Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Retentions, additions and 9 1/2 weeks, er, something

With Arshavin and Squillaci tearfully examining their final Arsenal payslips this month, operation deadwood claimed another victim this week with the news of Denilson’s release. To quote The Lemonheads 1992 LP of the same name, it’s a shame about Denilson. (Ray. Denilson. Whatever). In 2008-09 I thought we had had a potentially excellent player on our hands, but for one reason or another, he just didn’t develop from there. In many ways, he epitomises some of the unpleasant truths about the youth project of the stadium’s embryonic years.

He showed early promise and ability but just didn’t quite have the mentality to see it through. While I’m sure that his severance package was mutually agreeable and made business sense, the lack of coquettishness in his release hopefully sets the tone for others in the “Reduced” basket at London Colney. The names of the offending driftwood are well rehearsed by now. Arsenal have a busy summer and can’t allow the car boot sale to detract from more pressing acts of retail therapy.

The well known members of the driftwood faculty aren’t the only futures that require resolution. Thomas Vermaelen, Wojciech Szczesny and Gervinho all have two years to run on their contracts. I can’t imagine that the club are interested in renewing Gervinho’s terms and there’s suspiciously few whispers of a new deal being waved under Vermaelen’s nose either. Assuming Dicky Law and Ivan Gazidis aren’t holding regular rendezvous with the agents of Vermaelen or Gervinho, you’d have to suspect that the club would be willing to listen to offers for either.

It doesn’t seem five minutes ago that Vermaelen signed new terms but contract legislation is so aggressive nowadays that this sort of short termism is a de facto norm in the top flight. Vermaelen is nearly 28 and there’s a good chance that he could be relieved of the captaincy this summer. If I were 28, not being offered a new deal at such a pivotal stage of my current contract and found myself stripped of the captaincy in one summer, I might take it as a broad hint and consider my options.

Gervinho has already laid his towel on the lounger and pledged not to leave. For much the same reason that the current league of unwanted players haven’t left. He knows he would struggle to secure a deal on par with his current one elsewhere, so he’ll probably cling on until Arsene Wenger drives him out to the woods in the middle of the night. I’d imagine there is much more willing on the club’s part to renew Szczesny’s deal.

However, if rumours of interest in Julio Cesar are true, that could impact on the Pole’s desire to sign up in a hurry. I’d hope that Cesar’s age- assuming that the rumours are true- would encourage Szczesny to believe that the club see him as the future. Shortly before he signed his current deal in late 2010, Szczesny was rather pithy about not being picked. One would hope that time and temperance has brought maturity and his reaction to being dropped for Fabianski suggests it might have. But it’s not a cut and dried situation by any means.

Then of course there are the additions that need to be made. The lovely, shiny additions, all replete with that new cellophane smell. Somebody suggested to me on twitter this week that we could make a reasonable case for adding in every position bar right wing and left back. I think that gentleman had a point. For me, Arsenal’s biggest priority is to bolster their creative options and I think that’s what Wenger will look to do urgently. How he does it, will be fascinating.

In a creative sense, Cazorla has been a lone star when he ought to be part of a constellation. Even Cesc Fabregas had the likes of Nasri and Hleb as deputies, whom he loved to bounce off of. This article points out quite nicely that we don’t really have a creative presence on the flanks with Walcott and Podolski in the team. Both are finishers and we have a need for two clinical players from wide because Giroud errrm, isn’t so clinical.

However, a front three of Podolski, Walcott and Giroud is rather lacking in artistic stimulus. Walcott and Podolski like and need balls in behind (ooo errr) and only Santi really provides that. A younger and fitter Tomas Rosicky would be a good panacea to this ill, but we’re taking a rather nonchalant piss into a light gust of wind if we expect him to play a whole season. I still think Wilshere is more “Xavi” than “Iniesta” as a midfielder. I accept that he can and probably will hone his attacking game, but he produced 3 assists and 0 goals in 25 Premier League appearances last year. It would have to be a mighty jump.

In big games, it was simply too easy for skilled opponents to isolate Cazorla as our lone creative threat. That took a toll on the little Spaniard too who generated one assist and no goals in last season’s Champions League. In the six games against the teams that finished above us, he managed one goal and one assist. That’s not so much a reflection on his quality individually. Every good team is able to diversify the threat they pose and in that sense, Arsenal struggled to do that against quality opposition. Indeed there were many games last season in which creating chances seemed to be a very laboured pursuit.

There are a number of options for Wenger to tackle this equation. He could persist with Cazorla on the left and buy a creative central midfield player. Or else he could revert Santi to the centre and purchase the sort of dynamic wide player Arshavin briefly promised to be. Either way, that would entail leaving one of Podolski or Walcott out, which would in turn require a more clinical striker than Giroud. Unless the hunky Frenchman got busy and put in some extra net ruffling shifts on the training pitch.

Of course, we could go a slightly different way and buy the sort of forward to head the current formation who specialises in dropping off of the front line and feeding balls in behind to Podolski and / or Walcott. If Rooney / Jovetic are genuine Arsenal targets, then it’s conceivable that Wenger could opt for this route. That shape would be akin to the class of 98. A computer graphic would show Bergkamp as a withdrawn striker in a 4-4-2 for the 98 Double winning side. In reality, Bergkamp dropped much deeper than that and fed the rampaging Overmars and Anelka.

This goal from September 1997 exemplifies the true attacking shape of what was effectively a front three. With more of a withdrawn striker in the centre, Cazorla could go back into midfield with license to drift, whilst our new-fangled “nine and a half” drops back to provide the bullets. It would require tweaking and understanding so that Santi and *enter product of our overly fertile imaginations here* wouldn’t occupy the same spaces. But it would vary our creative impetus.

Where we fit this new creator in is open to endless conjecture and ramification. I think there’s a sort of stereotype in the public conscious that Arsenal are a team of diminutive, fancy Dan technicians. Nobody ever thinks we need creative players even when the evidence suggests it so compellingly. Big ugly central defenders and 20 stone “DMs” always top the wish lists. There is probably value in securing players of that ilk too of course.

Yet when the going got tough and Arsenal needed a definitive, results based approach from March onwards; they achieved it by relying on the defence. That’s because our defensive unit is much more balanced and effective as a crutch than our attack and our creativity at the moment. I have a hunch that Arsene will see this as a priority too. How he remoulds the balance of the attack will be very intriguing. It should be a challenge that excites him. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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