We are just over half way through the season, 20 games played, eighteen to go, so how are we doing?
Goalkeepers. Overall I think that Szczesny has played quite well and Mannone did okay when he came in as cover. Brian Clough once famously said that when you take over a new team, the first player that you buy is a great keeper and the second player you buy is a great keeper. We have strength in depth in some areas (midget midfielders in particular…), but not at ‘keeper. Mr Wenger has greater priorities in the market, but I would like to see Arsenal buy an established ‘keeper to challenge Szczesny and therefore provide better cover.
6.5 / 10.
Defence. This has been a problem area for ages, let’s face it. Players arrive at Arsenal as highly experienced defensive practitioners and seem to become disoriented amateurs. However, we started the season really well; three clean sheets, unheard of and it looked like Steve Bould’s influence had taken hold, but since then, we’ve slipped backwards, the two goals conceded in the league match at Reading were particularly galling, the game was won and the back four seemed to lose concentration completely.
We have conceded 22 goals on 20 games, that’s not bad and I quite like the look of Gibbs – Vermaelen – Matersacker – Sagna, but the back five needs more support. If you talk to supporters before and after matches, the one player that is mentioned as an absolute necessity to buy is a defensive midfield player. I completely agree and such an addition would tighten things at the back, but overall, 6 / 10.
A special mention to Carl Jenkinson, he did really well when he came in as cover to Sagna.
Midfield. This should always be a strength for Arsenal. We have had great quality in this area of the pitch since the mid 90’s and we still do, Cazorla is a fantastic signing, you have to watch him in the flesh to realise just how good he is. Wilshere has come back just as good as he was before he was injured and Arteta is class, sheer class, so why aren’t we dominating teams? I think the balance isn’t right. If we were to buy a genuine defensive holding player, to sit behind those three, we would be far more compact. We have to assume that Diaby will come back and then get injured again within a month, sad because at Anfield, Liverpool couldn’t live with him.
There have been a few games this season (in fact I can think of at least 5) where we have created virtually nothing. I happened to bump into Marouanne Fellaini before Christmas and praised him for his first half performance against us at Goodison and then asked him if he’d sign for Arsenal, he smiled, inclined his head and said “why not?” He was being polite but could you imagine him in a read and white shirt supporting, Mikel, Jack and Santi? Unlikely I know, but football’s about dreaming. Score 7 / 10, a work still very much in progress.
Forwards. There are talks this week between the club and Walcott’s advisers. It is important to do this deal for several reasons; the major one of course is tying a promising young player to a long contract. But failure to do so sends out some really poor signals, the manager is on (reputedly) £55,000 a week more than the highest paid player – that disparity speaks volumes about lack of investment at the top end of the player scale, and it would be yet another example of letting a top player slip away from the Arsenal, then there’s the real risk of Walcott leaving for nothing.
I was very positive about the signings of Podolski and Giroud and have been impressed by the Frenchman but I think we’re still waiting to see the best from the German; I’m not too sure why that’s the case. There’s the prevalent myth that players from the Bundesliga adapt quickest the premiership, 100+ caps for Germany etc…, but he’s yet to put in a convincing performance, although he did play well at Anfield. Giroud looks really game however, direct, strong, not afraid to shoot; I like him and think that if Walcott stays that’s a partnership waiting to be forged. Even if Theo does sign, I’m still heartened by the news that we have opened discussions with Atletico Madrid to sign Adrian Lopez. If this deal can be funded by selling Gervinho even better! We’ve scored 40 goals in 20 games, but we have to take into account that 23 of those were scored in four games. 6 / 10.
Manager and coaching staff. I still believe (just) that Mr Wenger is the right man for the role, but with a slightly different team and approach. The basis of the team seems to be in place and the man’s contribution to the club since 1996 is immense and the supporters need to remember that the next time they fancy marching against him. However, as he is such a master of spin and politics and has the board in his pocket, it’s almost impossible to form a single consistent opinion, he changes the goalposts superbly. His latest “big idea” to build a team around young British talent seems great, but I think that we all know that it should be interpreted as Arsenal continuing to avoid breaking their £15 million signing ceiling.
The memories of the home games against Schalke and Swansea are still too vivid to point to any real, consistent improvement and we were hugely flattered by the result at Old Trafford and as for being knocked out by Bradford… However, use the window to sign up Walcott, Lopez and a holding player and who knows? Actually, I think we do, we’re in a fight for fourth and at the moment, it looks more likely like it’s a fight we’ll lose. 5 / 10.
Sadly, I feel that the only way we can force our way back into contention for the real prizes is to agree a succession plan with the manager (that he has to fully sign up to) and to secure a new coach with a real track record, keen and able to change things. Guardiola is genuinely interested in working in London; we should be talking to his management team now. If this is a non-runner and it probably is, at least it would demonstrate that the club is serious about its future.
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