Another instantly forgettable international break is behind us. I’ve come to regard the interlull as akin to a Sunday morning beeriod after an evening of whiskey and curry kebabs. Quite irksome whilst you’re negotiating them. For the most part you sit hoping that nothing gets ruptured or torn. But once you’re all flushed and wiped, you forget all about the aberration that has taken place within about five seconds. Until the next time anyway.
In essence, this is where the season really comes alive. The squad is settled, the recriminations of the transfer window sit in the loft until January and players should be well up to speed. Injury and fatigue also begin to become configure in the manager’s team selections. The starting line-up, most notably the midfield and defence, has been fairly settled for our opening three games which has had its advantages. Now seven games in three competitions sit on a 21 day horizon.
The international break has not been bad to us. From a defensive standpoint, Szczesny, Mannone, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Santos and Arteta stayed at home, which would have enabled Steve Bould to put some more valuable hours in drilling that compartment of our team. Yet concerns over Abou Diaby mean that the tissue of the midfield will almost certainly need to be altered in some way for Saturday’s visit of Southampton.
Do we bring Coquelin in at the base of the midfield triumvirate and move Arteta away from a position he has been getting to grips with (quite brilliantly too)? Or does Ramsey come in in a slightly less familiar “go between” position in the midfield three- assuming we want to keep Cazorla in the triquetra role? In one way or another, that cosy midfield three that have done a pretty good job so far, is going to have its plumage ruffled.
This is where your manager earns his money. These decisions can shape seasons. Coquelin or Ramsey? Reinstate Szczesny or stick with Mannone who has kept 2 clean sheets? Olivier Giroud has admitted to “freezing up” in front of goal for Arsenal thus far and, by all accounts, didn’t enjoy the best game for France on Tuesday night. Do you keep faith in him and hope that gives him the confidence (and the opportunity) to break his duck? Or remove the risk of the pressure building further?
I suppose it’s symptomatic of the hysteria that surrounds the game nowadays that Olivier Giroud’s failure to score in his first two and a bit games for the club constitutes a talking point. Unwittingly, Podolski and Cazorla’s goals at Anfield have increased that scrutiny. (Though intended supportively, we chanted “it’s your turn Giroud” in the Anfield Road End minutes after Cazorla’s goal). Acclimatising to life at a new club is a mutual process between the individual and the team. It’s as much about the squad attuning to the strengths of the player as vice versa.
Giroud has had a tendency to tempt teammates into an easy lofted pass by showing himself so early in our build up play. The intentions and the endeavour draw admiration, but soon enough he’ll learn that it’s not really conducive to the way we play. Often he’s found that the tendency to invite the early ball has left him foraging for scraps with little support. (Podolski and Cazorla showed with their respective goals this weekend that they have tapped into Arsenal’s exponential build up play more quickly). I’m certain the coaching staff will be telling Giroud to concentrate on being on the end of moves and using his physicality inside the penalty area. As Assam pointed out, his most productive piece of work in an Arsenal shirt punctuated a move that had already progressed inside the opposition penalty area.
But likewise, Giroud’s teammates will realise quickly that there is profit to be had from one of his colleagues staying close by him. He challenges for a lot of aerial duels and, even when he doesn’t win them, Giroud often prevents the defender from making an emphatic clearance. Whilst it’s true Arsenal are hardly purveyors of percentage football, I could see a player like Ramsey, who likes to run beyond the forwards off the ball, getting some joy with Giroud leading the line and feeding off of him. The point is, he gives us different options. It’s just a case of learning when and how best to utilise them.
Given that this column typically goes to press on a Thursday, I’m noticing an infuriating trend for people from the club giving controversial interviews which somehow always end up going to press on Thursdays. Sure enough, it was big cheese Ivan Gazidis’ turn to come over all garrulous on Wednesday evening. Having attended the Tom Fox and Mark Gonnella Q & A with AISA on Monday, as well as the last two AST Q & A’s with Ivan Gazidis it’s pretty clear by now the club’s strategy is set down in stone.
1) Wait for the sponsorship renegotiations in 2014 to germinate. 2) Hope Financial Fair Play is sufficiently enforced to ease competitive inequalities. Tom Fox spoke about being able to “compete even better” by 2014. I understand that’s wearisome for supporters to hear because, essentially, we were already sold one golden horizon with the stadium move in 2006. Of course most would have expected belts to be tightened for a few seasons. But for the last couple of years, we’ve been able to “take the handbrake off” to use Wenger parlance and that’s not been as advantageous as we had forecast for reasons that require no repeating.
The way the competition has been evolved has been beyond our control and we are blameless for that in a sense. But it’s difficult to believe that, all of a sudden, the goose is going to start shitting us golden eggs in 2014. This October, Arsenal will release their half year accounts and a mighty cash reserve is going to stick out like tits on a fish. Incidentally, Arsenal might be the only football club, and indeed organisation, in the world that has to construct a positive PR strategy to allay the ire that will invite.
Relative to the likes of Citeh and Chelsea of course, our cash reserves are piffling. But then so will the extra revenue we generate in 2014 be. I don’t believe for one second that parsimony has been enforced on the manager to the extent at which he has practised. The accounts show that the money stays in the club. It doesn’t go anywhere. It’s painfully clear that Arsene just chooses not to use it. So I just fail to see him changing the habit of a lifetime in 2014. If these “super, super quality” players aren’t available when you have £50m, why will they begin circling us like screaming groupies when we have £80m, for instance?
Gazidis hinted rather broadly that Arsene would be offered a new contract and, for the first time ever, I’m not really sure how I feel about that. I don’t want Wenger to be sacked, of that I’m sure. The thing is, I just don’t really ever see anything changing under his tenure. It’s a moral quandary for me. Is it spoiled and unappreciative to ask for more? Are we really punching above our weight so much? I think it will be impossible to obtain that perspective until there’s some distance and we see how his successor shapes up.
I don’t think we’ll challenge for the league in any serious way again under Wenger. But at the same time, maybe nobody else genuinely is capable of keeping us on our current plateau. It’s an age old dilemma. Does one settle for the nice semi detached house in the suburbs and a couple of holidays a year? Or do you take some entrepreneurial risks? I wrote a piece on Arsenal’s ownership for the last 80 years or so last month and, by and large, we’ve always been a rather conservative club.
There have been occasions where being so risk averse cut us adrift, but generally it’s proved a sound approach to governance. Maybe it still is the best approach. I know I feel uncomfortable recording these thoughts; likely through a mixture of sentimentality that I unapologetically feel for the manager and the prospect for egg on face if I am to be proved wrong. What is ironic is that Wenger’s legacy to Arsenal might actually end up being an exciting British core. To that end, I can’t recommend this piece by @hazzaboy21 enough. Till next week. LD.
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