welcome to Friday, another week has passed us by, and we’ve got to get ourselves ready for the game against Fulham tomorrow. It sounds strange to say it so early in the season, but we’re already in must-win territory. A look at the table shows Chelsea sitting top with two wins from two games, and even if you think it’s just the second game of the season and this is a bit hyperbolic, the points you win at this stage of things are just as important as the ones you scramble for in the traditional, desperate, late rush for the top four.
It looks unlikely that any new faces will be on board for the trip to Craven Cottage, although last night rumours emerged that we were about to offer Mathieu Flamini a contract. The Frenchman has been training with us for the last few weeks and he ticks some of the boxes, in fairness:
– A footballer who, on his day, can be very good
– Versatile in midfield and even full back
Did I mention free? Look, in very simple terms we need footballers and Flamini is a footballer, but it’s hard to convince anyone that this was part of any plan. It’s all lined up quite nicely for him if it does go through. Without an Arteta injury, or that loss to Villa, I’d say there’d have been zero chance of Arsene offering him a contract. But, in the circumstances, you can see why it makes some sense.
We’ve reached a point where anybody is better than nobody. That’s the stark reality of the Arsenal transfer summer. A man dying of thirst would happily lap from an muddy puddle, but we’re on our hands and knees, tongue dangling, having deliberately walked past a dozen bars in which we could have bought a delicious, cold, frothy beer with the wad of cash we have in our back pocket.
So, if Flamini comes in I’d take it because we need it so badly, but you will never convince me that we’re doing anything but making it up as we go along at this point. I also find it somewhat amusing that following the win over Fenerbahce a lot of journalists on the Arsenal beat all had the same story about Karim Benzema, and his unfortunate looking friend di Maria. Yes, Arsenal could use both of those players, even though the idea of the former swapping mega-club Real Madrid for struggling Arsenal seems unlikely to me, but why the relentless focus on attacking players? Do they keep the fans sweeter? It’s not as glamorous to say you’re going after a defender?
However, the fact is we’re going to play an away game in the Premier League tomorrow with one centre-half. To me that’s a ludicrous situation for any professional football club to be in, especially as it’s not as if some cataclysmic turn of events has brought this about. One red card and we have one centre-half. It’s nonsense and for any team to be in that position, let alone one as wealthy as Arsenal, who have had all summer to sort this out (or at least a good 4-6 weeks since we learned of Vermaelen’s injury), is shockingly bad management.
Bacary Sagna will fill in there tomorrow, and can do a good job in the short-term I think, but overlooking this crucial area of the team will be to our detriment. Not only does it rob us of our best right back, but the idea that Thomas Vermaelen will return and somehow solve all our problems is a fantasy as well. His form was so bad last season that Arsene Wenger benched the club captain for almost a third of the season.
Now, he’s got to try and regain fitness, first of all, and then some form. The first will take some time, the second may take even longer and for me there’s a bigger question and that’s if, in the current set-up, Vermaelen is any better than third choice anyway. I’ve seen people ask which 4th choice centre-half we could get. My answer is always the same: don’t buy a fourth choice player, buy one to come in and compete straight away with Mertesacker and Koscielny.
Don’t get me wrong, I like both those guys and I think they make a good partnership, but don’t tell me we can’t at least try to improve in this area. It’s a long season, there’s plenty of football to play, there will be injuries and suspensions, and a point I made on the Arsenal America podcast is this: ask them if they’d prefer to play 30-35 games a season and win something or 55 and end up pot-less in a scrap for a European place.
I guarantee you it would be the former. Instead, we’re muddling through with a right back filling in and it’s really not good enough. Koscielny will be back for next week, Vermaelen is running again so that’s all right, and there’s no chance of any of them picking up a knock or a suspension for the rest of the season. As much as I want a striker to come to the club, it’s irritating that we’re seemingly happy to gloss over this hugely important area of the team just so we can peddle a Benzema fantasy to keep people happy.
Maybe Arsene will expand on things further at his press conference this morning. I hope so. I hope so as much as fear more press conference bingo about believing in what we have and if we sign someone he’ll inform us. None of which is going to of any use to us against Fulham who, as we know from past experience, are not an easy side to play against at home.
We’ve had a midweek distraction with our European jaunt but it’s been a full 7 days since the loss to Villa and we have done not one thing to improve our squad in that time. Nothing. Did the entire club go to Turkey? No. If we’d have a real will to make signings this week I’m sure we could have done it. What about next week? There’s a Champions League game, then a North London derby to prepare for. There’s always a distraction, always an excuse.
The outpouring of anger and frustration was visceral last weekend, if we drop more points against Fulham then there’ll be absolutely no hiding place for any of them. Manager, board, owner, none of them. Ideally we’ll pick up where we left off in midweek, and I hope that’s the case, but it’s hard not to fear that a squad so under prepared for a new season might fall short.
Right then, time for this week’s Arsecast in which Tim from Arse2Mouse and Andrew Allen join me to discuss the opening week of the season. There are some laughs, honest, but mostly at our own expense. As well as that we watch some TV, I found a great new show.
You can subscribe to the Arsecast on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (this is a much better way to do it as you don’t experience the delays from iTunes). To download this week’s Arsecast directly – click here 25mb MP3) or you can listen directly below without leaving this very page.
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Right, that’s almost that. Final thing for today is a chance to win two Club Level tickets for next weekend’s North London derby with thanks to our fruends @KickOff. Simply click here to find out how to enter.
News from the press conference, and anything else that breaks, over on Arseblog News. More here tomorrow.
ps – Irish Gooners, the game is on BT tomorrow which you can only get via the Setanta Sports pack. Click here for more info.