Good morning, the transfer market is pretty much dead, and apart from Djourou being sent home for a possible injury, there’s very little Arsenal news. There was some talk about Gazidis being in Germany to sign American born Subotic (what’s up with that? both Hangeland and Subotic are Americans) but that was rejected outright by his agent. So, since there’s no news and I had this season preview sitting around I figured, eh, what the hell, have at it.
Of course no one can predict what will happen during a season, for example how could anyone have known that Thierry Henry’s goal scoring replacement, Eduardo, would have his leg broken by “Tiny Taylor” and ruin our season?
Moreover, Arsene too can be a bit unpredictable. I thought for sure he wasn’t going to buy Arshavin, I thought Arshavin was too unfit to have enough impact, and I counted Aston Villa’s threat too high last season and it had me publicly worried about a 5th or even 6th place finish. But Wenger did sign Arshavin and after a few weeks of training, Arshavin had a major impact on this club. Maybe not single-handedly saving 4th place as some have suggested but certainly making up for an Emmanuel Adebayor who was clearly disinterested in this club’s endeavors.
That experience taught me that while the season is unpredictable and Wenger is unpredictable, in both good and bad ways, we can trust that Wenger knows what he’s doing and that he’ll have the team give their best.
Which is all we can really ask.
Well, that and some squad reinforcements, right?
I’ve seen some pretty wild predictions for Arsenal’s league position at the end of this year, 5th place (cunts), 6th place (huge cunts), 10th place (Tottenhams), and they all seem to be based on one philosophy: teams must buy to stay in the top four.
The facts are that buying doesn’t guarantee anything. Sunderland has been a top spender for years now and where are they? Oh yeah, celebrating 0-0 draws as though it were the Champions League. Chelsea has spent a billion U.S. Dollars over the last 5 years and they have not won the league since 2005.
But irregardless the facts, people think that the only way to improve a squad is through buying. So, let’s start there and look at our competition and see which of them has bought the more important pieces.
Man U: Lost Ronalda and Tevez and have not effectively replaced their combined 23 league goals with anyone. Looked very shaky in defense without Vidic. Weakened
Liverpool: Lost Alonso and replaced him with an injured Aquilani. Alonso was crucial to that team both in defense and offense. Yes, the have bought a left back, for £13m more than he was worth last year. Still have not found a strike partner for Torres. Weakened
Chelsea: Gained Jerkoff and another coach. Some of the key player’s legs are a year older and I don’t think that last season’s 3rd place Serie A coach is going to last the whole season but still they have strengthened and I think that Alex is set to take a more prominent role at center half. I must admit, even though it pains me like a fissure in my ass: Strengthened
Aston Villa: Lost their captain and midfield general, trying to replace him with 19 year old Fabian Delph and bringing in a second winger in Downing is suicide. Also lost Laursen who was the glue in their defense. Severely Weakened.
Everton: Have pretty much stayed pat, though they bought Jo, who was already on loan to them. The injury to Phil Jagielka is going to hurt them at the start of the season but Moyes is a smart cookie and will grind out results. Stayed Pat
Man City: If I ever open a gay bar I’m going to paint it periwinkle and gold and call it “Man City.” Seriously, Tevez, Adebayor, Santa Cruz, Toure and Barry have all joined the cause, which on paper means that they are Strengthened
Arsenal: I know it’s popular to take the piss out of Wenger for his “Like a new signing” stuff but really, Arsenal have added Arshavin and Eduardo (sorry but I’m still waiting for Rosicky) to an already pretty packed attack. And yes, we lost Toure but we’ve replaced him with Vermaelen who is, according to all accounts, a much better header of the ball. Moreover, by all accounts Toure and Adebayor were a distraction both on and off the pitch for Arsenal. 40 offsides for Ade and Toure handing in a transfer request in January did not help this team. In the midfield, Alex Song and Denilson both have an entire year of playing at the highest level, if there were ever a time for them to be ready it is this season. Put it this way, if Song and Denilson were English their experience last year would be worth at least an extra £10m each in the transfer market. So, by playing those guys last year, by buying Arshavin and Vermaelen, and by getting Eduardo back to 100% my accounting has this team Very Much Strengthened
That’s my account of the top, erm, 7 and though I am loathe to predict a final outcome lest I jinx the Arsenal, I think it will be Arsenal and Chelsea fighting for the top two spots and then Man U, Liverpool, and Man City fighting for the last two spots, with Liverpool most likely to make “the drop” to UEFA Cup football.
There are a few sticky months for Arsenal, most notably August and then again for three weeks in January and February but those are just mental blocks really. Every team plays every other team twice, it doesn’t really matter if you play all the best teams three weeks in a row. In fact, it could help Arsenal, we tended to do well against the top clubs and if we have to stay focused for a whole month, maybe we’ll get the best from the boys.
The sticking point about January is that the three games coincide with the African Cup of Nations, of course. But from a certain perspective, it’s not all that bad. Sure, we lose Song and Eboue but Song’s replacements in midfield are Denilson, Diaby, and Nasri. And Eboue is a replacement for Sagna at right back, and whoever is playing right wing when we need more defense in midfield. Further, if Chelsea are our most direct competition, which I think they are, then they lose Obi Wan Mikel and Essien to the ACN, which is a much bigger loss than Song and Eboue, let’s be honest. So, while January is crucial, and the ACN is going to be bad for us, Chelsea and City are going to be struggling worse than Arsenal on that front, by a long shot.
Either way, the key to the season is getting off to a good start here in August against three of those supposed top 7 clubs, Everton, City, and Man U. Then Arsenal need to goobble up “lesser” clubs for the next few months and they’ll have a real shot at this thing.
The one thing that is worrying is depth in the center back position. No one wants to think about losing three players but there will be periods this year (during the ACN for example) when our defense might get a bit threadbare, especially if we sell Senderos and don’t bring anyone in as a replacement. Gallas, Vermaelen and to a lesser extent Djourou are our starting center halfs. After that there’s Senderos (if we keep him) and then Song and then uhh, what’s his name, that old guy… Pat Rice? No… Mikael “Gerry” Silvestre. If all the reports about Wenger looking at Hangeland (Wenger confirmed) and Subotic are to be believed then I think he sees this problem and is looking for a solution. If not, well, maybe Wenger will look to buy in January.
Still, I think this team has the depth and experience to challenge all the way. It’s not a popular opinion, the popular opinion is that Arsenal need 7-40 new signings and to spend $1bn on salaries and transfers or the earth will split open and swallow Arsene Wenger and all of us will become Man U supporters.*
Oh, and who do I think will make the drop? Hull, who couldn’t buy a virus right now, Birmingham, who are a pack of ankle-breaking cunts, and Pompey, who are in utter disarray. Birmingham is the emotional choice for me and could easily be swapped with Wolves who I think are less prepared for the EPL than Birmingham. If there’s one thing EPL refs love, it’s shit kickers and Birmingham have lots of practice. But still, I love to target a team for the drop and after what Birmingham did to Eduardo, they will always be a target team for me.
The Champions League
Wenger’s other target is the Champions League. It’s the trophy that many think he’s purpose built this Arsenal team to achieve. Arsenal have a stern test straight away in Celtic at Celtic Park and a lot has been made of the atmosphere at Celtic Park, but I’m confident that these boys can handle it. After all, they went to Fener last year and beat the pants off them in front of 50,000 of their rabid fans.
After that first test, it’s pretty much up to the lottery to decide the road. Personally, I’d love to see Arsenal get a favorable draw but even then, you should eventually play a good team so why not get it out of the way?
As I’ve already mentioned, Arsenal have a lot of options all over the pitch (with the exception of maybe center back) and that will be a real benefit in the Champions League. If we get behind in a match, Wenger could pull one of the defensive midfielders and put on an attacking mid in Nasri or perhaps Rosicky. If the strikers aren’t playing well, we have options there as well and I could see Theo playing a big role as a super-sub in all competitions, but especially in the Champions League, on the second leg, late in the game when we need some fresh pace.
Options, Arsenal have them up front and in midfield and that will only benefit our Champions League run where we have to be ready to play a wide variety of styles.
Don’t forget that these boys have a lot of experience playing in the Champions League. They may be young, but they’ve been around the block.
Experience and depth? Without buying? Really?
I’m lumping the FA and League cup together here because, well, because I haven’t got much to say about them. I will say that the League Cup this year should be very interesting owing to Arsenal’s unique depth in this tournament.
Arsenal’s policy of grooming youth in the League Cup may actually pay off this year as both Wilshere and Rambo looked pretty good in pre-season and are coming off a successful reserves/Youth Cup season. The whole reserves squad will get a real run and will be looking to impress in the League Cup. I’m hoping for an easy schedule in both cups but if not, I’d love nothing more than to see Jack Wilshere get revenge on Chelsea (who love the League Cup almost as much as they love the Charity Shield) for the 2007 League Cup final.
Any team that wants to challenge on all four fronts (Premier League, Champions League and both domestic cups) needs an experienced team that has the depth to handle the inevitable injuries and international pressures that crop up in the long season. On Arsenal, the fact that Wenger buys players who can play at such a wide variety of positions means that especially up front and on the wings, Arsenal have a huge variety of options. Slightly concerning are the midfield and in the center back position but again, there are a lot of folks who can play in the two central midfield positions. Hell, Cesc himself was brought in the squad to play the holding midfield role so it’s not as if he’s exactly unfamiliar with playing there (though it would be a bit of a waste of his talents). As for the center half spot, it’s nearly full and unless we lose Senderos could be seen as topped up by some. Of course, we’d all welcome depth at any spot.
As for experience, last season’s campaign surely taught this young team a lot and Wenger keeping them together for another bite at the apple is only going to help. Already there are reports that camaraderie is at an all time high in training camp and everyone in the squad is talking about what they hope to achieve this year. It’s easy to discount these players because they are young but there aren’t many midfielders in the world who can say that they got to start nearly every game in every competition for one of the best teams in the world in the toughest league in the world. Denilson and Song can, and I think that fans and our opponents do them a grave disservice in calling them inexperienced.
So from where I’m sitting? This looks like a pretty strong squad with a lot of depth, great options, and who have the needed experience to challenge. I think they will challenge on all four fronts for honors this season.
If I could, I’d put money on it.
*slight hyperbole, the popular opinion is that Arsenal need 1-2 signings or the earth will split open and swallow Arsene Wenger.