These truly are the dark days of pre season. The Champions League Final and Football League playoff finals are done and dusted. The first checkpoints of the summer – the release of next season’s fixtures and the season review DVD – are some three weeks away. Even the dried crust that is the Confederations Cup doesn’t start until June 15th. You sigh dismissively now, but give it until late June and you’ll find yourself voraciously stream hunting so that you can watch Uruguay v Tahiti. What else are you going to do? Talk to your family?! PAH!
The summer has been rather poorly scheduled for the football junkie. The three aforementioned frontiers for the summer all arrive in the same week. In times of rationing, a more staggered approach is required. Even the WSL, supposedly a summer league, is disrupted by Euro 2013, meaning Arsenal Ladies will only play one home game before August. The girls’ victorious participation in the F.A. Cup Final in Doncaster left me with one last journey for 2012-13. This weekend ahead is the first truly naked weekend in the calendar.
The summer transfer window is a thorny subject for me. I do so detest the endless labyrinth of bullshit it generates and its ability to turn seemingly sentient beings into squealing banshees. That said, I confess to punching the air at St. James’ Park when it was confirmed that we’d finished 4th, so I can hardly claim to be a Byronic bearer of the #againstmodernfootball hash tag. What we know, amidst the smoke filled corridors of conjecture, is that Arsenal have a renewed strength this summer, fiscally speaking.
The question is what sort of cosmetic surgery should we be looking to apply? A nip and a tuck upfront certainly. A gastric band fitted to trim some of the puppy fat from the wage bill for sure. But strategically, on the training pitch and in the market, what will Arsene look to do? Arsenal’s run of 26 points from their last 10 games owed much to ditching the aesthetics in favour of a tight, compact, 1-0 to the Arsenal type approach. It was a strategy borne of necessity.
Arsenal needed points and were not really in a position to hope that their attacking chemistry would ignite consistently enough to facilitate an unbeaten run. Given the results the more conservative approach yielded, it’s worth asking whether Wenger will persevere with it. I rather doubt it. This is still a new team, especially in the forward areas, and having negotiated a first year together, the understanding between the players should increase and allow greater expansion into the manager’s favoured quick passing style.
Predominantly defensive tactics don’t tend to maintain a long shelf life. Nevertheless, Arsenal’s run and the means by which it was achieved should give the team the confidence to demonstrate tactical flexibility. In the games against bigger sides, there’s no reason we couldn’t revert to more compact tactics. Or if close, difficult matches need to be closed out, the players and the manager should have the flexibility to adapt. The team has a much more experienced core now than it once did. Players such as Arteta, Mertesacker, Rosicky, Sagna and Podolski have the maturity to be flexible in their approach too.
Personally, I would really like to see us concentrate on reinforcing the spine of the side so that competition for places in key positions is promoted. The dropping of Vermaelen ought to be instructive. Much has been made of Wenger’s decision to omit his captain- both politically and tactically. But we had Laurent Koscielny waiting in the wings and ultimately, he kept Vermaelen on the bench with his form. It’s all very well dropping somebody, but you need a quality replacement to make that decision effective. Both in terms of the message it delivers to players and the success it reaps on the pitch.
Mikel Arteta was wheeled out for the Newcastle game despite injury, which suggests we’re hardly blessed with depth in the defensive midfield position. (Incidentally, this piece by @7amkickoff perfectly encapsulates what a pivotal figure Arteta has become in this Arsenal squad). Cazorla appeared in all 38 league matches, so I still think work could be done on the creative side of the team. Maybe in one of the wide positions. I think Gnabry can step into Arshavin’s squad spot, but the fact that Gervinho played only 18 minutes of Giroud’s suspension suggests that Wenger no longer has faith in the Ivorian.
Let’s not forget that this season, uncharacteristically, Arsenal enjoyed a good bill of health on the injury front so our squad was rarely stretched. That may not be the case next year. The medical team take plenty of brickbats when the treatment room is full to bursting. Perhaps the review of the medical team that the manager promised in the summer of 2011 is bearing fruit? Rosicky, Wilshere and Podolski were effectively nursed through the season without breaking into tiny bits despite niggling problems. Alright, there was Diaby, but I think Victor Frankenstein himself would struggle to get ten consecutive games out of him.
Arsenal are in a thankless position in the transfer market, because the players that would improve us are sought by clubs with greater resources. We were probably fortunate in acquiring Cazorla that Chelsea already had Mata, Hazard and Oscar, City had Silva, Madrid had Ozil and Kaka and Barca aren’t exactly lacking diminutive playmakers. (I’m honestly baffled as to why United weren’t in for him). However, I would like to see us make a concerted effort to shop from a different shelf. I think most of us sense there is a reluctance in Wenger to pay five star rates due to a natural desire to be prudent.
I do think he can push the boat out for the right player though. We’ll not go bankrupt if a £30m signing doesn’t quite work out. As much as I’m loathe to join the salivating “spend some fucking money” masses, experience should show that a top draw signing would represent less of a risk than our prevailing policy. The resources currently being percolated from the club by failed mid range signings such as Squillaci, Santos, Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh have surely been more profligate than one potentially failed top level signing would be, hypothetically speaking.
We need two strikers, I think. One top level striker with the intention of instantly challenging for a starting berth and a young buck as a backup. It looks like Yaya Sanogo has been identified to undertake ‘The Bendtner role.’ (In that he’ll be a young, hungry and relatively capable deputy striker. Not a drunk driving, trouser shedding halfwit). Of course much will depend on how much space we can clear in the squad, especially in light of the oft forgotten 25 man squad regulations.
If Djourou is to leave, a backup centre half will be required. If Fabianski leaves, a backup goalkeeper will be needed too. @jcav90 makes a very compelling case for Vermaelen to be moved on too. It’s a case I’d be tempted to agree with if I had any faith that Arsenal could replace both backup centre halves without it taking the entire summer and, potentially, prevent us from conducting more urgent squad surgery.
I think this blog from @PoznanInMyPants puts it very nicely. There are good reasons for some of the actions the club has taken to this point, which are probably worthy of greater understanding than they’ve received. However, many of those strategies have now run their course. It’s graduation season and it’s time for Arsenal to take their first baby steps into a bigger, wider world. LD.
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