Thursday, November 30, 2023

City will test streamlined Arsenal + more Suarez guff

Morning, a quick Saturday round-up for you.

We’re in Finland today for our final pre-season game, a clash against Man City, and Arsene Wenger says he’ll field a ‘strong’ side. Quite what that means in relation to this squad is anybody’s guess. If you were to look up the word ‘depth’ in a dictionary, the definition would be ‘not Arsenal’.

The boss says:

I consider that I have 16 regular players and no matter who starts or does not, they will be considered for a start against Aston Villa. For us it’s a good opportunity to play against Man City. What is important is to have a good competition level one week before the season starts.

Despite pre-season not meaning very much, today could tell us a lot about where we are, how ready we are, and how likely we are to compete. If you look at the two teams, the summers couldn’t have been more different. City changed manager and without too much fuss, and a fair amount of efficiency, brought in new players.

They’ve added to their forward line with Jovetic and Negredo, brought in a new winger in Jesus Navas, and spent big on Fernandinho, a Brazilian central-midfielder. Those deals were done early, allowing the new guys to get their bearings, settle in, meet their new teammates and, crucially, play some football with them before the start of the new season.

Arsenal, on the other hand, well, you don’t need me to tell you it’s been almost the opposite. Sanogo has come on, loads have gone out, and at the moment this is a squad which looks threadbare when you give it any real consideration. Two fit centre-halves, central midfield options which look dangerously prone to injury, still lacking a striker who can make the difference at the highest level, and there’s a dearth of creativity in the side which I think is still a real issue.

Arsene Wenger obviously has faith in the players he has, but today will be a real test of that. City are a good side who had a bad season and took steps to correct things and make things better. We are an average side who had an average season and have done almost nothing to address that. Obviously I hope we can beat them today, but whatever happens we’ll get a good illustration of how prepared we are for the new season.

Here’s a prediction: unless something ghastly happens today (we get spanked or we lose a player or two through injury), I don’t think there’ll be any signings before the start of the season. Next weeks sees many of our players, and pretty much all the ones we’d be interested in signing from other clubs, head off on international duty.

There are a round of meaningless friendlies and our preparation for Villa will be hampered by that. For example, Santi Cazorla, who spent all of June away with Spain at the Confederations Crap and came back late, travels to and from Ecuador in midweek. The fact that players are going to be away might make it easier for the manager to find time actually do something about the squad, but with the players spread far and wide across the world, it seems unlikely to happen.

I could be wrong, but logistically it makes little sense to me. And even if we do try and make things happen, I still have to question why we’re doing in it in the week before our first game of the season, and during an Interlull, when we’ve had the entire summer to work with. Anyway, I guess we’ll see.

At his pre-City press conference, the manager was asked about Luis Suarez, and said:

There is nothing to add to what I said already about the transfer of Suarez. If it will be done, it will be done in a respectful and amicable way with Liverpool.

I think we’ve passed the moment where we can say things are amicable and respectful. He rather bizarrely claimed not to have read the comments of John W Henry – something you might consider important when you’re trying to buy a player from another club – and continued:

We know what we want to do. The player, if I look at the statements [does] as well. Liverpool at the moment do not agree. If they change their minds or not, I don’t know. We’ll respect that. We are looking at possibilities to strengthen our squad. Suarez is one of the targets. If he’s not for sale, he’s not for sale. We have to accept that.

At this point, I think we’re looking increasingly desperate and having been led up the garden path by the misinformation of Suarez’s agent, are trying to save face more than anything else. I think we’re desperately trying to salvage something after making a pig’s ear of the summer, and I just cannot see Liverpool selling to us after everything that’s been said. It’s a mess of epic proportions and shows us up as amateurish and sorely lacking in the ability to operate anywhere outside of our ‘£10-12m, buying from a club it’s easy to buy from’ comfort zone.

Meanwhile, the squad, such as it is, has been weakened further with the departure of Ignasi Miquel on loan to Leicester. While I don’t think his future lies at Arsenal, it seems odd to me that with Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal out injured, and Miquel capable of providing cover for both of those positions, we’d ship him out until we had something sorted.

Then again, I’ve long given up trying to make any sense of this summer and what we’re doing. By all means let the young man go on loan, he needs to play, but surely the needs of our team come before the needs of any one player. If you’re going to loan him out, address the great, big defensive elephant in the room which is that we’re badly lacking central defensive options, and with plenty of money in the bank, an ambitious club might even seek to improve on what they already have rather than wait for an injury prone captain to get fit again.

Finally for today, the draw for the qualifying round of the Champions League was made yesterday, and we face a tricky tie against Turkish side Fenerbache. They’re currently under investigation for match-fixing and could be expelled from European competition. But even if we lost and they were kicked out, we’d still be eliminated according to the rules.

Still, it’s never easy going to Turkey, and when our squad consists of barely more than 14 or 15 players, we’d want to hope that we stay fit and healthy for our travels. We play away first on August 21st, with the second leg on August 27th.

Right, I’m going for a long walk with the wolf to ease my exasperation. I’m sure it’ll help. Have a good Saturday, back tomorrow.

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