Compare and contrast.
Manchester United – win the title, immediately go out and buy Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David de Gea. They recall youngsters like Welbeck and Cleverly who have been out on loan and integrate them with the experienced players they already have. They strengthen.
Arsenal – slump to 4th, sell their left back and don’t replace him, sell their captain and best player to Barcelona and don’t replace him, sell a very good French international and replace him with Gervinho and an assortment of talented but hugely inexperienced wingers (one of whom, it turns out, will fail to get a work permit), do nothing about their defensive issues and just a couple of games into the season are so stretched they’re playing people out of position and having to call up academy kids just to make up the numbers. They weaken.
On paper it’s not pretty reading, really. Thankfully, football is not played on paper and there have been some definite signs of encouragement from the group of players we have, but I won’t sit here this morning and say I’m not really, really worried about this game today. We could draw on all the resources of spirit and togetherness we have and put in a performance which could be the making of this team. On the other hand … well, I don’t think you need me to spell it out.
There’s a reason United are the champions, they’re a very good team with a manager who gets the most out players others would struggle with win things with. And there’s a reason Arsenal finished fourth last season. It’s because we lacked the quality and experience to maintain our title challenge. It’s hard to look at us now and think we’ve got any more quality than we did and we sure as hell don’t have any more experience.
Injuries and suspensions have played their part, for sure, but that’s only part of it. There’s talk this morning that the likes of Francis Coquelin (0 league appearances but a good spell on loan at Lorient last season) or Oguzhan Ozyakup (0 appearances) are in the traveling squad, and Coquelin might even play. Gunnerblog reckons Arsene will play Johan Djourou as a midfielder, which is a reasonable shout, but with doubts over Bacary Sagna because of illness we’ll have to wait and see.
Personally, I’d play as strong a back four as I possibly could. That’d be Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Vermaelen. Above all else I think we’re going to need a huge defensive performance and I think playing Sagna at left back and Jenkinson at right back (as good as he was against Udinese) leaves us unbalanced. Rosicky, Ramsey and A N Other in midfield – if it’s Coqeulin, fine, at least that’s his natural position, then Walcott, Arshavin and van Persie up top. I think that’s as solid a team as we can manage with what we have available to us, and not a bad team either.
Certainly not as strong as it might be, or should be going into this game, but more on that shortly. Anyway, that’s the team that I’d pick, I’m pretty sure it’s not what Arsene will choose. We need to show all the spirit we did in Italy on Wednesday night, and more, to get something out of this game. United are better than Udinese. They had one danger man, United have more, and a much stronger bench, and will test us more frequently.
We feel strong away from home – we have shown that against Udinese because many people predicted that we would go out.
The win on Wednesday will certainly have boosted the confidence and belief in the squad and hopefully we see that later today. As I said we’re going to have to put in a real shift defensively and that starts from the front. Both Walcott and Arshavin are liable to shirk their defensive duties and if they do that today we’ll be too exposed too often and it will cost us. At the same time, we need them both to give us something going forward. Between guile and pace, they’ve got enough to hurt any team on their day and working hard will go some way to making that day today. And up top Robin van Persie needs to have a real captain’s game.
Overall, I’m more fearful than hopeful, to be honest, but I’m keeping fingers crossed that this is one of those days when we find something within ourselves to get a result. What’s telling, however, is that we’re banking on intangibles like spirit and character when we probably should be relying on players with more quality and experience than we currently have.
In other news it looks like we’re going to sign a striker. South Korean Park Chu-Young would have been a long shot by any standards but it looks like we moved for him when it became known that Joel Campbell’s work permit application was unsuccessful. The player was undergoing tests ahead of a move to Lille, we made a few phone calls and in no time at all he was on his way to London for a medical with us.
Lille are unhappy, leaving many to wonder about a possible move for Eden Hazard. I suspect it will have no bearing on it because I don’t think we have any intention of buying him in the first place.
As for Park, well, I don’t know the first thing about him. He’s a decent enough player by all accounts, at 26 is the right age to add some experience to the squad, and it is your archetypal Wenger signing. A relative unknown from the French league for a knock down price. As I said on Twitter yesterday, even if Arsene won the lottery he’d walk straight past the Ferrari showroom and buy a second hand Citroen instead (and yeah, he could do it up and sell it on later for 10 times what he paid for it, but still).
I won’t make any judgement at all on the player himself until I see him play but with £80m in the bank, the team desperate for midfielders and defenders, spending £3m (ignore reports of £10m, utterly false) on a striker like Park when you heard he was signing for someone is a bit like making it up as you go along. You have to ask, even if this is going to be a 2nd/3rd choice player, could we have spent a bit more on a better player? Maybe one with Premier League experience who wouldn’t need time to adapt? I’m not writing him, not by any means, and would obviously love him to be a big success, but I think those are legitimate questions.
In today’s Observer Amy Lawrence writes about our summer and our transfer business.
Arsenal have a transfer budget of around £70m just from their summer sales. They are chasing an assortment of players, but it all feels worryingly late in the day and, so cack-handedly have they been functioning during this window, the Emirates crowd would be amazed to see the handful of needed signings arriving.
It’s certainly worrying. Look at the Campbell situation. Dick Law spent a week in Costa Rica, more or less, chasing a player who a) failed to turn up to a meeting to sign for the club and b) who now cannot play for us until next season at the earliest. Was this really the best use of his time considering everything else that was going down? If the football world knew that Cesc and Nasri were leaving, the club certainly did. Replacements should have been identified and targeted long before now, and certainly ahead of spending a week trying to sign a kid playing in the U20 World Cup (no disrespect to him).
The consequence of the summer is the situation we find ourselves in now. Going to Old Trafford with a paper thin squad far more in hope than expectation. Let’s hope that they pull some irons out of the fire between now and Wednesday because as gallantly and bravely as we performed on Wednesday in Udinese, over the course of a season this squad will be found out and fall short too often to achieve what we’d all love to see them achieve.
There’s little new on the rumour mill this morning. The same names, Cahill for example, but it’s now down to the club to do the business required.
And that’s about that. There’ll be live blog coverage of the game this afternoon and if you’d like to be part of the growing live blog chat community you need an Arseblog premium account. You can register here and 12 months access costs you £10 (83.333333333p per month!). It allows you upgraded access to the arses too and it’s a place where Arsenal fans can chat without the frenzied kind of stuff you get elsewhere.
Anyway, check back later for the live blog post. In the meantime we can get ready for Old Trafford and hope that the lads out there today turn those intangibles into goals and points.