By Jonathan Blaustein
Well hello there, fellas? How has your summer been?
(Yes, I’m making the assumption that most/all of you are men. Is that so wrong?)
I’m sitting here at my white kitchen table, wondering how the months passed by so quickly. I guess with all the pre-season friendlies, and constant news coverage, it’s like Arsenal never really left. But the Community Shield is behind us, (job well done,) and Leicester City awaits today, so I figured it was time to get my ass in gear and start cranking out some juicy content for the 7amkickoff audience.
Though it would have been easy for me to lead with Trump today, as he’s on everyone’s mind, I did that in my regular-gig column last Friday, so if you want to read my thoughts on the subject, click here.
Rather, I’m going to keep it to AFC, and try to give some predictions about where I think this season is headed.
First off, I’m pretty confident that Arsenal will not win the Premier League this season. Not a shocking statement, but there it is.
But, as I said at the end of last season, I don’t think we’ll drop out of the Top 4 again either.
Unfortunately, I’m predicting a typical Arsene season, in that the Gunners will look like world-beaters for much of the season, and fat-out- of-shape- Sunday-footballers for at least a month.
Obviously, that will be the month that they drop off the title-winning pace.
As far as transfer activity goes, I think Arsene did a pretty good job this summer, not including the bungling that led to all these guys being in the last year of their contracts at the same time.
Count me a believer on both Lacazette and the Bosnian Tank. I think the former has the quickness, speed, and clinicality to score a lot of goals the next few years. And the latter is exactly the type of Ivanovic-in- his-prime defender that this team has lacked for a while now.
Early last season, I wrote about Wenger’s burgeoning collection of tough guys, and I think there are now a proper number in the team. (The Tank, Xhaka, Koscielny, Holding, Giroud, Gabriel.)
I like the way he’s added some size and muscle, but where I think he’s lacking is in athleticism. Arsene seems perfectly content to bring in speedsters for his offensive positions, but doesn’t give the same consideration to those qualities in mid-field and defense.
And that is why I don’t think Top 2 or Top 3 is a possibility this year.
As we’re all multi-sport fans these days, I think a comparison to the NBA or NFL is apt. In those sports, it’s a given that the best athletes become the best players.
Sure, there are always a few exceptions, but if a prospect is not described as a “freak athlete,” then his upside is always considered limited. No one questions this.
And in the EPL, Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester United have all gotten the memo.
In the aforementioned sports, people always talk about matchups. But that conversation is more muted in football, I find. You can hear people discussing it, but only if you have ears like Horton the Elephant. (Seriously, re-read that book if you don’t have kids. It’s a literary masterpiece.) Chelsea won the league last year b/c of Kante’s speed/quickness/ball-winning skills. And now they added the dude from Monaco with the weird dye-job to complement him. Serious athleticism.
Mourinho has Paul Pogba, and Spurs have Wanyama, Dembele, and Dele Alli. Those dudes are always going to be a tough cover for players who are smaller, slower, and less quick.
Meanwhile, Arsene’s gone big on Xhaka, who is neither fast nor quick, but at least he’s large, and very talented. Some teams can prosper with a player like that, but he needs to be partnered with another midfielder who has the physical attributes to complement, and we don’t have that at all. Unless Arsene puts Oxlade-Chamberlain there, which he’s loathe to do, or Coquelin becomes a much better offensive player, and stays healthy. (What are the odds of that?)
In the back line, it’s a bit better, as Koscielny still has his speed and quickness, but for how much longer? The Tank looks like he might have it all, (at least from his performance on Sunday,) and Hector Bellerin may be quick and fast, but he’s very small. As for Mustafi, the jury is still out, but we all know that Tim, for one, is no believer.
So why do I think Top 4?
Liverpool has made a habit of finishing lower than everyone thinks they should, and though Klopp is a great manager, he did preside over an awful season at Dortmund, before he left.
And Spurs have not added talent, are playing in a much bigger stadium, and now face the pressure of big expectations. (Remember how well they do under pressure? Newcastle 5, Tottenham 1). I haven’t mentioned City yet, but they have more than enough fire-power, and a genius manager, to compete for the title. It’s hard to believe that both Guardiola and Mourinho might fail to win the league again this year, but it’s certainly possible. (I wouldn’t bet on it though.)
I’m not worried about Everton, myself, nor am I concerned that Arsenal will free-fall this year. I’m confident, (given that this is all conjecture,) that it will be a run-of- the-mill season, compared to the last few.
Another FA Cup victory? Possible.
Winning the Europa League? Also possible.
But unless Arsene signs the type of mid-fielder who can keep up with the badasses playing for the competition, I don’t see how we can get by all those stacked teams. Not that you’d recall, but at the end of the season, I reminded you that Mourinho and Guardiola normally don’t stick around very long, Liverpool and Chelsea have run through coaches lately, and Pochettino is likely to get a bigger job, unless Spurs shit the bed.
So I think Arsene will give us a typical Arsene season, and in the very best case scenario, will build his team another 2–3 years so that he can try to win it all by the time those guys have passed on. Of course, it’s more likely that Arsene won’t make it that long, but no one ever got rich betting on the stubborn Alsatian’s retirement, have they?