Since I last posted, The Arsenal have won one and lost one in the Premier League, each by 1-0 and lost a dead rubber away in Greece in a ultimately meaningless tie in the Champion’s League, they have also lost two more defenders to injury and probably the most talented local lad from the u18s. As I type our loan weakened reserves are getting a tonking from Chelsea’s reserves (and their £23m worth of reserve strikers!). On the plus side, it was the club’s 125th anniversary, with statues of Chapman (not Lee), Adams and Henry unveiled. It seems like a decent time to take stock…
Before the Man City game, Arsenal had the same number of points from games as this time last year, but were three places lower in the table, showing the improvement of the teams around us, but also belying our ‘CLUB IN CRISIS’ start. Certainly the additions of Arteta particularly ( he was outstanding again yesterday) and Mertesacker have been stabilising influences (as well as good players), and Van Persie’s captaincy seems to have galvanised the team in a way neither Cesc, Gallas or even Henry could. While the overall talent base has been depleted in the summer, the togetherness and determination of the team seems to have grown.
One real similarity with recent years is that the first 11 are pretty bloody good, and can give anyone a game, but their replacements are not as strong as those of our competitors, and the pruning that started over the summer needs to continue. The difficulty is that the new squad limits system necessitates selling to buy, which has an impact on the amount of bedding in time available for new signings.
Looking at departures, in addition to the loaned out Denilson and Bentner, I would be amazed if Chamakh, Arshavin, Rosicky, Squillachi, Almunia or Mannone are at the club beyond the summer, and some may depart in January. The former two have just stopped contributing for some time, through a combination of loss of confidence, lack of game time, and insufficiently combative characters. Some of their rivals for game time find ways to contribute even when equally of form, whereas for Arshavin, work-rate is never going to be a major strength. The russian’s demise is as sad as it is puzzling, and he is a shadow of the player he was on his arrival. Rosicky has still never fully recovered from his injury, and has trouble staying fit so his value to the squad is undermined, which is a shame as he is good pro, and I’m sure a positive influence. He may yet stick around due to his limited re-sale value and good team ethic, but you would suspect he would want to play more regularly before he retires. Squillachi must be looking at the exit door as 5th choice centre-half is not a great career move for someone who was playing at the world cup 18 months ago. He’s clearly not up to it from an Arsenal perspective, and our style play exposes his weaknesses. That said, there is every chance we may see him at right back or on the bench on Wednesday.
Another similarity with recent seasons is the injury bug. Not content with losing two regular internationals in midfield to the transfer market before the season started we also lost two more to injury (Wilshere and Diaby), meaning Ramsey has been needed in almost every game despite having only just come back from horrendous injury himself. On top of this the club now has 4 full-backs and a centre-back filling in all injured (mostly random freak injuries too), and the team is hanging in contention only via the fragile Van Persie fitness thread. This is another problem with the limited squad registration system, making it very difficult to bring in cover, even on short-term loan. Even with Man U and Everton having problems, Arsenal continue to top the injury charts despite rotation where possible and GPS systems. Unlike previous years, Wilshere’s injury is the only one with even a whiff of a cock-up associated with it, so its just old fashioned bad luck, particularly as Diaby is the only one of the walking wounded with an injury chequered past.
As has been stated by many fans online and on ‘The Tuesday Club’ podcast, this is the most likeable squad we’ve had in a while, and i think the fan’s response in recent weeks reflects that. Even the frustrating Russian and Chamakh have their qualities that make many want them to succeed despite recent ineptitude. I personally hope we see Lansbury back at the club after his loan spell, as I think he has something to offer as a squad player, and more home-grown squad members can only be a good thing. On the subject, the very promising Alban Bujaku has apparently left Arsenal due to a dispute regarding a lack of assurances concerning a professional contract and one of any number of potential issues being mooted on the net. Its a shame as he was often the standout for our u18s, and i like the idea of a mulsim Kosovan-Albanian from Romford playing for the club, but we shall see. Certainly unless they are miles ahead of their age group its very hard to project a 17 year old’s development.
Regarding the games themselves, Olympiakos were playing for their lives against a second string let down by bad goal-keeping and more anemic performances from those who will be most likely to leave. An excellent goal from Benayoun was the only bright spot. Everton at home was far more to do with the pre-match celebrations and statue unveiling (not great facial likenesses in all honesty!), and the football that followed was wasteful arsenal huffing and puffing against an entirely unambitious away side. It was fitting that the game was decided by a fantastic goal from the best player on either squad, although Arsenal really should have scored 4. The City of Manchester game last night was a complete contrast as the match was really all about Man City’s title credentials, and the quality of football was outstanding. City perhaps shaded it, but with Silva’s goal being almost identical in striker/defender relative position to the disallowed Van-Persie strike, and Richards getting away with a clear if accidental handball, it was a game Arsenal could take a lot from. With more friendly officiating (a.k.a not bloody Phil Dowd EVER), the North Londoners could have easily had a point or all three, which reflects well on the team. Remember in transfers in the last five years, Man City’s net spend is about £580m more than Arsenal’s in transfers alone, ignoring the fact that their wage bill is the largest in world football. What particularly impressed me was Arsenal’s reaction to going behind, where the both the aforementioned incidents happened, as well as forcing four or five saves from Joe Hart in the last half-hour. A couple of seasons ago the game would have finished 3-0 to Man City, but the current set up has character and pride, which the returns of Sagna and Wilshere can only add to.
To my mind the club is in a genuine tough battle for 4th, but if that can be achieved, and the likes of Song, Walcott and Van Persie sign new contracts, we will be very well placed going forward.