Towards the end of last season, I wrote about the five things that Arsenal would need to look at if the club wanted to be serious in its pursuit of silverware. A solid start to the new season (including a win against the “strongest ever” Spurs – which for some reason made me so very very very happy!!) and one harrowing, frustrating and ultimately exciting transfer window later, it’s a good time to go back to those five points and reassess where the club stands:
1 – Sort out the squad by the middle of July, have a consistent first team and timely rotations
When the transfer window started, the club had three objectives: a) get rid of the deadwood, b) keep our good players at the club, and c) bring in new players who would add value to the squad, ideally a superstar or two. Ivan Gazidis went out and put the cat amongst the pigeons by saying Arsene had a huge kitty to spend from, that we’d get in our players nice and early and that we could afford the likes of Rooney etc. Cue, huge expectations.
Did we achieve those objectives? A categorical yes to a) and b). We did very well with the deadwood, and we retained all of our core players. As far as bringing in new players was concerned, I felt the club struggled. Key areas to be strengthened were ST, GK, DM and defense.
Sanogo came in early, and was a victim of being a free signing. I rate him, but he is at best a third option striker, so the ST position still needed to be strengthened. Links with Higuain and Rooney arose, and Higuain was all but signed. Then came Suarez, and from what I understand, we were led up the garden path by his agent regarding the 40 mn + 1 offer. The only good thing that came out of that was a statement that we were willing to spend huge money.
Flamini came in next, again on a free, after being linked with Gotze, Fabregas, Cabaye, Fellaini, Gundogan, Illarmendi etc. At the time, I felt that Flamini was a brilliant and shrewd signing, but underwhelming when you compare him to the likes that we were being linked too. A word on Flamini before we move on: he should never have left. He was brought in to replace Viera and for a while did a great job. Seeing him back against Spurs really made me happy, because he’s one of those players who can take the bit between his teeth and push everyone around him to be better. He’s a shouter, an organizer, a tackler… and Gosh, how we have missed someone like that.
Then came the deadline day and we ended up with Oh My God… Ozil! And in that one signing Arsene showcased that he is still well respected around the world and an attractive option to superstar players. Remember, Ozil did not want to leave Madrid or come to Arsenal, he had an offer from PSG and unconvincing interest from Man U, but he signed for us after Arsene convinced him that we mean business. You can’t ask for more than that. And in doing so, Ozil became the 3rd most expensive British signing and the most expensive German ever signed. 42.5 mn… wow! Arsenal paid that!
So was the first point achieved? Yes in the sense that the team remained stable, no players important to us were sold and our first team is gelled and ready (unlike others who have spent 100 mn +) and that was on show in the last 4 games that we have played and particularly against Spurs. Spurs on the other hand looked disjointed at times and will take a while to gel.
However we did go off-track in the sense that despite ending up with Ozil, we could have planned the window a bit better, and gotten good players in early. I still find it head-scratching that we couldn’t get a striker. I’m not going to pretend to understand how a lot of things work in the transfer window between clubs, but surely in two months you can sign one striker.
Ozil should have been a bonus (he still is), the cherry on top of 4/5 players that we needed to strengthen. Having said that, we did strengthen, and the only place I feel we are light now is the ST position.
I would point out that this was the first window where Wenger, Gazidis and co. could spend big money, and talk to big players (hopefully we should have a similar kitty in upcoming windows), so to an extent it may have been a learning process for all involved. I feel Higuain and Suarez could have been handled a lot better.
Having said all of that at least we didn’t end up paying 5 mn extra for a player who could have been signed a few weeks before via the get-out clause in his contract! Guess who I’m talking about!
2 – A strong vocal performing captain
In my article I had put forward Arteta as one possible option. Arteta has been our spiritual leader in many ways, and a player that the team can look up to. Unfortunately, along with TV, Arteta too is out for now and the mantle of the captaincy has fallen upon the BFG! And I’ll tell you what, he has done a bang up job so far in terms of organizing and leading the team. However, I do not feel he can be a long term solution.
It is clear that Arsene plans on keeping TV as the club captain, so it becomes vital for a) TV to recapture his old form and force his way back into the side, and b) for all of our other leaders to make their collective mark and push the team forward. I’m referring to Per, Arteta and Flamini.
3 – Capture the fans imagination, change the press narrative
Oh how well we have achieved this is: absolutely utterly phenomenal! Not since Bergkamp has such a superstar been signed. Arguably the greatest playmaker in the world, Mesut Ozil! Dear oh dear… I still get goose bumps! However, we need to keep in mind that we were very close to ending the window with a narrative that would have been worse than where we started from. I do believe that Arsene had his eye out on a big signing, and delivered accordingly.
The narrative is now exciting, the fans are now excited! We are a team that is intent on making a statement, we are a team that is together and gelled, we are a team that has just trebled its record transfer in one go, signing the best in the world; and we are a team led by a man who may be flawed, who may be misunderstood, but one who is still well respected and who still, in my opinion, is something of a genius!
Could we possibly be in a better position right now to mount a challenge on ending the barren trophy run?
4 – Be strong against the top six, and clinical against lower half opposition
We have started off OK. A loss to Villa was a perfect example of everything going wrong, but since then we have been solid and we have been strong. That is very heartening. Add to that the incomparable form of Ramsey, Kos, Per, Scez, Ollie and Santi, and we are looking good. The win against Spurs was all about positive work going forward and being solid at the back, and as a supporter you can’t ask for more. I recall thinking during the last five minutes that I can’t really fault them even if Spurs get an equalizer, even though we deserved to win. But we pulled through… in many a season ago that win might have been a draw or even a late loss, but our team ran themselves to the ground and won the game. It may be a big statement, but its matches like these rather than 5-0 thrashings that define a championship/cup winning team and breeds the winner mentality.
5 – Do the basics right and have clear objectives
So what do we expect from this team and this squad? As much as I would love to believe that with Ozil we can challenge for the title, I feel that may be a step too far. For me in the premiership we should finish second (although we are dark horses for sure). I firmly believe that with the squad Arsenal have, we should win both the League Cup and the FA Cup, if not one of them. The Champions League we can only take one step at a time, and for now the biggest challenge is to get through the group.
Bottom line though, if someone tells me right now that we win one cup at the end of this season, I will gladly take it! If nothing, that would make the narrative more positive and enhance the winning mentality with which we can look to win the league next season, with the possible addition of a couple of more quality players.
I would love to hear what you guys think!
Written by: Umair Naeem