It’s preseason. We’ve won all of our games. Our stars are still on holiday and for the most part, we’re injury free. But seriously everyone, it’s time to PANIC!
Panic because our keeper situation is a disaster that will inevitably begin with Fabianski gifting Liverpool the winner in our season opener, and Almunia costing us fourth place on the final day. Panic because we have no capable central defenders to partner Thomas Vermaelen. Panic because Sol Campbell, the would-be savior of our defense, is off to Newcastle. Panic because Arsenal and Barcelona have secretly agreed to a deal that will see our captain leave on the final day of this summer’s transfer window leaving us no time find any kind of replacement. Panic because Arsene Wenger won’t spend any money, the club doesn’t care about the fans, and we’ll surely go another season trophy-less. In fact, don’t just panic, PROTEST! Wear a black scarf to the Emirates. Nothing teaches those fools running our club a lesson like imitating a poorly constructed protest from our friends in Manchester. Yes, it’s time to panic and protest dear friends, because surely this is the end of Arsenal.
That’s one way to look at the world. Lately, it’s becoming a very popular viewpoint indeed. But perhaps, just maybe, there is another way to look at the state of Arsenal Football Club as we approach the dawn of a new season. It’s possible, there’s reason for optimism.
First and foremost, Cesc Fabregas isn’t going anywhere this season. I won’t rehash my defense of Cesc’s behavior. If you’re interested, that argument can be found in a previous post. But Cesc is our captain and most talented player and he’s going to be here for another season. When asked about the Fabregas situation, Wenger was unequivocal in his statement about the spaniard’s future and his desire that all the discussions stop. Arsene Wenger may not always be transparent with respect to his transfer dealings, but I cannot believe for a moment that he would come out with such a forceful statement about Cesc’s future at the club, only to be undermined by the board and Mr. Gadzidis. With Cesc at the heart of our midfield again this season, we will always be a formidable side.
With respect to the transfer market, it is important to remember that this is a World Cup summer. While Arsene was able to conduct some business with alacrity this sumer, to-wit the acquisitions of Chamakh and Koscielny, World Cup transfer windows are notorious for late activity. Many key players are still on holiday, and some of the clubs we might be targeting (you know who you are Fulham), don’t even have a manager at the moment. Moreover, City’s spending spree has created artificially inflated asking prices for many players. Combine that with the diminishing coffers at some big clubs and you have the recipe for very limited transfer activity. However, as the new season approaches, and clubs realize that they might not get the deal they’re looking for, it’s possible that bargains will start to emerge. And nobody spots a bargain like Le Boss.
Right now the en vogue criticism of Arsene Wenger is his parsimonious approach to management. Perhaps he’s a bit more thrifty than we’d like, but let’s remember that he has done some his shrewdest business in recent memory in just the last two years during which time his critics have been the most vocal. Arshavin would be a 25 million pound player in this transfer market, but we acquired him for half that sum. Vermaelen was an absolute gem of a signing at the right price. Chamakh was acquired for the lovely sum of ZERO pounds and Koscielny arrived with high praise and a bright future at a reasonable fee. While he might not be staying, Sol Campbell proved a useful signing in January that cost the club practically nothing. And I think it speak volumes about the respect that our players have for the manager that Cesc will be staying this season. If Wenger prized only youth and money, then he would gladly take 35 million pounds for Cesc, but he didn’t. On the opposite side of the ledger, Wenger also filled our coffers with money received from the brilliant sale of Adebayor and Toure.
Fear-mongers rightly point out our deficiencies in central defense and goalkeeper. If Campbell is indeed leaving, then we really only have three central defenders and we’re not sure if two of them are good enough to start. The situation is made all the more dire by the injury to Johan Djourou apparently suffered during Tuesday’s friendly in Austria. We can only hope the damage is minor, but the injury is a reminder that Djourou is not a player we can blindly trust to be a regular figure in the starting lineup.
As for goal-keeping, we are simply one of the worst teams in top-flight football at the position. It’s really that simple. Almunia isn’t good enough and Fabianski’s composure could only be further impugned if he wet himself during the match. I want to be believe the hype surrounding Szczesny but regardless of his much ballyhooed talent, his tender age suggests that he shouldn’t be our starting keeper this season.
So it seems that the nay-sayers are correct in their assessment of our defensive and goalkeeping frailties. Or are they? Wenger was clear in his statement that he is still looking for additions to the defense. Even today, the Mirror’s usually reliable John Cross suggests that we are close to a deal with Werder Bremen for German international Per Mertesaker. Surely he is the type of player that can come in and start alongside Vermaelen on opening day. And while Koscielny isn’t exactly the Verminator, he’s a highly regarded defender who received plaudits in France and claims to enjoy the physical side of the game. To rule him out as a viable center-back option is absurd, especially considering that most of the people making that determination have never seen him play.
When people start piling on the criticism of our defense, they fail to mention that we are as talented at full-back as any team in the league. All four of our full-back options are good enough to start. Clichy and Sagna are excellent, and Gibbs and Eboue are good enough to challenge the former pair for their starting spots. If you’re going to analyze the defense without mentioning 50% of the lineup, then you’re not going to arrive at a fair conclusion. In point of fact, our first choice defensive lineup of Clichy, Koscielny, Vermaelen, and Sagna, could actually be exceptional. There’s no denying that we do not have sufficient cover at CB, but Wenger is working on that.
There’s another important point to make about depth at defense. It’s not like other positions on the pitch. You don’t bring in a central defender on 60 minutes to change the match like you do with a striker or attacking midfielder. The only reason that substitute CBs ever play a single minute is due to either injury or squad rotation. If your starting central defensive pairing stays healthy, then they will play 90% of all your matches. I realize that staying healthy isn’t a strong suit for Arsenal players lately, but with a little bit of luck on the injury front we won’t need as much depth defensively as some suggest. The arrival of a player like Mertesaker or Jagielka could be sufficient.
It’s easy to make the defense for our defense, but harder to defend our keepers. (Just ask our defenders…) For me, this is a very simple issue. Szczesny isn’t ready yet, and the others aren’t good enough. Just look at the keepers from the other top teams: Cech, VDS, Reina, Gomes, Freidel, Howard, Given. Quality keepers with loads of experience. You can argue that point with Gomes perhaps, but if it weren’t for Hurelho, we wouldn’t have lost at WHL last season. We need our own experienced keeper to settle things at the back. He doesn’t even have to be spectacular. But he must know how to organize the defense on set-pieces and command his box. He must have the nerve for the big moment. Without that player it’s hard to envision this Arsenal side returning to the summit of English football. But Wenger must have some idea about this problem. Our interest in Schwarzer seems like it was more than a passing flirtation and that would never have developed if Arsene had complete confidence in his current platoon.
When you do some examination of this team, it just isn’t that bad. No matter how much we know we must panic and protest, it’s really hard to see why we should. And whether or not you think I’ve painted an overly rosy picture, I think we can agree that there’s talent to spare in midfield and attack. Just try to pick six players from this list:
RVP, Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner, Theo, Vela, Rosicky, Nasri, Cesc, Diaby, Denilson, Ramsey, Wilshere, JET, Song, Eboue, and a few other youngsters who look poised to break into the senior squad.
Find me that kind of depth anywhere else. (City doesn’t count. Having 40 players doesn’t mean you have a team.) That’s 16 players for six spots. And while it won’t be quite that straightforward due to injuries and dips in form, it’s still a lot of talent for one team to manage.
What strikes me as funny is that there’s so much complaining right now that you’d think we lost all three of our preseason matches. But that’s not the case either. We’ve won them all and comfortably. I know the competition hasn’t been great, but tell that to Liverpool who were held to a scoreless draw by a team of life-sized grasshoppers. Ask Manchester City about their preseason. They can’t beat anyone and they look terrible in losing. Even mighty United found time to lose to a team of Wizards from Kansas City. (How did they even play football in their heavy velvet robes and pointy hats?) As far as I can tell, our preseason is going just fine thank you very much.
But still some people want to complain. They want to panic. Worse, they want to PROTEST! Yes, we must protest Arsenal until they care about us fans! That’s just what’s needed. Unless of course you live in reality. Arsenal built the fans one of the finest football stadiums in the world. Arsenal continue to produce some of the most exhilarating, sumptuous football on the planet for the fans to enjoy. Arsenal manage to compete at the highest level every season despite disparate budgets with our direct rivals. (Arsenal have lost to their most hated rival once in a decade.) Arsenal communicate directly with fan groups and use that feedback in a variety of ways. For example, the Arsenalisation of the Emirates Stadium is a direct result of supporter feedback. Arsenal are even learning to take the blogging community seriously (big mistake!) and have gotten involved with some of the supporter’s blogs, such as Arseblog. Football clubs are businesses and not a single one is perfect. But Arsenal comes pretty close to perfection for the average fan and the idea that we should be wearing black scarves like bastard Utd malcontents is despicable. (And unoriginal.) If you don’t like the club, don’t go to the games. Don’t watch the games on TV. And when you’re dying in your bed at 90 years old wishing you could see your beloved Arsenal take the pitch just one more time, then tell me if you’re happy about your protest.
On August 15th Arsenal will begin the new season at Anfield. Once again we will challenge for the title. Once again we will be a force in Europe. Will we win those trophies? I don’t know. There’s so much money being spent by the biggest teams and such a high level of competition that no team is assured of trophies. But we will be in the conversation and that is the best a fan can ask. I am excited for this season. We still have needs to address, but we still have time to address them. So considering the fact that it’s only July 28th, maybe we should all just take a deep breath and be excited that proper football will be here soon enough. Then the talking can stop.