Arsenal Boot Jack Wilshere

Vermaelened?

Before I get started, I want to thank The Squid Boy for doing a fantastic job writing the blog for the last three days. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter @thesquidboylike. Now I’m back to ruin all his good work attracting people to the blog.

There’s really only one thing to talk about with Arsenal at the moment and that’s injuries. Jack Wilshere and Thomas Vermaelen are injured and again we find ourselves lamenting the loss of key players. Arsenal have required Wilshere to wear a medical boot to prevent him from rushing back to training or doing anything that could lead to a stress fracture.

There’s been a lot of speculation that something is wrong with the training regimen at Arsenal or that there is epic incompetence within the medical staff. Both of those assumptions might be true. Then again, they might be wildly inaccurate. But it really doesn’t matter why we suffer so many injuries. What matters is that we do suffer a seemingly disproportionate number of injuries and they tend to last far longer than initially believed.

However, it’s not the number of injuries that really causes the problem at Arsenal, it’s the particular players afflicted. With all due respect to Abou Diaby, we are more than equipped to deal without him for a few days, or weeks, or months. When Tomas Rosicky was out for 18 months it was a blow to his career, but frankly, it wasn’t cataclysmic for the club. Even Theo Walcott’s injury problems haven’t had an insurmountable impact on Arsenal over the last few seasons. Unfortunately, there have been other injuries that have stopped the club’s past few seasons from culminating in parades featuring open top buses.

In every team there are a few players you feel are indispensable. Players without whom, the team cannot succeed. You could argue that Arsenal needed four specific players in the side to compete for a title last season. If Van Persie, Fabregas, Vermaelen and Szczesny had played 38 games last season, we might well have done enough to win the league. But they didn’t, so we didn’t. Instead, Van Persie and Cesc made 25 appearances, Szczesny made 15, and Vermaelen made 5. Those might be the most important statistics from Arsenal’s 2010-11 season.

If Van Persie had played the first half of last season like he played the second half, we may have entered the run-in with a lead over our rivals. That could’ve given us the confidence to push on and win the league.

Would we have shipped three goals at home to WBA if Thomas Vermaelen was leading the defense? Hard to imagine. Even harder to imagine we would’ve been historically poor on set-pieces. Or that we would’ve let a two goal lead slip to Sp*rs at home. Or a four goal lead slip at Newcastle. I don’t mean to rehash the hardships of last season, but there were definitely points dropped due to Vermaelen’s extended absence.

Then there’s Szczesny. Just as we began to see a goal-keeping star emerge, we lost our pole in the goal to a freak finger injury at Barca. I don’t need to remind you what happened after that. But I seem to remember something about a 40-year-old, unretired German starting for Arsenal after Almunia gifted a few more goals to WBA.

When a team suffers injuries, other players are forced to step up and fill the void. Squad depth is absolutely essential in modern football and no team can win the Premier League without having quality beyond the first XI. But every team has players who are so intrinsic to their success that an entire season can be lost if they are out for a prolonged period. I would suggest that Arsenal’s problems over the last few seasons haven’t been related to the number of injuries we’ve suffered, but the specific players that we’ve lost. Last Sunday we saw just how hard it can be to compete when a few key players are missing.

Once again we face the grim possibility of being without key players this season. This time it’s Jack Wilshere who’s causing the biggest worry. Jack is now expected to be out up to 3 months, but some reports suggest that his season could be in jeopardy.

Not only is this a massive blow to our current season, but it’s also a blow for the player. He’s at a crucial period of his career where he seems to improve on a weekly basis. We’ve seen with Aaron Ramsey what a year out of the game can do to a player’s development. That’s not something we want to see with Jack.

We won’t just miss Jack’s quality, but also his work-rate, passion and energy. Midfield is an area where we just lost one of the best players in the world, and we can hardly afford to see our second best midfielder missing almost a third of the season or worse.

But Jack isn’t the only concern we have now. There’s another player who could be “Vermaelened” and it’s Thomas Vermaelen. He pulled out of Belgium’s international fixture over the weekend. It could just be a minor knock that kept him out, but there are reports of a possible achilles set-back. I refuse to believe that until I hear it from the manager, but considering how immense he’s looked when he’s played this season, his loss would be extremely deflating. His leadership is almost more important than his quality, and while I’m excited for Mertesacker to begin his Arsenal career, any lengthy absence for Vermaelen could create some anxiety-inducing scenarios. Let’s just say it brings Squillaci back into the first team picture and leave it at that.

If you asked me which two players we could least afford to lose this season, Jack and Vermaelen would be the first on my list. Perhaps they will both be back sooner than expected, but if they are not, then it’s very worrying. It also completely changes my expectations for our season as a whole. With Jack and Vermaelen in the starting XI regularly, we have a chance to compete at the highest level. But without them, it’s hard to see the team being able to produce consistently excellent performances. They are the heart and soul of our midfield and our defense respectively.

Now for the part that really annoys me. I can just about accept that our injury situation is bad luck. I’m not a doctor or a club insider and I have no proof that there’s any negligence on Arsenal’s part that has contributed to our spate of longterm absences. But I find it very difficult to accept how the club talks about our injuries publicly. In a summer of terrible public relations for Arsenal, this is another classic example.

Last season we sat around listening while the manager told us Vermaelen would be out a few days. Then a few weeks. Then a few months. Then he was nearly back in January. And then the season was over. There’s no way the club was as clueless about his situation as they acted.

This time around, we’ve been told all kinds of conflicting stories about Jack. We’ve been given no clear indication of what’s wrong with Vermaelen either. As fans I think we’re have every right to expect an honest appraisal of our injury situation. But we rarely get that. Can anyone remember why Kieran Gibbs is out right now? Any idea how long he’ll be out? It’s all just a little disappointing but not entirely surprising.

I can understand why the club must operate in a somewhat clandestine manner in some cases. However, the way we’ve been left in the dark over transfers and injuries lately has crossed the line from nondisclosure to outright dishonesty. It’s always upsetting to learn that an important player is injured. It’s even more upsetting to learn that they’ll be out long-term. But in almost every situation, it’s usually better to under-promise and over-deliver. If you tell us a player will be out for 3 months and he’s back in 2, that’s easier to take than telling us he’ll be out a few days and losing him for a season.

How far we go this season might once again come down to our luck with injuries. Already we’re off to a bad start. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and one made all the more difficult to take when coupled with the frustratingly inaccurate information disseminated by the club. Here’s hoping they don’t have too many more injury updates to deliver in the coming months. Oh, and maybe we’ll see Diaby back soon. If I remember correctly, 10 weeks ago we were told he was going to be out about 10 weeks. Should we expect to see him playing for Arsenal any day now? I won’t hold my breath.

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Managing fan expectations

Maximum effort is the minimum I ask for.

(This post was written by The Squid Boy. Yankee Gunner returns tomorrow. I want to thank The Squid Boy for his help this weekend. Please follow him on Twitter @thesquidboylike.)

“If you eat caviar every day then it is difficult to return to sausages” – Arsene Wenger, November 1998

There was a moment during the recent Liverpool match at The Emirates that reminded me of the above quote. I can’t remember when it was, I can’t remember exactly what happened. All I can remember is that it was a rare positive piece of play that resulted in us winning a corner. Now the winning of a corner is always met with encouraging fan support. But this time it was different. I looked around me in the North Bank and saw raucous cheers and the pumping of fists; reactions almost akin to us scoring a goal. Had we Gooners finally accepted that sausages were the order of the day and maybe the season?

It has been a strange beginning to the campaign for the fans in the stands. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the performances on the pitch have been inversely correlated with the reaction of the faithful in the stadium, especially in domestic games.

For instance, our two worst performances – the aforementioned Liverpool game and the Mauling in Manchester – brought out some of the better qualities in our supporters. The former saw us get behind wantaway midfielder Samir Nasri while the latter ended in the away fans being given a refund on their ticket by the Club, such was the unwavering nature of their support despite enduring an 8-2 hammering.

And interestingly enough, it was our most battling performance at Newcastle that saw the now notorious “spend some f*cking money” chant rear its ugly head. I’ve mentioned before that I have no issue with the chant itself and it is fair to say those in charge needed a kick up the backside as they allowed the season to begin with the squad in a state of disarray. But I found the timing of the chant a bit off – when we’re in injury time and down to 10 men with our backs against the wall, the players need our support rather than barbs.

In the end we did indeed spend some money. This past week has season a flurry of seasoned pros arrive at the Club to lend experience and nous to young-ish squad.

But will that be enough to compete for first place, as we all dearly hope so?

The answer to that question lies less in introspection and more in looking at our rivals, most notably the two Manchester outfits. The Champions, United, built on their title-winning exploits by adding proven Premiership class and a sprinkling of young talent. And importantly, they did it early to allow the newbies to settle in. We know first-hand how strong they already look.

Then we have their noisy neighbours, City. The pretenders to throne if you will, who have spent an insane amount of money on legitimate world-class players…and Gael Clichy. They have no limits and when it comes to flashing the cash, for the world really is their oyster now they can offer the carrot that is Champions League football. They finally seem to have the perfect blend of silk and steel, as Spurs can attest to.

I am loathe to aim for anything less than top spot. Even in my personal life, when I sit an exam I aim for 100%. Not because it’s likely to occur but because when you shoot for the moon, even if you fall short you will still land in the stars. In a way this could be a description of Arsenal last season. For so long we were in a two-horse race for the title that when the collapse came, we still didn’t fall out of the Champions League places.

However, this season I feel a sense of realism may be more beneficial for us fans. Especially after the summer we’ve had and especially because what happens is largely out of our control now that the transfer window is shut. The truth is has moved from the negotiating table back on to the pitch.

Even when you remove the spending of our rivals from the equation, our own confidence has taken a battering in recent times. And that’s not just with regards to the summer where we lost our skipper and one of the best players in the league to a rival. Our form since that fateful February day at Wembley has been plain awful. And stretching back even further, we’ve fallen away during the title run-in for three out of the last four campaigns. It’s fair to say this accumulation of disappointments has taken its toll on the morale of the fanbase.

But I don’t think it’s just bad results that have got us down. They are part and parcel of football and, to an extent, forgivable. Instead there has been a nagging feeling that some of the players simply don’t care as much as the fans. I could reel off a list of games where it felt like they were trudging around half-heartedly, not fighting tooth-and-nail for the win and fatally presuming that talent alone would see us victorious. And that truly is unforgivable.

That sense of complacency *seems* to have gone. This new-look squad may lack in superstar names but is packed with hard workers. Maybe the Club finally recognises that hard work is equally as important as sheer talent. Those that have exited could well have lost faith in their team-mates or the manager, but those who remain are 100% committed to the cause. No more passengers, just players willing to fight for the cannon on their chest.

And this complacency may well have translated to a section of supporters. Ever since our last trophy, some have harboured a sense of entitlement with regards to silverware. While this has diminished with each passing trophyless year, the recent rise in ticket prices gives justification to the anger as to why the team’s level is not rising accordingly.

But just as the complacency in the team has hopefully gone, so may have the sense of entitlement among the fans. At least that’s what I felt that afternoon at The Emirates when Liverpool overcame us. Immediately after the final whistle blew there was a cacophony of boos. But what is less widely-reported is that MANY stayed behind afterwards to show our appreciation for the players’ effort that day as a chant of “We love you Arsenal” rang around the stadium from the circa 25,000 that remained.

So while the players should of course strive to be the best, maybe us fans would be better served in lowering our expectations such that any tangible success (i.e. trophies) is a bonus.

Before you accuse me of accepting “failure”, I’d like to point out that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive – just because I’d be content with third place and qualifying from our CL group and maybe one of the domestic cups doesn’t mean I don’t want us to win the Quadruple. I simply don’t anticipate it with the players at our disposal. Nor does it mean I have no belief in Arsene of the squad, for I think we have assembled a very good stable of players with more depth than last year, albeit a weaker first XI.

But for my own sanity and after assessing the bigger picture – our start to the season, the state of our squad compared to our rivals’ – I’m not going to vest too much stock in the players delivering minor miracles. I’m simply going to try and support them as best I can and have faith that they will put in maximum effort. And given the talent at our disposal, a healthy dose of hard work should see results come naturally.

Again referring back to that Liverpool game, I sense many are of the same opinion. Who knows, if we simply support the players’ efforts instead of burdening them with unrealistic expectations, maybe they can remove the shackles of fear that gripped them during the second-half of last season and achieve that minor miracle? Maybe the 12th man can help the whole exceed the sum of our parts?

Squid Boy – http://twitter.com/TheSquidBoyLike

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The Curious Case Of Theo Walcott

(Today’s fantastic blog was written by The Squid Boy. Follow him on Twitter at @thesquidboylike!)

I spent yesterday evening watching England beat Bulgaria away. Okay that’s a half-truth. I spent the evening watching Theo Walcott.

Ah yes, good old young Theo. I can’t remember a player who has split the fanbase so much with regards to his best position on the pitch. Wide midfielder? Winger? Striker? All of the above? It’s a very subjective answer and opinions are varied across the Goonerverse.

But in all honesty, only the opinion of two men count – Theo Walcott and Arsene Wenger.

Intriguingly enough, the Club list him as a “striker”. That is all fine and dandy when you consider how high up the pitch he plays. But if you look at Andrey Arshavin’s profile – a man who plays in the same position but on the opposite flank – he is listed as a midfielder. Hmmm. And I would wager a fair amount of money that Samir Nasri was also listed as a midfielder, despite spending the vast majority of last season on the wings.

The man naturally sees himself as a striker and always has done. Through his developmental years he accepted that he was being groomed for the centre-forward position. But as time progresses it’s understandable that he gets itchy feet for the role. With every finish that nestles in the bottom corner, his hunger grows. He wants to be in that position more often and do what comes most naturally to him. Forget blazing past hapless defenders with the ball at his feet or delivering inch-perfect crosses – Theo is a finisher.

Donning the famous no.14 on his back, comparisons to a certain Thierry Henry are inevitable. And I can see it to some extent – their pace (obviously) and style of finishing; the way they open their body to curl the ball around the keeper’s left hand. But Theo has nothing of Henry’s strength or, to put it bluntly, skill set. Indeed, I regard young master Walcott more akin to Michael Owen. Small, extremely nippy and with a nose for goal. Can you imagine Michael Owen playing as a winger? Nope, thought not.

Nary does an interview with him or an article about him go by without mention of the role he craves. All the moreso when the goals start to flow frequently, as they are doing now.

And it’s not just Theo or journalists or fans who are championing his cause. Even his international team-mates have jumped on the bandwagon. In the build-up to last night’s game, a story broke in that Express that Theo ran riot in a practice match, bagging a whopping four goals. The story further went on to claim that John Terry – who was on the receiving end of the four goals – actually asked Theo: “how are you not playing up-front for Arsenal?”

The reason is obvious – our formation. Make all the cases you want about Theo playing up top, but he simply can’t do the job that Robin van Persie does. The way we function, we need our frontman to hold the ball up and link play. So far I’ve seen little evidence of either in Theo’s artillery. People will then say that he could simply play on the shoulder, but given the way teams park the bus against us (especially at The Emirates), space in behind will be at a premium and the way he stretches the game for us is vital.

In addition, how often did Michael Owen play up-front on his own? Owen tended to function best when he had a Heskey alongside him, and it comes as little surprise that Andy Carroll was partnering Theo in the aforementioned training session. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating that we go out and buy a lumbering oaf to get the best out of Theo. Far from it. But I am stating my belief that Theo cannot play as the lone striker in our current system.

The 4-3-3 was very much set up with Cesc in mind. It unburdened our ex-captain of the defensive duties that come with being part of a two-man central midfield and allowed him to play a freer role further up the pitch. When Cesc departed I was sad but not fearful of the future, for I believe he had made us tactically inflexible simply because he was undroppable. In his absence, I felt we would be able to sometimes revert to 4-4-2. A tigerish midfield duo of Wilshere and Song flanked by any number of wide midfielders, with v.Persie playing in a second striker role behind a more direct forward. A candidate for this centre-forward role would have included Theo.

However pre-season set the stall out for this campaign, as not once did we adopt this tactic. This may be due to the fact that Cesc was still employed by the Club and Wenger harboured hopes that he’d stay, or that we were going to stick to our 4-3-3 guns irrespective of the Spaniard’s future.

And now with the signing of another Spaniard in Mikel Arteta, it seems that the en vogue formation of a double pivot backing up a more advanced creator shall prevail. So Theo’s coveted forward role looks highly unlikely this season.

Now here’s where I start to worry. Theo has always come across as sweet boy off the field and perhaps a little meek on it. At the very beginning of the season I saw a fired up Theo who was tired of being bullied by defenders. He gave as good as he got and argued back to referees. I even remember commenting on Twitter that I was loving this newfound feisty side to him. No more Mr Nice Guy.

But then after the Liverpool game, I wondered whether we were mistaking his feistiness with petulance. I cannot remember the incident, but there was a moment during the match where he came off looking like a spoilt brat. And I started to wonder – has his positional frustration started to manifest in his on-pitch behaviour. Is he getting annoyed that he constantly receives the ball tight to the touchline and can do little more than run up a blind alley?

Then came the argument with youngster Carl Jenkinson at Old Trafford in the lead up to Ashley Young’s first goal. Now I know Theo is no veteran and sometimes a telling off is required, but maybe he should have recognised his senior standing in the squad and not been so harsh on Jenkinson. Easy to say in hindsight, I know, but I can’t help feel that Jenkinson distracted mindset may have seen him lose track of his man…none other than the goalscorer, Ashley Young.

And this is all on the pitch, for I have yet to mention Theo’s new autobiography. Aside from the fact that releasing an autobiography at the tender age of 22 is rather preposterous, apparently some things he say in it come across as less than flattering – particularly towards a certain Mr Capello. Of course autobiographies should contain the whole truth and nothing but, but again you go back to the starting point – why release one when your career is still active at the risk of alienating people that are important to you? It comes off a bit Billy Big Boots, does it not? Allied with the on-pitch stuff I have mentioned above, it gives rise to the question: has Theo Walcott become a bit of a prima-donna? Worryingly, his current is due to run out in a few summers’ time…

Before you start accusing me of initiating a witch-hunt for Theo, I’d like to make it known that I like Theo. A lot. I bought his no.14 jersey from a season’s back and I have a signed no.32 shirt of his from when he first broke onto the scene. Like an excitable idiot I even purchased the no.23 England kit that he wore to the 2006 World Cup (or rather, that he didn’t wear). And I rate him highly too. I reckon he’s the best finisher at the Club.

My call is simply for Theo to channel his frustration in a more positive manner.

The signing of Arteta perpetuates the usage of a 4-3-3. But Theo should remember that his best form for the Club came in the middle of last season during the wonderful purple patch that shall forever be known as Theo Van Nasregas. (a single tear rolls down my cheek as I recall those halcyon days)

And he should also know that Theo Van Nasregas could well be replicated with Robin dropping deep and creating space centrally for Theo to run onto passes from Jack Wilshere and Arteta. Plus another string to the bow is the ability and tendency that Theo and Gervinho have to swap wings. This will often see Theo cutting in from the left side onto his favoured right-foot. All in all, the formation and players we have can see Theo flourish again this season. And to be fair to the boy, he has started pretty well.

So I ask Theo to stick to his guns this season. Accept that your time in the centre will be thoroughly limited, don’t let your frustration boil over, and make the most of the opportunities that come your way from the wider areas. Essentially, embrace the variety and fluidity of our front three and appreciate the creativity of our midfield. Get in front of goal as often as possible and be so clinical that Arsene can’t envisage not having you in that position at every given opportunity. If you want the formation tailored to you strengths in the future, show us why now.

Squid Boy – http://twitter.com/#!/TheSquidBoyLike

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The feel-good (feel-better?) factor restored

(this post was written by @thesquidboylike. He’s a fantastic follow on twitter and regular contributor to Arsenalvision.com!)

Before I begin, I must admit to feeling like Carlos Tevez when he was owned by two parties. Why, you ask? Because this post is appearing on both Arsenal Vision and Yankee Gunner’s blog.

I feel I must introduce myself to frequent readers of Yankee’s blog. Hi my name is Squid Boy and like the rest of you, I’m addicted to Arsenal. I blog semi-regular on Arsenal Vision, alongside the head honcho Mean Lean, the always humorous Wenger Boy, the realistic Iron Man, and the passionate Omomo. Head on over to http://www.arsenalvision.co.uk when you can, it’s good stuff.

I am temporarily filling in for Mr Yankee himself for a few days as he embarks on a secret scouting mission with Danny Karbassiyoon to unearth the next Freddy Adu. What? It was meant to remain a secret?! Oh.

So the first part of this three-part bonanza I’ll pick up where I left off from my last Arsenal Vision blog – on the verge of the deadline day rollercoaster.

As I sit down to type this, it is 11pm UK time on Thursday, exactly 24 hours after the transfer window slammed shut. I’m still feeling a bit groggy from it all. Like many of you I was sat in front of my computer screen all day, refreshing various news sites and my Twitter feed like a reprobate, with Sky Sports News playing in the background and my ears pricking up every time our name was mentioned. By the end of it all I became no more than your standard Neanderthal, my finger rhythmically hitting the F5 button and dribble running down my chin as we waited with bated breath for Arsenal.com to confirm the Mikel Arteta deal and release us from the pleasure and pain that was deadline day.

And then like manna from heaven, it arrived.

I remarked in my last blog that we were 2-0 down in the transfer market for the majority of the summer. Then came the signings of Park Chu Young, Andre Santos and Per Mertesacker; the equivalent of a consolation and an equaliser. All we needed was to secure the signature of a Cesc “replacement” on the final day to turn the result around. And although Arteta wasn’t quite the big name we had hoped for at the beginning of the day, he was certainly better than nothing. In time I believe he may even turn out to be the best solution. The Spaniard was up for grabs, and Arsene’s twenty-man transfer army charged through the minefield to get him (and the rather unfancied Yossi Benayoun). The final whistle blew and it ended 3-2 to The Arsenal…just. And after a day of high drama too.

D-Day began with none of the excitement of the previous day where we virtually sealed deals for Santos and Mertesacker completely out of the blue. In terms of paperwork etc, I’m sure the Club wanted to get these rubber-stamped before the search for a midfielder or two began in earnest. And so Santos and Mertesacker were announced at 3pm and 4pm respectively, leaving a good seven hours for us to sweat on the final piece of the puzzle.

Having been linked with all and sundry from the French league, these names seemed to dissipate and it came down to two players closer to home – Messrs Benayoun and Arteta. Benayoun’s name had been bandied around the previous evening but it sounded very much a last resort, with a plethora of sexy young things such as Yann M’Vila, Marvin Martin, Eden Hazard and Mario Goetze ahead of him in the pecking order.

And then Arteta appeared on our radar, with reports first stating that we had an offer rejected for him by the notoriously difficult to deal with Everton, and later that we hadn’t matched his wage demands. Either way, it seemed to be a question of money as it tends to be with Arsenal.

Now in the past I have defended our prudence, but with many millions burning a hole in our pocket, I was flummoxed as to why we wouldn’t get the deal done. There are times when you haggle to drive down the price as much as possible, and there are times when you bite the bullet and say: “you know what, we’ve had a shocking summer in the midfield department, it might be time to fork out the extra few million to give ourselves the best hope of success instead of risking our fortunes on a callow youth”. This scenario definitely called for the latter. Why could we not just defer the extra 20k per week that was on the table for Samir Nasri to Arteta?

Then Benayoun’s name re-surfaced as a very viable option, and the edge of the cliff awaited virtually the entire Goonerverse. In isolation, Benayoun is a decent player who had a good spell at Liverpool and was unlucky that injury reduced his playing time for Chelsea. We owe him one too, for helping us qualify for the Champions League way back in 2006 as he scored the winner against a decidedly brown-shorted Spurs outfit. But having sold two of our most creative players and seeing only Benayoun come in would have been galling to say the least. If there were two words I could use to describe the reaction to Benayoun possibly being our only midfield recruit on D-Day, they would be “meh” and “underwhelmed”.

But alas, the Arteta deal still had life in it as the player seemingly had second thoughts and REDUCED his wage demands in an effort to join us and play Champions League football. That sentence alone crystallises the massive important of beating Udinese last week. David Moyes has a habit of driving a hard bargain when selling players (see Joleon Lescott), but this time there was no need to bump up our offer to the player’s supposed £15 million valuation. Everton accepted they could not fulfil Arteta’s Champions League needs, accepted our £10 million gambit and the path was clear to agree personal terms with time ticking away.

Just before the 11pm deadline, Benayoun was announced. Never had the reaction to a signing of one player depended so much on the potential signing of another. Thankfully for Yossi, Arteta’s arrival was confirmed just after the 11pm deadline. So instead of Benayoun being welcomed with sympathetic applause and a shrug of the shoulders, he is now greeted with happiness in the knowledge that he is a very good supplement to the man who emerged as our main target. And had we missed out on said main target following the summer we’ve had to endure, then I honestly feared for the sanity of many fans and the atmosphere at the Emirates for the Swansea game in just over a week.

So this is where we stand after two whirlwind days. Mertesacker to ensure Squillaci never dons the red’n’white again and to allow Djourou to recover his confidence. A positive. Santos to make sure that we don’t have to field a right-footed left-back in the, sadly, inevitable event of a Gibbs injury. A positive. Arteta to bring swashbuckling Spanish good looks and domestic experience to our midfield which means that Ramsey doesn’t need to play every game. A positive. Benayoun to offer versatility and creativity across central and wide midfield positions. A positive. And Park to fill in across the frontline a la the outgoing Nicklas Bendtner. A positive. And that’s forgetting the earlier signings of Gervinho, Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. All positives in their own way.

We know it was a bad summer for the Club in the transfer market. In hindsight we know that we should have either sold Cesc and Nasri earlier or at least had their replacements firmly lined up. However, our precarious standing in the Champions League probably dictated that this wasn’t wholly possible, both fiscally and in terms of attracting players.

But I’m tired of looking back and wringing my hands over what happened in the summer. We have all done just that for the past month or so.

Instead I’d like to applaud Arsene and the Board/transfer army for somewhat salvaging our summer.

Firstly Arsene for disbanding the myth that he is stubborn to the point where he would only put faith in ‘his’ youngsters. People – mostly the media – see this as failure, that Project Youth has finally been acknowledged as a pipe dream and that Arsene’s ideals are shot to pieces. I disagree vehemently, for Arsene’s greatest achievement would be to adjust accordingly to the situation and rescue us from the horrible start to the season we’ve had domestically. And in bagging five massively experienced players over the last few days, he has given himself the very best chance.

And also the much maligned Board and transfer army, led by Ivan Gazidis and Richard Law. Gazidis came to us with all the attributes required for a CEO except the experience in dealing with transfers that his predecessor David Dein was so expert at. That is a role that Law has now been entrusted with. Whether or not our perceived inability to seal certain deals is due to Gazidis’ or Law’s relative incompetence compared to Dein, we probably won’t know. But you certainly can’t fault their efforts and results as the window drew to a close. Arsene identified his targets, and these guys went out and secured them. In turn, we have made the very best of what could otherwise have been an apocalyptic summer.

So take a bow, Arsene et al. You have restored the feel-good factor around the Club. The fans finally believe again – even those who had dwindling faith must applaud our actions of the past few days.

The most accurate barometer of the feel-good factor? The fact that we simply can’t wait for the next game.

Squid Boy – http://twitter.com/#!/TheSquidBoyLike

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Summer Transfers: Did We Do Enough?

Incoming players wait patiently to be registered by Arsenal on Wednesday

Well that was exciting.

“How was your transfer deadline day Arsene?”

“Oh, the usual. Woke up, signed five players, went to sleep. Nothing special.”

The problem with evaluating Arsenal’s summer transfer business is that the process is inevitably clouded by ancillary issues. It’s easy to get sidetracked discussing when the moves were made, debating how much money was available or rehashing old sagas over key players. There’s also the tendency to try and appraise the club’s dealings from a business perspective. But I’d prefer to leave that for the excellent Swiss Ramble. Instead, I want to analyze this crazy transfer window based entirely on one factor; how it impacts Arsenal on the pitch.

When the dust settled at 11pm British Summer Time, Wednesday evening, Arsenal had signed so many players that I couldn’t fit all of their names in a single tweet. Some of the players we signed have gone out on loan or aren’t ready for the first team. But there’s no question that Gervinho, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park, Santos, Mertesacker, Benayoun and Arteta will all play some role for the first team this season, along with Ryo whose work permit was approved this summer. What remains now is to examine whether those players make us a stronger side than we were last season. So let’s give it a try!

Overview

Last season I couldn’t help but feel that our team lacked experience and leadership. No matter how good Cesc was, he was still a young player. With Thomas Vermaelen out the entire season there was little leadership on the pitch. Young players were learning from other young players and there was no one to lend that little calming or motivational influence when it was needed most. We saw evidence of that at Newcastle, in the Carling Cup final, and in our demoralizing late draw with Liverpool to name a few select matches.

In the matter of just a few days, that deficiency has been decisively addressed. Ryo, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jenkinson will be great players for Arsenal. But they’re not going to teach themselves the intangibles of professional football. And it’s ridiculous to expect youngsters like Ramsey, Wilshere, Gibbs or Theo to teach them either. Now they won’t have to.

By adding Park, Santos, Mertesacker, Benayoun and Arteta, we’ve brought Premier League and international experience into the squad. They are 26, 28, 27 (in Spetember), 31, and 29 respectively. Whether you think they’re the finest players around or not, they are seasoned professionals who know the little tricks of the game and understand the commitment required over a long season. They know how to get the calls from a referee or how to react when an opposing player is trying to wind them up. That kind of guile and savoir faire will be a hugely welcome addition to our squad. And it will benefit the younger players immediately.

Attack

Players out: Nasri, Bendtner (loan), Sunu

Players in: Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo (work permit), Park, Benayoun (loan)

I consider Gervinho a direct replacement for Samir Nasri. He may not be as refined as Nasri right this moment, but he has more pace, a better dribble, and could hardly be worse than what we got from the frenchman during the last half of last season. I have no doubts that he will be a big player for us based on what I’ve seen. As far as I’m concerned, we are no weaker at that position than last season. But Gervinho adds something that Nasri didn’t provide; cover at center-forward. I genuinely believe the Ivorian can play through the middle and will do so at times this season.

Unfortunately, Arshavin and Chamakh have taken major steps backwards. The Russian seems to be suffering from a dip in form and motivation while the Moroccan seems bereft of any footballing ability at the moment. Neither qualifies as first choice, but we’ve already seen that you need quality beyond your first XI to stay competitive in the Premier League. And attacking depth became an even bigger concern when when we sent Nik Bendtner to Sunderland on Wednesday on a season-long loan. I’m thrilled that we loaned him rather than selling him because I remain convinced he has star quality, but his absence this season left a gaping hole at center-forward.

That’s why Park’s signing is potentially so important. If he can give us quality behind Van Persie, and occasionally play on the wing, then we are much stronger. Park is probably not a starter, but he is captain of Korea, was the leading scorer for Monaco and adds depth to our attacking trident.

That also means that we can ease Ryo and Oxlade-Chamberlain into the mix, unlike what the latter had to contend with on Sunday. Both young players give us potentially explosive attacking options on the wing, but we shouldn’t expect consistency from them at this stage in their respective careers. Park’s addition should help prevent Arsene from relying on them too often in pressure situations.

Park’s arrival probably signals Wenger’s tacit acknowledgment that Chamakh’s performance at Arsenal isn’t good enough. Perhaps Marouane will rediscover the form he brought with him last summer, but he simply can’t be anywhere near the first team at the moment. Moreover, even if Chamakh was firing on all cylinders, he’s going to be at the African Cup of Nations throughout January. Park’s signing gives us another option at center-forward during that time, along with the aforementioned Gervinho and possibly Theo Walcott.

The reason I listed Yossi Benayoun as an addition to the attack rather than the midfield is because I wouldn’t be surprised to see him used primarily as a winger for us. He can score the occasional goal, has the ability to get past a defender and won’t struggle to play the final ball like Theo often does. Benayoun has also demonstrated a good work rate throughout his career. With Gervinho unavailable for Swansea in 10 days time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Yossi line up on the left side of our attack in favor of Arshavin who was desperately poor on Sunday. He can be a very useful utility player for us throughout the season, moving between midfield and attack.

I see Benayoun as another utility player. He is essentially as an upgrade from Tomas Rosicky. Last season, and so far this term, we used Rosicky when we had players missing up front or in midfield. He delivered a good half of football in Udine but has been a liability otherwise. Benayoun can do the same things Rosicky has been doing for us, only more effectively and consistently. That extra option also has a ripple effect throughout the squad. Now, when Theo or Gervinho are out, the choice isn’t between Arshavin or Rosicky. When Ramsey or Arteta are missing, Benayoun gives the manager another choice there as well. Again, that also means that Ryo and Oxlade-Chamberlain can be used as a luxury, not a necessity.

Overall I think our attack is stronger than it was last season. We brought in a direct replacement for the big name we lost. We added depth across the front three. And we acquired two massive talents for the future who should make the occasional appearance this season. Once again we will depend heavily on Van Persie’s contribution, but I think we are better positioned to cope without him if necessary.

Midfield

Players out: Cesc *cries*, Denilson (loan), Lansbury (loan)

Players in: Arteta

This is the area of the pitch that became the main concern over the last few weeks. In order to have any chance of evaluating our situation in midfield, you have to accept one thing first. There is no player on the planet like Cesc Fabregas. We were never going to replace him. As we’ve already seen in his brief Barcelona career, he’s good enough to instantly improve even the best team in the world. We lost the world’s best midfielder. He’s a once-in-a-generation type of player and it’s pointless to even consider replacing him with equal quality.

Once you accept that reality, it’s much easier to take stock of our midfield. Loaning Denilson could be a case of addition by subtraction. I’d rather have no one on the pitch than watch him play little 3 yard lateral passes and fail to run back on defense for 90 minutes. Emmanuel Frimpong has already shown he has all the traits to be the perfect backup to Alex Song, and eventually succeed him. So that has made the need for a defensive midfielder somewhat less pressing. Let’s not forget that Diaby will be back in the team eventually. Or at least that’s the idea.

What we really needed this summer was a creative influence in the middle of the park. Again, you can’t think of it as a cesc replacement because that wasn’t possible. The question is whether we could bring someone in who could create scoring chances and finish a few himself. With Song protecting the back four and Jack covering the entire pitch, we needed a support-striker or “trequartista.” Mikel Arteta fits that description. Not only does he provide slick passing and an eye for the occasional goal, but he’s one of the finest free-kick takers in the Premier League. (Sorry Robin, you’re off free-kick duty). Hopefully he will also deliver the corner kicks, freeing up Van Persie to attack them.

It’s hard to know just how good Arteta can be. He was played as more of a holding midfielder before he arrived at Everton. Once David Moyes moved him further up the pitch he thrived. During the 2006-07 season he was rated as the third most productive midfielder in the Premier League behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and…you guessed it…Cesc Fabregas. But unlike Ronaldo and Cesc, Arteta played for an Everton club with significantly less attacking talent in front of him. Now he’ll be playing through-balls for two of the faster players in England and linking up with one of the best passing center-forwards in the game. We have bought ourselves a very talented and experienced player in Mikel Arteta and there’s no reason to think he won’t thrive in our passing game.

For those who can’t control their longing for Cesc, we now have a new Spaniard in our midfield who also idolizes Pep Guardiola and has Barcelona in his DNA. If you squint, perhaps you’ll barely notice the difference. We can only hope that’s the case!

I could discuss Yossi Benayoun’s impact on our midfield at this point but I’ve already addressed his role. My guess is that we’ll see him more as a winger than a midfielder. Wenger will want to give Aaron Ramsey plenty of opportunities this season and with Arteta’s arrival he is no longer a first choice selection for Arsenal (at least once Jack is fit). I can’t see Benayoun being played in favor of Ramsey, although I wouldn’t rule it out. Therefore, the best thing I can say about Benayoun’s contribution in midfield is that he adds depth to an area of the pitch where we’ve already seen players like Coquelin and Lansbury forced into action because of our paucity of options.

My verdict is that we’re probable weaker in midfield. I arrive at that conclusion through a very simple formulation. Lose Cesc, you’re weaker. Period. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t be very good in the middle of the park. And it’s easy to see how Arteta’s signing was the difference between a pretty mediocre deadline day and a spectacular one.

I actually think that Arteta could be a better signing than M’Villa, Hazard or Martin. The former is not a creative midfielder and the latter two could still be classified as untested. Arteta already understands the physical demands of the Premier League, he’s experienced, and his hunger for Champions League football could see him raise his game to a new level. Let’s face it, Everton have had little to compete for over the past few seasons. Hopefully the challenges facing Arteta at Arsenal will bring out the best in him.

If Jack Wilshere gets back on the pitch soon, and shows improvement from last season, then we have reason to be optimistic. Emmanuel Frimpong has already shown that we may actually have another excellent holding midfielder at the club besides Alex Song. And with Mikel Arteta’s arrival, Aaron Ramsey goes from being a questionable starter to an impact substitute. That takes the weight of impossible expectations off the Welshman and gives him the freedom to continue his development at a normal pace. By the end of the season, maybe he’ll even make the starting role his again.

So while losing Cesc probably means that the midfield is weaker, it doesn’t mean that it’s a weakness overall. Depending on Jack’s fitness, the emergence of Frimpong, and the integration of Arteta, we have a chance to be as good or better. At the very least, we now have some much needed depth in the middle of the park.

Defense

Players out: Gael Clichy, Armonde Traore (hooray), Eboue *single tear*

Players in: Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Santos

After last season, it was clear that Arsene Wenger had to address the defense. His response was to sell our most experienced defender and bring in a teenager who was playing non-league football this time last year. Hardly the improvement we were expecting. But in the long run, it all worked out for the best.

I’m of the opinion that Gael Clichy had to go. He was a good servant for Arsenal but he just cost us too many points over the years. Ever since that awful day at St. Andrews when Eduardo’s Arsenal career was destroyed and our title bid began to unravel, Clichy was never the same for us. He showed an unparalleled ability to make crucial mistakes at critical moments. Despite possessing all the attributes of a world-class left back, he rarely contributed anything to our attack and he frequently suffered lapses in concentration or composure that resulted in opposition scoring chances.

The problem with Clichy’s departure is that it left us with two left-backs at the club. Kieran Gibbs could be superior to Clichy when given the chance, but his injury record has prevented him from finishing a match, let alone a season. That means that Armond Traore was always going to play an important role in the side. And that spells trouble because Armonde Traore is an absolute train-wreck waiting to happen.

It’s not that Traore can’t defend, it’s that he doesn’t seem to know enough about defending to even try. Selling him might be the best example of addition through subtraction in the history of football. Andrey Arshavin might be the only player in our entire squad who would be worse than Traore at left-back. Somehow I feel like I’m not making myself clear. Traore is terrible. There. Clear enough?

Jenkinson is a hard worker, a gooner, and obviously a kid with tremendous talent. He gives us a better option than the lovable buffoon, Emmanuel Eboue, but he’s not quite ready for the deep end. He held his own against Udinese and even Liverpool to some extent, but Manchester United at Old Trafford was a bridge too far.

Unfortunately, once Gibbs suffered his inevitable injury, Wenger found himself forced to use Sagna out of position with Jenkinson at right back, rather than play Traore. And when Sagna wasn’t available on Sunday…well…we all know what happened at Old Trafford. For me, that calamity was mostly down to our situation at full-back.

That made Andre Santos’ signing one of the most important of the entire summer. He’s an experienced Brazilian international and he can even score goals. Some might consider him “Dani Alves light.” Since I hate Dani Alves, I’ll prefer not to disparage our new signing that way.

Regardless of what you think of Santos, he’s going to be our starting left-back for most of this season. He will probably move ahead of Gibbs in the pecking order, but even if he didn’t, we know that Gibbs will play only a handful of games because of his injury history. What Santos gives us is peace of mind. Sagna doesn’t have to move from right back to left back. Vermaelen, who has demonstrated his importance to the center of our defense, doesn’t have to move either. And Jenkinson can return to his intended role as Sagna’s backup and eventual successor.

In the center of defense, we are now miles better than we were. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited that we didn’t sign someone as I was when we didn’t sign Gary Cahill. It’s not that Cahill isn’t a good player, it’s just that I think Per Mertesacker is a much much better one. I realize he’s not English, but let’s try not to hold that against him. (And I love the idea that Phil Gartside’s sophomoric behavior cost his club 12 million pounds. Enjoy watching Cahill leave for free next summer you idiot.)

Mertesacker is a towering, surprisingly quick, German international. At 26, he already has over 70 caps for his country. Maybe more importantly, he gives us exactly what we’ve been missing at center-back. He’s the perfect alternative to Vermaelen. The two will make a fearsome combination, and immediately eliminate any concern about our weakness on set-pieces. But I’m more interested in what Mertesacker gives us when the Belgian is out of the lineup.

Let’s face it, Vermaelen makes any defender standing next to him look better. Djourou looked relatively solid against Udinese, but when he was paired with Koscielny on Sunday, it was a disaster. Koscielny looks like a world-beater when paired with Vermaelen, but unsure of himself when he plays with Djourou. And none of our defenders can make Squillaci look like anything but a sack of crap with two arms and two legs.

Mertesacker should be the perfect cure for what ails us when Vermaelen is out. He will be a great partner for Koscielny who’s tackling is as good as it gets, but lacks real aerial presence. And his commanding, energetic style should help the more meek Djourou when those two play together. It also means we’re less likely to see the Djourou-Koscielny partnership that has been our most disappointing. And now that we have four other choices at center-back, Squillaci’s days of playing for Arsenal should be essentially finished.

There’s simply no denying that we are vastly better defensively now than we were last season. Clichy’s mistake-ridden performances are gone. Traore’s ineptitude is gone. They’re replaced by the experienced Santos and hugely talented although injury-plagued Gibbs.

Eboue and his side-show antics have been replaced by a young Arsenal fan filled with grit and determination.

Vermaelen is back from injury (mostly) and playing like one of the world’s best center-backs. Now with the arrival of our German giant, we have a central defensive pairing that should rank as one of the best in the Premier League. Koscielny will push for a starting spot and Djourou will have the chance to rediscover his confidence and form far from the white-hot spotlight. It’s a fantastic summer of business at the back and we should be giving Arsene Wenger huge praise for the way he addressed that area of the pitch.

Goal-keeper

Players out: Almunia (Last seen wandering the streets of london with a tiny dog)

Players in: None

We don’t need a goal-keeper. When was the last time you can remember being able to say that with such confidence as an Arsenal fan? Not for a long time. But it’s true. Szczesny is one of the best young ‘keepers around and he’s all ours. Hopefully watching 8 goals fly past him on Sunday didn’t dent his confidence.

The only problem with our summer business at this position is that Almunia is still at Arsenal. It’s no surprise that we can’t find anyone to buy him, but what does it say about our goal-keeping situation over the past few years that not a single club wants our former first choice ‘keeper? Remarkable.

Anyway, there’s no reason to let a lingering Spaniard bring us down. Goal-keeper is no longer a problem at Arsenal. Szczesny should only continue to improve and that will make our defense look even better. The best bit of business Wenger did at this position was giving the gloves to Szczesny last season and ensuring that he would stay at Arsenal for years to come.

Summary

We look a totally different side today than we did yesterday. We are loaded with experience now. We have depth all over the pitch and while it’s debatable whether we added “super quality,” every one of our signings is a clear upgrade from the alternative. In that respect, we are much stronger than we were. Look at it this way; of the five players we signed in the last 48 hours, all five probably would’ve started on Sunday.

It’s easy to complain that we should’ve done these deals sooner. Some might try to argue that point but I won’t. I still think the summer was somewhat mismanaged and that these players could’ve been acquired sooner. But it’s time to lay that argument to rest. The window is closed and the football season is now properly underway. They say you don’t want to see how sausage is made. Well maybe we should take the same approach with this transfer window. It wasn’t pretty getting to this point, but the important thing is that we got here. And it’s certainly not too late for our season to take flight.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t care about the business side of things. The fact that we actually made money in this transfer window doesn’t matter to me. We needed certainly areas of the pitch addressed and they were addressed properly. That’s what matters. Whether Wenger did that with 100 million pounds or 10 pounds is irrelevant to me. He did it, and he deserves credit for it.

Some people have suggested that this late buying frenzy was instigated by our loss on Sunday. But if you look at the facts, that doesn’t really add up. Traore was rumored to be heading for QPR before the United match. That means we must have had Santos already lined up. Park was rumored to be signed on Saturday after fleeing his Lille medical. Mertesacker was linked to Arsenal for most of the summer. As far as Benayoun and Arteta are concerned, Wenger had readily acknowledged our need for midfielders long before Sunday’s rout.

So while it’s a nice idea that Arsene and the board were shocked into action by the manner of our defeat on Sunday, the facts simply don’t support that conclusion. Honestly, that makes me happier. I’d prefer to think that the manager was aware of the weaknesses in the side before that loss, rather than thinking he had no idea we needed the players.

It’s been a long, arduous, dramatic, emotional, stressful, disappointing, and ultimately satisfying summer at Arsenal. It took until the last few minutes of the window for the club to get the last of the players it needed, but in the end, the business got done, just as Gazidis and Wenger promised. I’m not trying to suggest there’s no reason for frustration over the summer we had and I’m not saying that everything is perfect, but we look a very good side today.

As far as I’m concerned, when the pressure was on, Wenger proved once again that he knows what’s best for Arsenal. He put together a very strong team that should make us all proud. After what happened on Sunday, many gooners needed to see some evidence that the great man hadn’t let the game pass him by. Over the past few days, I think he’s shown yet again, there’s not a more shrewd operator in the transfer market than Arsene Wenger.

Thank goodness this summer is over. As exhilarating as deadline day was, I’m glad that it has come and gone. The time for looking behind us has passed. To quote the motto on the new crest: Forward.

Up the Arsenal!

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Last Minute Push To Get Deeper

Not "super quality." Just superior quality.

Early this summer, Arsene Wenger claimed that we would only add players of a certain caliber to the team. He said, “we want to add not quality, but super quality.” That was a nice idea at the time, but it seems the time has finally come to disregard the notion that only “super quality” would improve the squad. Now it’s all about adding depth.

Arsenal have added three players to the side in a span of less than two days. All of the players are experienced, quality footballers who add important attributes to the side. But perhaps the most important quality they bring is competence. They may not be “super quality,” but they are vastly superior quality to the alternatives we’ve seen. Santos and Mertesacker could both be starters for Arsenal, while Park Chu-Young likely will not. It is also possible that all three will find themselves on the bench most days. Regardless, they add the kind of experienced depth that a top club needs.

Even if none of those players were considered first choice starters, all three might have played on Sunday. At the very least, Santos would’ve replaced the diabolical Traore, and Mertesacker could’ve played with Koscielny which might have allowed Djourou to play as our holding midfielder rather than Coquelin. It’s a perfect example of how you can dramatically strengthen a squad without signing a single player who qualifies as a star or “super quality.”

Without over-emphasizing United’s transfer business, or even Liverpool’s, you can see how they improved their squads in similar fashion. Players like Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Phil Jones were good additions to those teams. No one will confuse them with Cesc Fabregas or Wesley Sneijder or David Luiz, but each of them has already made important contributions to their respective clubs. Sometimes a star signing is required for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the squad just needs extra quality along the fringes of the first team.

While Mertesacker will likely be a first choice starter, it really doesn’t matter who starts. What’s important is that players like Miquel and Squillaci are now likely out of the picture for the immediate future. That gives the former time to learn the game, and the latter time to do whatever it is that he does. It also means that a player like Djourou, who seems shorn of his confidence, won’t be our only option should we suffer an injury in the center of defense. Djourou looks competent when paired with the excellent Vermaelen, but lost when paired with Koscielny. Perhaps Mertesacker will prove a better partner for him should those two be needed together.

Andre Santos is a Brazilian international left-back who can score goals. Whether he will replace Kieran Gibbs in the pecking order remains to be seen. But he’s a 28 year old veteran. He doesn’t need time to learn the game. With Gibbs’ injury history we need at least two players for that position and whether you deem Santos a starter or a back-up, the fact remains that he’s a good solution to a major problem. It’s an example of a prudent, if not spectacular signing, providing stability to the team. Sagna can stay at right-back. Jenkinson won’t be thrown to the wolves quite so often. And we won’t have to stomach performances like the one we saw from the aforementioned Traore on Sunday.

Wenger has shown more of an understanding of his team in the last 48 hours than he did all summer. He has seemingly accepted that there are holes in the side that can’t be patched with inexperienced reserves and he’s filled those holes with players who should be able to hit the ground running.

Chu-Young is an international captain. Is he spectacular? Maybe not. But he’s ready to help Arsenal today. Benik Afobe might be spectacular. But he’s not ready to help Arsenal today. Neither is Joel Campbell for a variety of reasons. Chu-Young isn’t being asked to take on responsibilities he’s not ready for. At the same time, the progress of players like Afobe and Campbell isn’t being stunted by burdening them with unreasonable expectations. Can you imagine how Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must have felt making his Arsenal debut under such despairing circumstances? That’s something Wenger would obviously want to avoid.

I can understand if Wenger struggled to find the star quality he wanted all summer long. Those kind of signings can be tricky. But I reject the idea that he couldn’t find players of the caliber we just bought. I think he had to be disabused of the notion that he could use  his young players to fill the holes in the squad. If Sunday did that, then so be it. But for those who want to endlessly criticize the manager, this should serve as a reminder that he’s not blind or fatally stubborn. It may be late in the game, but he’s made the moves that needed to be made. We are a much stronger team today than we were yesterday with the addition of three steady, if unspectacular players.

It’s possible that we still need a striker. Rumors at this moment still have Bendtner leaving the club and Chamakh possibly being loaned out. Even with the arrival of Chu-Young that seems to put us right back in a desperate situation at striker and undermines Wenger’s efforts to add depth. Depending on the veracity of these rumors, another striker might well be arriving shortly.

Wenger already added “super quality” early in the summer. In my opinion, Gervinho represents the perfect replacement for Samir Nasri and has all the makings of a classic Wenger gem. Now the question is whether he can repeat the feat before the window closes. In my opinion, the team needs one more player of that class. If Gervinho is the replacement for Nasri, then who replaces Cesc? That’s the question that will have huge ramifications for our season.

Obviously there may not be a player like Cesc or of Cesc’s quality available anywhere in the world. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try to find someone to fill the void. We need a dynamic midfielder. We need someone to create the goal-scoring chances. Wenger shouldn’t leave that role to Jack Wilshere. He’s too valuable as a box-to-box player to just push him forward behind the strikers. Cesc’s role has to be given to someone else. Perhaps in time those duties will fall to Aaron Ramsey, but it still seems a step to far for him at this stage in his development. I think this is the one place in the squad where a really big signing of “super-quality” is still desperately needed.

If Wenger can bring in a marquee midfielder between now and the close of the window, then there would be every reason to say we had a successful summer. There’s still plenty of debate as to why we left it so late, but the fact remains that we would enter September with a much stronger team than began the season. That’s what matters most. As I’ve said numerous times, we have a solid first choice XI that’s a least capable of being one of the top four teams in the England. With the addition of a star midfielder, perhaps we could dare to dream a little higher.

Unfortunately the close of the transfer window is just hours away now. It’s unclear whether that star player is coming. I’m sure the team is working on it, but this is the stage where any snag will prevent a deal from getting done in time. Unless our negotiations go perfectly, we won’t get the players we want. I’m thrilled that we might see a star quality midfielder arrive in the next few hours, but I’m equally annoyed at the possibility that we might not see that player arrive merely because we got too late a start on trying to acquire him. I suppose we’ll be able to discuss that further very soon.

It should be a very exciting and maddening day for Arsenal supporters and possibly Arsenal employees. This summer has seen want-away stars leave the club, youngsters get promoted, new faces arrive and plenty of frustration along the way. But when the dust settles tomorrow, at least we’ll know who will be playing for Arsenal Football Club this season. Then we can all get back to doing what we do best, supporting the team we have.

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The Best Thing That Ever Happened

On monday there were a lot of attempts to spin the 8-2 drubbing we took at Old Trafford in a positive light. I understand the effort. It’s easier to accept that we were beaten so comprehensively if there’s either an excuse, or a benefit that arises from it.

The excuse is obvious. We were missing players. Lots of them. But I think the excuse of missing players has become so overused at Arsenal that most supporters derive little solace from it. So that has created the need to justify Sunday’s embarrassment in another manner.

Apparently the historic defeat was the best thing that ever happened to us. That’s become the new conclusion. This line of reasoning suggests that Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board might not have realized how threadbare the squad had become. But thanks to Manchester United’s willingness to help our cause, they now know we need players and will start a late transfer-window buying frenzy that will ignite our season.

It’s a perfectly understandable mentality. It hurts watching your team capitulate badly at the ground of a hated rival. Explaining away that experience as the turning of the tide is a better way to process what happened. If that loss is the jump-start to transfer dealings that change our season dramatically, then we will look back on the defeat with cockeyed appreciation. In some ways, it makes sense.

In many ways it’s also totally insane. I find it impossible to believe that it took a lopsided loss for anyone to “finally realize” we lacked depth. Every Arsenal blogger on the interweb (and I understand there are about 60,000 of us) had written something about how thin the squad looked to start the season. And I’m 99% certain that Arsene Wenger understands football about 100 times better than all the Arsenal bloggers combined.

I don’t believe for one second that the loss made anyone realize anything. Rather, the loss made the people who run Arsenal panic. It’s one thing to lose a match. It’s another thing to be embarrassed. Especially at a time when fan sentiment is already teetering on mutinous. Sunday was a public relations nightmare and it required swift action. As a result, fans who attended the match at Old Trafford will be given a complementary ticket to a future match.

It’s a nice gesture to mollify the away fans whose support on Sunday was heroic. But the panic induced by Sunday’s result seems to have left the club no choice but to make a splash in the transfer market. I’m certain Arsene Wenger saw the holes in the squad before we were demolished. What I believe is that he wanted to prove he could replace all our lost quality and missing pieces with the existing players he has been developing and the youngsters he recently brought in. I’m not sure that the result on Sunday was a “wake-up call.” I think it basically left Wenger and the board no choice but to change tactics or risk too many unpalatable potential outcomes.

On the bright side, the panic reaction did not impact Arsene’s continued management at Arsenal. The club were sensible enough to express their commitment to the manager. There are some people who believe his time has come and gone. I’m not among them. Perhaps there is more sympathy for that sentiment at this point, but I still don’t think we have reached a point where Wenger can no longer lead the team forward. However, I do believe it’s possible that this season could be dispositive. A title wouldn’t be required for Arsene to keep his job, but I certainly think more humiliating losses and a fall from the Champions League places could make his position untenable. Particularly if we don’t improve the squad adequately in the next 48 hours.

The rationale and timing may be questionable, but it does seem like our transfer business has now been kicked into high gear. Whether it’s too late to get the deals done remains to be seen. But I can’t help feeling like this has been almost hilariously mismanaged. Either we needed players or we didn’t. One result, four days before the transfer window shuts, shouldn’t be the basis for that decision. Had we beaten United on Sunday, would that mean that we didn’t need to sign anyone? Surely that can’t be the case either. Over 38 games the table doesn’t lie. Combine those 38 games with domestic cups and Champions League fixtures and you need a very deep squad to compete. One match doesn’t tell you anything. If it did, then we would’ve been Champions of Europe last season after defeating Barcelona at the Emirates. (Would’ve been nice though!)

No matter how hard I try to see the bright side of Sunday, logic prevents me. We weren’t good enough to win the title last year and barely held our top four membership. We lost key, experienced players at left-back, in midfield, and on the wing. We lost squad players in attack, midfield and defense. Yet we barely replaced the squad players we lost and did nothing to address the loss of our finest midfielder in years. The notion that we could possibly be better than last term, under those circumstances, especially when considering the business done by our rivals, is laughable. Almost as laughable as the idea that an 8-2 whipping was the only way to arrive at that conclusion.

One of the most dangerous oxymorons this time of year is the phrase “Sky Sports News understands.” Unfortunately, Arsenal fans are now going to be teased relentlessly by that phrase over the next few days. Apparently in addition to Park Chu-Young, we have also acquired Brazilian left-back Andre Santos From Fenerbahce. Not exactly names to strike fear in the hearts of our biggest rivals. But they are important additions to the squad in places where we needed depth. In a way, those signings are the biggest evidence of Arsene Wenger’s change in approach. No matter how good they might be, I don’t think they qualify as the “super quality” signings he claimed were the only ones he’d consider.

With Wenger having addressed depth at striker and left-back, what’s needed now is creativity and dynamism in midfield, and a strong center-back who can either partner Vermaelen, or provide some degree of competence when he’s unavailable. Gary Cahill seems to be the obvious choice to fill the latter requirement, but there’s a ton of uncertainty about candidates for the former position. We’ve heard names from the sublime to the ridiculous, with Goetze being the latest titillating player linked with a move to the Emirates.

Now we have two days to improve the team and two weeks to sit around and ruminate about our historic defeat. My hope is that the arrival of new signings will improve morale among players and supporters alike. And hopefully a fortnight spent with a bitter taste in their mouths will have our players properly motivated to destroy Swansea when the international break ends.

Jenkinson, Gervinho and Song miss one more match, but Frimpong returns after the break. We might also welcome back some of our wounded like Gibbs, Diaby, Vermaelen and hopefully Wilshere. When you add those players back into the mix we still look a formidable side and that’s worth remembering. While we clearly lack depth, we have a strong enough first XI to beat any opponent we face. The manner of our defeat on Sunday was humiliating, but it still only counted as one defeat. Our season has a chance to start anew in September. It’s still early and there’s still every chance that we’ll reflect on this period as an important step on our path to a successful season. But please, spare me the justification that Sunday’s loss was the best thing that ever happened to us. I think we’d all rather be sitting around discussing our 8-2 victory instead.

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