Arsenal pre-season review

Wenger walks alone in his thoughts, as he plans his transfer raids.
For more concise rants and soundbites about Arsenal in 140 characters or less, you can find me tweeting Arsenal stuff at www.twitter.com/ajarse

I didn’t think we’d be in this situation with a week to go before the start of the season.

Let me begin by saying I’m neither one of the Wenger Out Brigade, or an Arsene Knows Best. However much he frustrates me at the moment, I don’t think there are any managers available that would be better than him. I’m an Arsenal fan since primary school (1986-1987) with realistic expectations of our financial power in a sport that is now affected by billionaires at clubs like City, Monaco, Chelsea, etc. But I know that with a stable hard working team and a bit of luck, you can beat the odds and win the league. We almost did that in 2007-2008 before the attack on Eduardo derailed our momentum.

Last season

It has been a long hard slog in recent years. Watching our expectations slip from title challengers to accepting fourth place. But the players aren’t completely to blame. I am convinced our performances have slipped in line with Wenger’s own public expectations. If Wenger demanded a title challenge from them, performances would improve. They slack off and do “just enough” because fourth spot is accepted by management these days. It gives rise to frustrated fans bemoaning a lack of effort on the pitch, but this is a reflection of the lack of effort by the management.

But, we saw it through and finally, the end of last season promised so much. 8 wins out of 10 matches. Albeit with some exceptions like the Bayern away result, they were more gritty than great. A big relief when we finally finished fourth.

Fourth wasn’t really success. It was a temporary moment of joy to be taken from a situation that could have been worse, but certainly not good enough, we obviously want more than that. We want to be title challengers again, and this sentiment was echoed by Ivan Gazidis.

For once, we went into a summer knowing (assuming no surprises) that we weren’t going to lose any of our core first team players. It was hopefully the springboard for a good summer. We had a 2 point plan: Clear the deadwood, bring in some talented players to boost the team. Simple.

The summer starts

We saw other teams change management. A perfect opportunity to build on what we had and really take advantage. Then came the commercial deals, the talk of £70m warchests, Ivan Gazidis rolling out more fan-pleasing soundbites that we could pay the silly money we normally saw other teams pay, that we could match wage demands.

It sounded exciting, but I saw the long term issues: What if some other squad player outperformed the £200k player every week and wanted a huge payrise? Could we afford those on top? Would the £200k player agree to move after 2 seasons or see out his contract happy to play golf? Would it turn into a more expensive version of Nicklas Bendtner? I didn’t really mind if we didn’t go in for £30m-40m players and paid £200k a week, just that we bought key players in the right positions that we were clearly lacking plan Bs for. That was enough for me.

Fans drew up their shopping lists, some extravagant names, some more realistic. My personal choices were Julio Cesar, Mamadou Sakho, Marouane Fellaini, and Christian Benteke. A good mix of experience and youth, good backup options capable of adding competition for places, with possible long term futures in the case of the final three.

The cull started, part one of the plan was being put into action. We really did seem to be finally making things happen. But then it all began to get a bit surreal. There was a lot of paper talk (there always is) but there was genuine belief that some of it was real this time.

But, one by one, each player we were linked with either moved elsewhere or didn’t move at all. People questioned why we didn’t just stump up the extra cash for Higuain and get it done? Then the Suarez situation occurred. We treated Higuain badly to talk to a player roundly hated for the racism, the biting and his toddler mentality. I know some geniuses are troubled, and you accept the baggage when the genius is untouchable. But I don’t think Suarez is enough of a genius to discount the baggage. And this isn’t just a fiery temperament or foul mouth. This is racism and biting, things that are clearly not acceptable in any walk of life.

And while all this was going on, another question was asked: Why are we putting all our efforts into signing a striker when we are in desperate need for other positions? Why don’t we get those done in the meantime?

August

The soundbites have changed. In hindsight they’ve arrived like clockwork. It was the same in the January window, but we honestly believed they had learned the lesson and wouldn’t be so foolhardy this time. We need to buy. We’re working hard to buy. Even if we don’t buy we’ll be okay. Transfers are complex. Diaby is like a new signing.

The cynic in me now thinks that we’ve been duped yet again, just to sell some season tickets. Maybe this is true, but surely the lack of signings and danger of falling out of the top four will impact on commercial deals and the worldwide audience they so desperately clammer for? Or is a season of selling shirts to South Koreans with Park Chu-Young’s name on it enough to counter this?

But I digress. Back to actual footballing matters.

Wenger has taken the 8 out of 10 wins as justification that the team is good enough without signings. He has re-written history and ignored just how hard it was to win those games. It’s almost like Wenger has decided that we’ve got a better chance this season because the teams above us are weaker. That’s the sort of mentality I’ve seen from Spurs over the last five years, claiming they could get top four now that Arsenal have sold player X. I used to laugh at them, but now we’re doing the same.

He also says he has 16 first team players. Doesn’t that worry him? We’re one or two injuries or suspensions away from being in exactly the same situation we were in last year when we had to look at our plan Bs, and found them sadly lacking. And yet, he has done nothing to improve those options. What happens when Arteta is out? We missed his stable influence in the role he does so well. Not since Matthiu Flamini in 2007-2008 or Gilberto Silva before him have we had that stable hand. What happens when Giroud is out? Who do we have as plan B? What happens When Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscienly get injured, forcing Sagna into the middle and Jenkinson being played every game? With Monreal and Vermaelen injured, who will play LB when Gibbs no doubt gets injured? What defensive options will we have on the bench? Wenger talks about the Red Zones, about resting players when they reach it, but the lack of Plan B’s means that’s never an option. Consequently we get more injuries, and more struggling.

One week to go

So, I write this after we’ve just seen Arsenal beat Manchester City 3-1 in a friendly. I admit, I was hoping we’d get turned over in hope it might spur Wenger into action. Instead, he must see this as further proof that his team is good enough to win the league. Perhaps he is right, if there was some way of keeping his first choice 16 fit and unsuspended for an entire game, but that won’t happen. Why does he not see and react to the same things that worry us? It’s a strange feeling realising that I was more confident last season despite the loss of Robin Van Persie, than I am at the start of this season, but it could have been so different, and that’s what’s frustrating.

For more concise rants and soundbites about Arsenal in 140 characters or less, you can find me tweeting Arsenal stuff at www.twitter.com/ajarse

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