The season hasn’t started yet, but Arsenal are already contemplating a tough month ahead with matches against Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle and Udinese to start their season with, plus trouble in the transfer market with Fabregas and Nasri pushing for moves away and a lack of incoming talent.
There’s a strong temptation to categorise Arsenal’s upcoming Champions League qualifying playoffs against Serie A side Udinese as another sign of incredibly difficult times at the Emirates – but it might be the best thing to happen to Arsenal the whole of August.
For starters, Udinese will still be in pre-season – their first league outing is against Juventus on the 28th, but the kicker will be the loss of three key players for Udinese during the summer – Sanchez (Barcelona), Inler (Napoli) and Zapata (Villareal). ‘Selling your way to the top’, as Swiss Ramble puts it, has the unfortunate consequence of requiring the management to constantly rebuild the team.
The first leg will be at home, another blessing as Wenger will be serving his touchline ban (courtesy of his outrage post-Barcelona last season) and RVP and Nasri are suspended as well. Quite simply, getting knocked out from the Champions League this early in the season would be disastrous for Arsenal, and you can expect Wenger to drill into his team the importance of controlling the tie at the Emirates and making the return leg a formality.
It’s a measure of Arsenal’s troubles on and off the pitch that a tricky knock-out tie worth at least £17.4m (the sum Arsenal will get for playing in the Champions League group stages) is the least of their worries in August.
Today, Arsenal and Barcelona are expected to meet in London to further discuss the transfer of Cesc Fabregas, with 2 bids already rejected and Arsenal holding out for 40m, with Barcelona offering 35m. Samir Nasri is also ready to go, with Wenger refusing to accept a reported 22m transfer fee for a player likely to leave on a free transfer next summer.
I’ve already said it makes no sense for Arsenal to keep Nasri, and why Arsenal should keep hold of Fabregas for one more year, but the more you wait, the more it looks like Arsenal will do the exact opposite.
Only if Arsenal were able to ship out the players they wanted to get rid off with as much as ease as their wantaway stars. Bendtner and Almunia are still at Arsenal, with talks seemingly taking forever, while there are no takers for Squillaci. High wages are a sticking point for all three. Wenger is also refusing to pay more than £10m on a defender, a strategy that leaves Arsenal without any defensive additions in a squad that desperately needs them (regardless of Vermaelen’s return to fitness).
And then there’s the Premier League. A quick look at Arsenal’s Premier League fixtures for August 2011 shows enough challenges to derail their title hopes at any point of the season – Arsenal are away to Newcastle, host Udinese in their Champions League qualifier before hosting Liverpool in the league, then travel away to Udine for the second leg before ending the month with an away trip to play the Premier League champions Manchester United.
Traditionally, Arsenal are strong starters to the season, and how they start their 2011/2012 Premier League campaign – both on the pitch and in the transfer window – will determine whether they are fit for a title challenge this season or if they will be chasing the Champions League qualifying spot.