Wednesday evening’s CL opener, sandwiched between tough league matches (Sunderland away, Stoke City at home) asked the question: is this team ready to fight on multiple fronts? We got the needed result in our very difficult group, but a quick glance at our bench – or a (necessarily) longer look at our guys out injured – suggests that we have a much more complicated task in the longer term.
It appears we escaped the South of France without any new injuries, but there was some concern expressed when Theo Walcott came off (walking slowly and not smiling) not long after his sumptuous volley which put us ahead. A quiet match from Olivier Giroud in his old stomping grounds was also a worry given his twisted knee late in the Sunderland match. If either of those two are not fully fit going into the Stoke match, who do we have to step in?
The answer, at the moment, is youth players or guys who are in the squad but not necessarily for their goal scoring. Fingers crossed and I won’t dwell on the hypothetical questions. It’s no great secret that Arsenal was looking at strikers throughout the transfer window and that coming away without reinforcements in this area is (one of) the biggest question marks hanging over the squad. Regardless, barring any “miracle” recoveries from the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, our best bet for Sunday is that the same 11 who started in Marseille are ready to go again. We have a few fresh bodies to shore up matches we’re winning (Jenkinson, Monreal, Vermaelen) but not much firepower if we had to chase a result.
On the other hand, watching (or hearing and reading about…) the struggles of our rivals, it’s questionable if a bigger squad is the answer.
Chelsea lost at home to Basel Wednesday night and were booed off the pitch. Did Jose Mourinho do the right thing in letting Romelu Lukaku go back out on loan or leaving Fernando Torres and André Schürrle out of the team for his CL opener? With players like Oscar, Hazard, Mata, Eto’o, Willian and Demba Ba (not to mention Frank Lampard…) the list of their attacking assets would seem enough to see off Basel, wouldn’t it? Still, they couldn’t. Is this their wake-up call (equivalent to our Aston Villa opening day debacle) or is it a sign that, despite all the talent, they don’t have players who are comfortable taking on the moments which turn losses into draws or draws into victories? And, of course, this was on the heels of losing at Everton and drawing at Manchester United…
The other silly money club, ManchesterCity, is in a similar quandary. After bludgeoning Newcastle in their first league match, they’ve been a lot less convincing. Some of the issues appear to be at the back with injuries in defense and mistakes by their (still very young) keeper, Joe Hart. Again, however, there seems, amongst the options further forward, a lack of that player or two who will really make it all happen.The loss at Cardiff, the draw at Stoke, with the Manchester Derby looming, along with David Silva injured on international duty, would seem to be taking all that hair of Manuel Pelligrini further towards the solid grey sported by our own Arsene Wenger…
And speaking of hair issues and Manchester Derbies, how goes it for United? For me, Rooney with the protective headgear is better than seeing his arse to forehead transplants, and there appears some notion that he and the guy we made prematurely grey (RVP) are finding a measure of togetherness. Still, prodigious talents like Nani and Kagawa have become fringe players and the English/Welshmen in United’s midfield (Carrick, Cleverly, ancient Giggs…) seem serviceable if deathly unexciting. On the plus side, Moyes at least seems to have a pecking order even if it would seem to favour the older English habits of strong wing play (Antonio Valencia) and crossing married to the “new” English diving of Ashley Young (and the old French variety in Patrice Evra). With £27million, Maroune Fellaini (and his fro) strongly in the mix and Rooney wearing the half-cap, the wide players certainly have things to aim at. Big match there on Sunday…
Of course it’s all far too early to tell and we’re just getting started on these extra midweek matches. Still, points are points and, after getting all the tensions out with our opening day slip on the proverbial banana skin (…slip, rhymes with blip…) we are looking better.
Mesut Özil, even if he might not have impressed in Marseilles as he did at Sunderland, seems a very good addition. Pound for pound Mathieu Flamini looks even better (winky face)… Certainly they’re not obviously displacing any healthy players and thereby causing disgruntlement or consternation… In fact, it could be argued that it’s just the opposite and that others are playing better with the new midfielders around them.
While new signings are relegating former stalwarts to the benches and shadow squads up in Manchester and across town at Chelsea, our new players are filling obvious holes and are already showing big dividends. We are thin, but we seem unified.
A question, I believe, in this era of mega-money clubs might be: How many (high quality) players can you keep happy and productive and fully focused on getting results for your club? Corollary questions might include: Is there a tipping point where a club loses collective focus by having too many quality players? What is the ideal sized squad and is it perhaps better to have blend of established stars and up and comers?
I’m curious what people think and most certainly Arsenal are charting a different course than the three clubs who finished above us last season. While (very, very) risky, I think there’s a chance our club may have an intangible advantage (to which Total alluded in the previous post) which may allow us to compete with the bigger squads and even eclipse them.
The proof (however, of course…) is in the pudding and all the clubs will be judged match over match and season over season. The focus then must be on what’s in front of us and our match on Sunday (preceding the “big one” in Manchester…) is a “must-win.” There’s no love lost between “Sparky” and Arsene, nor between the players left over from the Tony Pulis era and our own. Will Stoke revert to their defensive roots? They have a keeper in Begovic who all the bigger teams (supposedly, according to the tabloids…) lusted after during the transfer window, and a central pairing of galoots and set-piece specialists in Huth and (Ramsey-reducer) Shawcross.
In other words they won’t necessarily be easy to break down. Scouting reports suggest that their offensive play and work on the break—N’Zonzi is not the worst as a fulcrum player–is more sophisticated, these days, than just trying to win throw-ins. One would guess that, while we’ve been travelling in Europe, they’ve been drilling in ways to neutralize and/or beat us.
Do we have enough resilience—clearly, at the moment we lack the quality in depth—to get the needed result? At this point in the season conclusions are premature yet, with each match, declarations will be made…
For me this is a(nother) real opportunity…For 3 points and to establish, in front of our home support, that we are onto something genuine with our team. Coming off the back of a gutty 1-nil against our local (and most hated) rivals AND the signing (and presumed first home outing) of Mesut Özil, we should have good home support. Still, if we struggle, or if referee Mike Dean does his usual thing and calls everything against us, it could quickly turn into a repeat of opening day. As such (for me at least) the match seems extra critical… In my opinion the home support—and being able to replicate our awesome away form—10 wins in 10 matches(!!!)—is the next frontier for the Gunners (and the Gooners…) and could give us the boost we need as we move into more difficult parts of our fixture list.
What do you guys say?
Written by: 17HighburyTerrace