Last season was a humbling experience for Arsenal fans. Cruelly hoodwinked by the cosmic beauty of their team’s play, the Gunners faithful winced painfully as their hopes were smashed to smithereens by the powerful productivity of their three biggest enemies Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea. Such palpable reality checks were the bitterest of pills to swallow.
Those setbacks wouldn’t have tasted nice for Arsene Wenger and his players either. The faith they shared in one another will have wavered. It must have.
But, as with the last five summers Arsenal have had no option but to pick themselves up from the floor and regroup – and they begin this new campaign with as much optimism as ever before. The unlikely retention of Cesc Fabregas has miraculously transpired and with new signings Laurent Koscielny and Maraoune Chamakh shining during a smooth, successful pre-season, the Emirates is once again brimming with enthusiasm and expectation.
Will this state of Utopia persist beyond the Autumn? Or will Wenger’s side not only wilt under the force of United and Chelsea once more but also succumb to the renewed strength of Liverpool, Manchester City and dare I say it, Spurs?
The answers to these posers firmly lie with the manager. Everyone knows what’s good about Arsenal but has Arsene Wenger identified what was ‘wrong’ with his team last year?
Let’s start with the positives.
The release of recalcitrant center-back William Gallas was sensible. Although the sulking defender was only an occasionally divisive presence you get the distinct impression that the dressing room will be a happier place without him. He’d seen and done too much in his career to accept that heaven forbid, he, may have been to blame for some of Arsenal’s shoddy defending and now that his finger is no longer around to point the blame elsewhere, unity should be restored.
The distinct lack of interest in Gallas’ pricey signature from elsewhere in Europe also suggests Wenger’s decision to offload was a correct one.
At the other end of the pitch Robin van Persie is a fantastic footballer, one of the best forwards on the planet but he is not a target man. Wenger’s lack of top class alternatives last season – when the Dutchman was fit – meant the logical place for him was alone up front, flanked by the craft and pace of Arshavin, Nasri, Walcott and co. With his back to play (as we saw at the World Cup) Van Persie does not excel.
Yes, he can hold the ball well and is a willing runner but are they his two greatest strengths? No. Robin van Persie is a more dangerous player when he comes from deep, attacking space with his vision and shooting ability. Thankfully the signing of Maraoune Chamakh should signal the end of his burden as he was born to lead the line as a pivot. He’s absolutely superb at it. In turn, if Van Persie stays fit, and is utilized as a second striker/wide man, watch him go.
Wenger’s openness in regards to transfer targets is also a reason for Gunners fans to be cheerful – and the objects of his affection should fill Gooners with hope.
Rarely do we see the Frenchman being so candid over who he’s chasing, yet he’s made it abundantly clear that a new goalkeeper and a recognized center back are a necessity before the close of the transfer window. And he’s right. He’s completely and utterly right. Arsenal don’t need any more strikers. They have more top class midfielders than they need. And at full-back the Gunners don’t lack class or depth.
It’s easy to argue that the 11 point gap between Arsenal and Chelsea would have been considerably smaller had Joe Hart been in goal and if a fit Phil Jagielka had partnered Vermaelen in defense last season. Too many gifts were afforded because of poor play and indecisive defending. Unless Arsenal recruit two strong, talented characters in those positions will the leaks really be plugged? He has to act now, with conviction, and spend big on whoever he sees fit to do those jobs best.
The great unknown at this stage is how Arsenal will fare tactically. Will Wenger continue his carefree attacking policy against everyone or will he instill some defensive minded discipline into the team’s play when they come up against the big boys? On the back of last season’s severe beatings at the Emirates most Arsenal fans would almost certainly support the more cautious approach. Will Wenger?
In recent seasons, for the first time in his gloriously successful tenure Arsene had his decision-making ability questioned by the followers who always preached ‘Arsene Knows’. That stubborn nature of his though, seemingly preventing the Frenchman from opening his ears and eyes to what was being said.
Somehow, you sense that he’s changed. He now knows what he needs to do.
And if Arsene Wenger is brave enough to act on his impulses Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea had better watch out. The Gunners might just shock them all.