey — Wilshere — Rosicky/Chamberlain — Walcott — Giroud — Podolski
Paul Lambert has done well to keep Christian Benteke but it remains to be seen if the Belgian could replicate his form of last season. Although Villa eventually finished in a lowly 15th position, just 5 points away from the relegation zone, they actually play decent football. Lambert’s side are threatening on the break and could pose us problems without the ever aware Arteta in our side.
For whatever reason that made us not pay a single cent in transfer fees this off season, the club should take full responsibility for any dropped points between now and the end of the transfer window. A conspiracy theorist will subscribe to the idea that Wenger has been patient with potential signing because he believes that the team is capable to get maximum points out of the August fixtures. Other fixtures in this month are harder to predict but only a home win is acceptable this Saturday.
With the changes to the clubs surrounding and above us in the league table, 2013/14 season should have been the season where we take advantage of said changes and close the gap. I realised that there’s a lot of focus on the transfer side of things but ultimately, that’s the way to close the gap. By bringing in better and higher quality players to supplement the squad.
I remain hopeful that we could still rejoice at the deals we managed to secure come the end of the transfer window. However at this point in time, with the squad we have, it is hard to envisage us continuing to qualify for the Champions League for yet another season.
Up The Arsenal.