As tradition dictates here’s the annual Arseblog season preview. For a little bit of contrast I’ve added in some bits from last year.
As usual let’s start with the men between the sticks.
Last year’s verdict: As long as Almunia is fit I don’t think we have too much to worry about. He’s mature, as reliable as anyone else, and capable of match saving saves. If Fabianski can’t improve when called upon though we may suffer a bit if he has a run in the team.
Erm, well, half right. I wasn’t expecting Almunia’s reversion to his jittery old self. He had personal issues which saw him left out of the squad for periods and that meant more time for Fabianski. He didn’t improve, if anything he got much, much worse and we suffered. It wasn’t all down to him of course but he played his part.
The fact that our best keeper last season was young Italian Mannone says it all. He had a brilliant game against Fulham but was far from faultless in his other appearances. Don Vito had the cushion of being young and inexperienced, something which neither Almunia nor Fabianski can fall back on.
At the moment the keeper situation is a bit of a mess. Asked before the Liverpool game if he’s looking for a keeper Wenger said:
It’s very difficult to speak about that before a big championship match. It’s important we focus on the squad we have.
The positive side of me wants to believe that he’s aware that damaging the already brittle confidence of the keepers we have going into the opening game of the season at Anfield isn’t a clever idea. Confirming the need for a new keeper could be counter-productive, especially as the smart money, if you can call it that, is on Fabianski starting.
The talk is of Mark Schwarzer. Not the marquee signing we’d hoped for as last season ended but certainly an improvement over what we currently have. He’s experienced and will certainly want to take the chance a club like Arsenal would offer him at this stage of his career. However, Fulham’s stance makes a deal seem most improbable and if Schwarzer is the only egg in our basket then I’d be very unhappy.
I said towards the end of last season that if we started the new season with Fabianski my faith in the manager would be seriously tested. He says he already knows who’s going to play on Sunday but has yet to tell the players. If no signing is made in time for Sunday, and it seems highly unlikely, then Almunia must start. I would prefer if he wasn’t the No 1 but he is the best option we have at this moment in time.
Choosing Fabianksi, who cannot get through 45 minutes without some kind of calamitous error, isn’t just a gamble, it’s unnecessary and goes against all good sense. Should he make an error which costs us points the backlash will be unmerciful and entirely justified.
Verdict: Arsenal need a new goalkeeper. The performances of the ‘top two’ last season show they cannot be relied on and no team with goalkeepers who play that badly wins trophies. Much of our defensive frailty stems from the lack of organisation, the keeper should be a big part of that as Lehmann and Seaman were. Fabianski and Almunia have no authority, don’t instill any confidence in their back four, let alone the fans, and their positions are surely untenable.
Last season’s verdict: I think we need to sign a centre-half. We are a notoriously injury prone team and I’m not confident that the first three in that position can stay injury free for an entire campaign. And I’m sorry, I don’t see any team where Sylvester is playing in any way regularly winning enough matches to bring home silverware. Not signing a defender would be a huge gamble.
Well, that wasn’t bad. In the end we didn’t sign a centre-half. Senderos stayed and hardly played. Djourou got injured for the entire season just moments after I published the preview and Gallas picked up his customary injury which kept him out for 3 months or so. Worries over Sylvester’s ability were hardly insightful but nevertheless correct, he was cack.
Bright spots were the emergence of Thomas Vermaelen, already a firm favourite, and the return and rehabilitation of Sol Campbell who brought a lot of badly needed qualities to the team.
However, 41 goals conceded in the league tells its own story. And it’s a story written by Dan Brown and read to you by John Terry’s naked mother. Shit and horrible. And as it stands our defence is weaker. Sylvester, Sol and Gallas have gone. The first is no loss whatsoever, the second might well have added something to the squad this season, and the latter, despite the fact he won’t be missed by me, was a good defender on his day. Certainly he’s better than Johnny Invisible, his non-existent replacement.
Laurent Koscielny has come in from Lorient after just one season in French top flight football. That’s not a condemnation of him but there’s no argument that he’s got to make a big step up and make it quickly. He looks a bit slight at the moment and is going to take some time to adapt. Djourou’s injury problems will remain a worry until he can stay fit for a prolonged period. A new centre-half is very badly required and quickly.
In the full back positions I think we’re fine. Sagna remains first choice right back and a player I have little worry about. Eboue is the alternative regardless of his listing as a midfielder. At left back Kieran Gibbs will provide very much needed competition to Gael Clichy while Armand Traore seems very much on the periphery after his poor showing last season (probably the least aware defender I’ve ever seen).
Verdict: We’re short on numbers and we need an injection of experience and quality at centre-half. At least one needs to come in, the potential development of Nordtveit probably precludes more than one signing. It should be noted that our defensive record is not entirely the fault of the defence, a better team approach to defending is required, but unless we add stability with the goalkeeping signing and a new centre-half this is going to remain a serious weakness.
Last season’s verdict: There’s a wealth of incredible young talent at his disposal. There isn’t a manager in the world who wouldn’t like to have Cesc, Nasri, Wilshere and Ramsey in their squad, but he needs to make sure that he gets the best out them. Given them the foundation of a solid spine behind them will do that.
The new formation certainly helped get the most out of Cesc who had his best ever season in an Arsenal shirt. Count the goals and asists. Nasri wasn’t helped by hatchet man Diaby breaking his leg in pre-season training. He showed some flashes but never produced consistently. Diaby himself had a good spell but soon reverted to type. Denilson scored more goals than he ever had in a season before but was found wanting.
The emergence of Aaron Ramsey was shaping up to be one of the big positives of the season. He had displaced Denilson, looked confident and mature, and then Ryan Shawcross happened. Wilshere spent time on loan at Bolton which will stand him in good stead this season. Alex Song continued his development well. Tomas Rosicky was fit at times.
This term Wilshere is the only real addition who I envisage making an impact. Frimpong impressed in pre-season but he’s just 18. I think he’s a long way from ready for first team action at Arsenal, especially in such an important position. Song’s loan spell at Charlton did him the world of good, you can’t help but think Frimpong would benefit more from going out on loan to get more experience than struggling to get to the pace of the Premier League in fits and starts.
The defensive midfield issue is still one that needs to be sorted. As much as Frimpong would benefit from a loan spell wouldn’t Arsenal benefit from having an alternative to, and real competion for, Alex Song? There is no natural replacement for him in the squad, Denilson lacks the defensive awareness and discipline to do the job and it asks too much of Song to do the job for the whole season. An area of weakeness for me.
Offensively there’s plenty. Cesc, Nasri, Rosicky, Wilshere, Diaby (when he feels like it), Ramsey (when he returns) and even Eboue who has shown he can sniff out a goal or two.
Verdict: Generally fine. The lack of cover for Song is a worry but the emergence of Wilshere might put pressure on some of the more senior players who went through the motions at times last season. I don’t expect any kind of post-summer hangover from Fabregas and Nasri’s impressive pre-season suggests he might well forge the main partnership with the captain.
Last season’s verdict: I’m happy with what we’ve got up front. I think there’s plenty of goals in these players although Walcott and Vela aside there’s not a huge amount of pace. Maybe that’s something the manager is considering when he looks at the likes of Chamakh but it looks like that’s dead in the water unless Bordeaux drop their price. Either way there’s plenty of competition and with three places in the team to be filled there’s plenty of football to go around and keep everyone happy.
So Eduardo’s gone, unable to refind his Premier League mojo. Thanks, Taylor, you enormous cockbadger. Carlos Vela had a ridiculously poor season. Just one league goal and that came on the final day of the season. He’s been handed the number 11 shirt though so has at least one more season to show he’s up to it.
Theo had an injury hit season, as did Robin van Persie. Hardly unexpected I know but the man has clearly upset the gods in some way. He’d just begun to get to grips with the centre-forward role when his ankle ligaments got crunched and no amount of pony placenta could help. Arshavin pitched in but was clearly unhappy at times and downright lazy at others. Nicklas Bendtner showed he’s wasted on the right of a forward three and scored important goals when he moved into the centre. I know many don’t rate him and I do agree he could add more urgency to his game but he’s the only real poacher in the team and scored goals that none of our other forwards could.
Last summer we were expecting the arrival of Chamakh. It happened in May and he’s going to add something, I think. Along with Bendtner he provides a real aerial threat but it’ll be interesting to see how he fits into the team once van Persie is fully fit. Chamakh is the more obvious central striker so perhaps we’ll see Robin move out to the right where he often plays for Holland.
Theo Walcott is promising a big season after his World Cup disappointment and really needs to deliver. He, along with Carlos Vela, need to knuckle down and make sure they add some end product to their game.
Verdict: I think we’re covered here, there’s plenty of competition for places and that’s not even including Jay Emmanuel-Thomas who could force his way into the reckoning. I fancy van Persie for a big, injury free season (I’ve just jinxed him, haven’t I?) and along with the midfield there’s plenty of ammunition in this team.
As things stand, and if we accept our main goal this year is to win the Premier League, I don’t think our squad is capable of it. We’re going into the new season with injury worries to many of the same players who spent lots of time out last season, two of our most important players just back from the World Cup, our defence needing at least one new player, perhaps our midfield too, and the goalkeeping situation, which should have been our priority this summer, still unresolved. It’s hard to feel confident that this is a team that can mount a real title challenge.
That said, if we added a keeper and a proper centre-half, one with experience and quality, then I think it’s possible. We’re not far away from having a complete squad but then we seem to have been saying that for years now.
Regardless of any new arrivals I would hope that this season we maintain the kind of attitude we showed at the start of the season. The 6-1 opening day win against Everton debuted the new formation but also the high energy pressing game we should have continued with throughout the season. Instead we became complacent, working hard seems beyond some players, and it reached its nadir with the humiliating defeat at Wigan.
For me, more than the end of season collapse, that is what frustrated the most. The apparent lack of desire. If this squad goes into the new season as is, and that’s weaker than it was last season, then the very least we should expect is for every player to give 100% in every game to make up for what’s missing. I’ve always said fans will get right behind a team which gives everything to win games, they will not forgive slackers and lazybones.
Perhaps the added maturity of some players and the fact that others have points to prove this season will help but I just can’t look beyond the defensive weaknesses which are, and have been for some time, glaring and as yet not fixed.
At the end of last season’s preview I said this:
I hope that Arsene is working at bringing in at least a couple of players because I think with those additions we’ll have the depth of squad we need to win trophies. For the sake of a nail the shoe was lost and I think Arsene’s Arsenal shoe needs a nail. Hah.
Sounds a bit too familiar, eh? I think we might well need the shoe as well as the nail now. Right now I’d predict a top four finish, and maybe a decent cup run, but unless we add to the squad I fear another trophy-less season.
It hardly needs me to say I’d like nothing more than to be completely wrong.