Arseblog's season preview

Well, the season kicks off tomorrow and I suppose, as is normal, I have to take a look at the squad and see how we’re fixed for the months ahead. I know there’s still time between now and end of August for the boss to make a signing or two …pffff.. sorry, just something caught in my …bwa ha … throat, so maybe some of this analysis might become moot but what can you do?

Because this is a long entry I’ve shortened this bit so click on ‘more’ to begin.
Goalkeeper: We’ve got Jens Lehmann who was probably the best keeper in England, if not Europe, last season. He was highly motivated with the World Cup on the horizon, he got a bit of a fright having been dropped for Almunia the season before and he was just awesome.

He’s a tremendous professional and I’m sure he doesn’t need things like the World Cup to keep him on his toes but those things do have an effect. I’m sure he won’t let his standards slip though. He’s made the German number 1 shirt after a long struggle and he won’t be inclined to give it up easily.

Almunia and Poom are both decent understudies. Well covered in this area.

Defence: Campbell is gone, thankfully, and with any luck Cole will be gone soon too. Naturally we’ll miss him as a player and as I’ve said before it’s a real shame what’s happened but he’s made a rod for his own back and there is no choice but to get rid of him, even if it is to Chelsea.

Toure is older with a World Cup under his belt, Senderos and Djourou have the World Cup too and Cygan is cover. Then there’s Eboue who, in my opinion, will benefit from Lauren coming back because he’ll have competition for his place. He’s struck me as a bit lazy or complacent and he needs to be kept busy.

On the left there’s Clichy, Justin Hoyte, Armand Traore and in the background up and coming youngster Matthew Connolly can play centrally if needed. In Toure and Senderos, who will be the first choice central pairing, I think we’ve got a a brilliant pair and once they get bedded in they’re going to be the rock our defence is based on for years to come. Djourou is a big talent as well and I think bringing in someone like Gallas would have more or less sealed his fate at the club and I’m happy he’s being given the chance.

In terms of numbers we’re all right, I think although we definitely lack a bit of experience. The main problem we have is that Senderos, Clichy and Lauren are out injured. Once everyone’s fit though we have plenty of options and I think we can get away without a signing here.

Midfield: This, for me, is the one area we could really strengthen. At this point it looks as if Reyes might stay with Madrid trying to play hardball over their derisory offer so in terms of the flanks we’ve got good cover with him, Rosicky, Freddie and Hleb.

What’s good about the other three is that they are versatile and can play on either flank.

In the middle is where I think we might struggle this season if we pick up injuries. Obviously Cesc and Gilberto are first choice with back up from Flamini and Song. Now, at times last season Gilberto’s performances were enough to make me criticise him heavily and I don’t singling out players like that. At the time I felt he suffered from having no competition for his place and at the moment he still doesn’t have that.

Unless Flamini makes a real step up he’s always going to play and there’s no assurance that Flamini might not spend time at left back meaning Gilberto’s competition is Alex Song who I feel is just not good enough for a team looking to achieve what we’re looking to achieve.

Now, imagine a scenario where we’ve got Chelsea or United or Liverpool and Cesc picks up a knock and Gilberto does his back in again. You’re looking at Song and Flamini taking on Ballack and Lampard and Gerrard and Alonso etc etc. Now, with the greatest respect to our boys they’ll probably struggle.

If our midfield has been missing something for the last couple of seasons it’s a physical presence. Gilberto, even when he plays well, doesn’t give us that. He’s a nicker, not a smasher. I think that if we added a quality, hard tackling central midfielder to the mix we’d be improving the squad enormously. Now, I know we have Diaby to come back but as good as he’s looked he’s never really played that defensive role and it’s going to be months before we see him again and we don’t know how that injury is going to affect him long term. Will that tackle Pires his mind and make him jump out of challenges?

Don’t ask me to name names. I’m not the one being paid millions of pounds a year to manage a top football team but there’s got to be a player out there that fits the profile and even if we bought nobody else but brought in quality here I’d be a lot happier. Would Hargreaves have been that player? I don’t think so and certainly not for that price. We might have a new stadium but we still can’t afford to pay hugely over the odds for an average player like him.
That said, in Cesc we have a prodigious talent. A truly special player and as long as he stays fit then he can make this team tick. He can provide the kind of passes Bergkamp used to give us, just from deeper. Rosicky is a real talent and I don’t think he’ll take as much time to settle in as Hleb who is improving and who I think will be important this season.

Forwards: Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor, Jeremie Aliadiere, Theo Walcott, Arturo Lupoli, Nicklas Bendtner. We have lots of strikers.

I believe we have two of real quality, Henry and van Persie – who I expect to have a very big year. He feels more confident, more assured of his place in the team and won’t be as anxious to impress at the expense of team play. I reckon he could get 20 goals.

To some extent the jury is still out on Adebayor. He’s had great moments and some pretty bad ones too but he’s always worked hard and needs to concentrate on doing things the other two strikers don’t do. Last season it seemed he was trying to out Henry Henry, if you know what I mean, when he needs to use his height and strength to give us another option. I quite like him though and I think he’ll be a useful player.

Aliadiere – Arsene Wenger must see something in him but then he saw something in Stefan Malz too. It’s hard to say if he’s good enough or not because he’s never been fit enough to demonstrate it. He did play some games last season during his three loan spells but despite a lot of playing time didn’t score a lot of goals. Has to do something this time around or his future is in serious doubt.

Theo Walcott – No idea. I really don’t. He scored a good goal for the England U21s in midweek so he knows where the net is. There are high hopes and hype hopes so let’s just wait and see what he does when and if he gets his chance.

Lupoli and Bendtner – The Italian is going to Derby on loan and the Dane is at Birmingham having made a very promising start to the season scoring for the blues and scoring on his full debut for Denmark. It might be a little early to start talking him up but he really looks like he’s got something about him and his height and physique might just put him ahead of Lupoli in the queue. There’s not much to separate their goal tallies at reserve level either.

Anyway, do we need a forward? I don’t think so.

Overall: You look at who has left the club this summer and Pires apart we can live with their departures and with Le Bob it’s his goals we’ll surely miss unless Rosicky and Hleb can weigh in together to make it up.

If Cole and Reyes go that’s our first choice left side gone as well and I’m told that if Cole goes we won’t buy a left back to replace him. Clichy is very highly thought of by Arsene Wenger but sadly appears to be made of balsa wood. Hopefully he can get fit and stay fit and I don’t think we’ll miss Cole too much if he does.

Rosicky will probably play left if Reyes goes and that’s fine by me. So while we can cope with their departures, if they do eventually leave (after weeks of something to write about in the close season I should be grateful, almost), if anything happens to their replacements our squad is a little threadbare. If Reyes stays though it gives us an extra option in midfield and an extra option up front.

I’m happy with the first team we’ve got. I think it’s got massive potential. It’s made up of a lot of young, talented, hungry players who have gained great experience from the Champions League run and the World Cup. I just think we’re lacking a bit of depth. A wide player and a central midfield player would really make a difference to our squad and allow us to cope better with the inevitable injuries and suspensions. We can’t hope that they won’t happen. They will. We cannot, given the money we have to spend, talk at the end of the season about having suffered unprecedented injuries having not bought anyone.

Personally, I think that the team and the squad as it stands has the potential to give Chelsea a real push for the title. I just think that the addition of at least one, if not two, quality players will make a massive difference.

Thierry wants us to make signings. He can see the potential in the team. He turned down Barcleona, probably the most attractive club team in the world right now, because he sees on a daily basis the talent of Cesc, van Persie, Toure, Senderos, Eboue etc. The reason he wants signings is because he knows adding to quality to quality does not make less quality. It gives everyone a boost, the players and the fans. What is perhaps frustrating to some of us is hearing AW talk about bringing in ‘certainly one’ quality player and then days later him hinting he’s not bringing anyone in at all.

Chelsea have won the title two years in a row and they haven’t settled on their laurels. They have brought in established, quality players. We’re trying to catch them and we should be doing the same. I’m not suggesting for a moment that we pay £30m and pay £150,000 a week wages. The chief attraction of Chelsea is its ability to pay top wages and they’re the dominant team in England right now.

But, we should be sending a message, a statement of intent and adding to what is already a good squad to make it even stronger. To make people think ‘Oh, Arsenal are going to be tough’.

Perhaps it’s AW’s principled stance and he wants to beat Chelsea with a Busby Babes style squad but it’s a dangerous game. I’m talking myself in circles here but the bottom line as far as I’m concerned is that there is now the chance to make this squad really, really strong with a couple of signings. I just hope Arsene brings players in before the end of the transfer window because I think we need them.

Now, maybe he won’t sign anyone and all the players will play out of their skin and Alex Song will turn out to be better than Makelele and we’ll have a great season and in May I’ll happily turn around and acknowledge the manager’s foresight and vision. I have great faith in him as it is.

However, if we struggle a bit because our squad wasn’t as good as it could have been then I might be a little bit cranky about it.

We shall see. As it is I’m really excited about the new season, looking forward to seeing us at the new stadium, I’m delighted we’re back in red and white so we look like the Arsenal again and despite my concerns I’m confident that we can do something in the year ahead.

Summer’s over folks. I’m heading back to Dublin next week. Arsenal play their first league game in their new stadium tomorrow. It’s all change but it’s all still the same.

Come on you Reds.

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Quick round-up of the stories for you:

Jens reckons there’s no chance Ashley Cole will stay and Arsene Wenger has confirmed he won’t be part of the squad against Aston Villa. I’d imagine Flamini will play left back. The boss also says Thierry is only a ‘possibility’ after playing 90 minutes for France in a stupid friendly while Reyes has a groin problem which may just be a pain his bollocks about the move to Madrid.

Today’s AS says Arsenal want €25m for Reyes, Madrid have offered €15m. Typical Madrid. Unsettle the player then try and play hardball about price because they think the player has made his position untenable. They can go and shite. He has a contract until 2011 and if he stays our squad is stronger. I’m sure, even though he’ll be disappointed, he’ll do his best.

Freddie Ljungberg says he’s never thought about leaving Arsenal, Philippe Senderos talks about splitting his head open and Arturo Lupoli looks set to join Derby on loan.

Finally a cartoon about Arsene Wenger’s shopping habits, based on this summer’s transfer activity, by forum member Gael Clichy (est tres rapide).

Till tomorrow (which is match day!).