2009/2010 Season Preview: if you let it settle, cream rises

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.

Preamble

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?

The League

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.

Seriously.

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?

Domestic Cups

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.

Conclusion

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.

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=666901&sec=england&cc=5901&campaign=rss&source=soccernet

34 Comments on 2009/2010 Season Preview: if you let it settle, cream rises

  1. Don’t forget the new 4-3-3 formation. That could really help, give an extra advantage.

    There is absolutely no reason why we can’t challenge. Chelsea are set to lose 4 key players to ACN. Man U have no back-up to Rooney. Liverpool lost their best player from last season, and have no back-up to Torres/Gerard.

  2. While I understand the gist of your arguement, Sunderland are hardly the club to use as an example to make your point. Leeds would be more apropos. On the contrary, teams such as Chelsea and ManU seem to have done quite well with their spending.
    It does appear, however, that it is more about wise strategic buying to augment an already strong nucleus that seems to do the trick; a point that AW made when he seemed to deride Real’s addition of more than three players to the squad at once. Arsenal, on the other hand, don’t seem that far away. If preseason is any gauge, it does appear that the problem spots at defensive midfield and center half may continue to plague the team in the coming season. As with most Gooners, I hope I am proven wrong this time.

    • I disagree Jimbo, Sunderland underline my point precisely.

      According to the Times Online, they spent £66m in transfers (total outlay) in 2007 and 2008 and have spend at least another £20m in getting Bent, Cattermole, Cana, Frazer Campbell, and Paolo da Silva.

      • True, but Sunderland’s initial spending was aimed at league survival, no? By that measure, one can argue that they have succeeded. Chelsea, ManU, Liverpool and Arsenal buy top talent with titles and trophies in mind. Chelsea, Liverpool and ManU have all found succeess while Arsenal have not been quite so successful lately. Perhaps this will all change this campaign (fingers crossed).

  3. Great article! Got me tingling with antcipation of what this squad can, and will do. But what is the worst that happen to an already young but exeperienced side like Arsenal? Injuries,injuries, injuries (our greatest ‘rivals’); not learning from last year’s errors(like failing to track back and defend as a team), an unsettled Cesc, Arshavin and maybe Vermaelen or disunity and rancour in the dressing room plus Wenger failing to strengthen now or in January. Only these things can stop us from winning big this time!

    And what is the best that can happen? We sign Hangeland or Subotic or another CB, add a workaholic DM and Chamakh to the mix, have a full injury-free season for Edu and Rosicky with none to Gallas, RvP, Cesc and Arshavin; stepups for Diaby, Song, Denilson,Theo,Bendtner and a great season for Jack the Lad! In the end, win the CL, EPL and FA cups and let others scramble for the CC! Who cares?

    Go Gunners!

  4. I think we will be the surprise in the top 4 and Chelsea will be the formidable favorite for the top. Liverpool and Man U had so many last minute goals to save their arses last year, particularly from Ronaldo and Tevez in Man U’s case, I just don’t see them being that fortunate in two consecutive years. Just like two years ago, the expectations were low for us and some great contributions came from smaller names and improved players. It’s set up again that way. The key for us will be to avoid having 20 draws as it seemed we did. Really do think we’re going to score more goals this year now that we don’t have Adebayor going offsides and, when onside, simply sitting on the ball before feebly making a very slow attempt at getting around his defender. Hopefully this will allow us to avoid the nil nil or 1-1.

    I do feel we needed to toughen up the squad a tad, and I thought Arsene would be a little more aggressive, particularly in light of comments from Van Persie and Fabregas this offseason about their desire to bring in some new additions. Obviously there is time, but I don’t have a feeling anything’s going to happen. Even without the purchases, this team has a lot of naturally talented individuals that are very hungry, full of youthful energy and an incredible year of experience last year. Who has the most pressure on them? RvP, who I think will be the most upfront in a 4231 setting, will get a lot of flak if he doesn’t score more than he did last year. Of course, the Denilson/Song combo will be heavily scrutinized each minute of each game. And lastly, Willie Gallas. He doesn’t have Kolo anymore to share in the blame for the occasional lapses. If Robin nets the big goals and jels with the other attackers like Arshavin, if Denilson/Song show marked improvement and confidence, and if Gallas/Vermaelen are able to work together smartly, I can’t see how we’re not challenging.

    Cautious optimism is the feeling here at this point. And I love how everyone is singling us out as the most likely to be unseated by Man City.

  5. Great post Tim. Made me feel almost excited by the fact that we have a shot. Agreed with you about everything including Liverpool and Man U looking worse. The only good thing Alquiani is going to bring to Liverpool is that wag of his.
    HREF=”http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1205965/Liverpool-ready-welcome-Alberto-Aquilanis-super-WAG-Michela-Quattrociocche.html”>Here

    Other than that I hope Song can have that break out season. And Denilson can have a complete season, rather than come out great then fizzle out. I feel there is still a defensive and offensive player to come in. i think our boy Ivan is very busy behind the scenes trying to sure up something.

    And you read about Bendtner looking to pay for any fan who bought his kit with a 26. Pretty stand up, he really is looking like he is growing up and i feel he will have the confidence (not cockiness) to do te job and hopefully put in at least 20 this season. I’d love to have two separate sets of striker lines to give everyone breathers during the season. Come on you guns!

  6. Don’t forget, Chelsea will also being missing Drogba for the ACN, possibly an even bigger impact than Essien or Mikel.

  7. Bendtner Changing his squad number to 52 LikeANewSigning. Awesome part He is covering the cost for all fans that bought his old number to get his new number Weird Part people bought a Bendtner Strip. quote via the dot com “I appreciate that a good number of fans have bought their kits for 2009/10 already with names and numbers printed up so I’d like to personally cover the cost of replacing anyone’s shirt that has my previous number. It means a lot to see supporters wearing your name and number, and I want to ensure people aren’t inconvenienced by the change.”

    • @Travis The Septopus, Although it won’t cost him much, spot on gesture by Bendtner. I am once again excited with just a few days to kickoff. I have the same optimistic hopes as I’ve had for the last few years and unfortunately the same niggling concerns, namely the lack of depth and quality in the centre of our defence. I don’t expect any new signings and therefore don’t expect to be dissapointed. In terms of where we finish, injuries will play a massive part in that, any injuries to our defence and I have serious concerns. The same goes for our competition, if the scousers lose gerrard or torres they have major problems, if the mancs lose rooney/vidic and chelsea lose fat frank/drogba then they may feel the pressure. BRING IT ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. I can’t see Man City gelling enough to take a top 4 (or even top 7) spot this year. They didn’t look good on their preseason tour of South Africa. If I remember correctly, they lost most of their games. I’m not trying to knock SA Football but I’m pretty sure the Orlando Pirates didn’t just spend $200 million on players. On paper, City should have stomped them and instead came away losing 2-0. They have 8 forwards and MAJOR issues at the back. I think they have 2 healthy center backs right now. I don’t think Hughes will be able to give this team any balance and keep all those players happy. Too many of those players expect to start and/or see a LOT of playing time. At best they will finish 9th or 10th.

    Off topic – did you see THIS (pops)? Is it just me or do most players who leave end up saying the same thing?

    • @Alex, If they are truly honest w/ themselves. I think Pires and Henry are the only players who have enjoyed their post-Arsenal careers and maybe Cygan before Villarreal dropped him.

    • @Alex, Saw the Hleb thing. Think it’s a desperate plea for the boss to look his way. I wonder if Arsene would take him back on a bosman.

      And i agree with you about Man City. They looked awful v. the SA teams. i think they wont fully gel for at least 3 to 6 months. And by that time, they are out of the race. None of the top 7 look all that great.

  9. Great piece Tim, but one thing which you didn’t mention in your Champions league round-up…yep you guessed it, Arshavin.

    Our ingenious Russian is just the man to do the score the impossible, the Euro’s 2008 gave us a glimpse at what a handful he will be for non EPL teams.

    I don’t like this new 4-3-3 formation the way Arsene was playing it in pre-season, Van Persie is not the man I want in the middle but I don’t see any other position for him in that kind of line up.

    Bendtner would make a better middle man, his link up play when he was played on the right was superb, but we need him in the centre to use that head of his. Saying that Eduardo would be the perfect man in the middle but because of his time out and the fact Van persie has earned his starting place I can’t see him being chosen as anything but a super sub, for the first few matches at least.

    I still think 4-4-2 is a better formation for us and I think Wenger was only testing the 4-3-3, so he can alternate as needed with substitutions to change the shape of the game (especially against defensive wall teams like), as we saw with Valencia the skilled attacking teams can dominate our midfield, if they keep the balls high and fold under every tackle.

    I can see vela being used as Arshavins understudy and tactical substitution this year. We have a great bunch of attacking talent this year but getting the right mix of rotation and consistently playing the same first team will be difficult and that’s not even to mention what injuries will do to us.

  10. Man U: not just missing Tevz and Ronaldo but van dar Sar is probably the biggest surprise setback for them. Foster was a disaster in the Community Shield. Hargreaves is finished. Berbatov is a nice player but he is a support player who slows down Man U’s attack. Scholes, Giggs are alot wiser but they are alot older. Andersen must be injured since I didn’t see in the Community Shield. Absolutely no one is hammering Ferguson about his lack of purchases w/ the Ronaldo dough. Valencia will be a decent buy because of the players around him.

    Liverpool: an injury to Gerrard or Torres and they can fold up shop. Watching Torres in his last friendly and he didn’t look very sharp. The Confederation Cup maybe taking its toll on Torres. ‘Toilet bowl’ boy gets rejected by Chelsea, looks great at Portsmouth and now he’s the cat’s meow for 18m. I don’t think so. Lucas is expected to step up. Maybe, maybe not.

    Chelsea: they remind me of the Philadephia Flyers back when they were the “Broad St. Bullies”. I do think Cech has become suspect since his injury. Lampard is no Kaka and malouda is no Seedorf and that I hope will undue Ancelotti’s revolution. Let’s not forget that this team gave a good account of themselves against Barcelona compared w/ Man U.

    England down 1-0. Scotland got massacred 4-0 by Norway. Norway papers apparently claim that hangeland will coming our way. I rather Subotic because he can also take FKs and can head the ball and looks more skillful on the ball.

  11. I usually hate people who judge articles based on one aspect of them that they can’t get over, but here I go.

    Irregardless is not a word

  12. wut chu talkin bout irregardles aint being not a word. Here we accept it. Beside i think you coulda use a semi colon instead of a comma. Am i right hoo nos. prolly not. O yeah defoe with 2 second half goals i cant stand that guy but got a result out of it.

  13. Heh Tim,

    Great post!

    It’s good to see fans who are optomistic about the coming season and supporting of the team regardless of who we have or have not bought.

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