THE SEASON, TACTICS, PHILOSOPHY AND SUMMER RUMBLINGS (PART 2).
For so long we have been cruising the brightly lit highways of Champions League football but now comes the time to truck the tougher terrains of the Europa League. More games, more congestion in the schedule, but also more obscure and distant parts of Europe. There will be less fanfare, less revenue, and, perhaps a toxic hangover from the season just ended. In a stiffer summer window, we must come out with a deeper squad.
Yes, a deeper squad. For while the demands of Europa League football impose the need for a bigger squad, the contest for Premier League glory cries out for a more competitive one. Nine wins in 10 since we switched to the 3:4:3 formation says that we have–and always have had–a good team. But we dare not rest on our oars. Even if our late-in-the-day discovered good form was able to get those results, every team is strengthening and we have to do likewise. With the resources available to them, the top 6 teams of the 16/17 season can end up rearranged in any sequence by the end of 17/18 season, and, of course, we desire a sequence that would find us at the top. We must battle to hold players in the squad while fetching new ones that would make us better. Otherwise, it could get damn ugly with the fans even before the race has begun. 17/18 is going to be a war in which prisoners are not taken.
No wild dreams though. No Messi, no Ronaldo. Mbappe? All the low tone talk seems to indicate that his heart is with us–Wenger had tea with him in his home–but where is his head? And what about those huge sums that are being linked to his value, some of them even coming from us? Do we dare dream? If I am given the smallest of chances I would snap up Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon and shift my bigger dreams to the future. Ditto the Argentine Paulo Dybala from Juventus; ditto Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Dortmund. 24 year old Mauro Icardi of Inter is prolific with goals and he would improve our team. Then there is this little rumour that Harry Kane’s pocket has grown too big for the tiny packet from the Spuds. He only needs a short walk to become a big boy. If there is one thing that is clear, it is that we desperately need a world class striker. Planes would be scrambled up in the sky on the first day of the season if there is no world class striker in our starting line up. The fans have waited long enough.
But first we have to keep what we have and need to hold–Ozil, Sanchez, Bellerin, Chamberlain and company. Some people use the word stubborn to describe Arsene Wenger. I’ve never approved of that word. For me, Wenger is simply dogged in his convictions. If you ask me, I don’t want anything to do with anybody blown about by the wild wind. This time, Wenger’s stubbornness is allied with everyones’ wishes because he has reiterated that what he has, he holds–except, of course, if somebody comes with silly money. I ask, if some bloke comes with enough money to sign Messi, wouldn’t you deal? The referendum on Ozil/Sanch-exit is a resounding no from the fans and I can’t see what can trump it. It might be my wishful thinking, but what’s in the air–particularly on Sanchez–could be mere noises.
Sead Kolasinac is in the bag and will battle it out with Monreal for the left back position. Monreal is probably the fittest player in our squad with none of the muscle problems others have suffered. He can double as a left back and central defender. He is also the quintessential professional, a beacon for others. Being on the wrong side of thirty is mere numbers to him and I hope he has many more years with us. Sadly, I cannot talk in the same breath of Gibbs. A nice fellow, but just an OK player which is no longer good enough if our desire is to move up the ladder. However, with Monreal covering as a central defender, we might want to hold onto Gibbs. Kolasinac, we hope, improves our team, so he is welcome. I particularly love the fact that he is something of a battering ram, something for which I thought Wenger had long lost his taste. Maybe because he came as a free transfer it became so much tastier to him. There is no doubting that the signing is doubly smart as it also leaves untouched the money in our coffers for a slug-fest with all comers for the aforementioned world class striker.
Henry Onyekuru, I had thought, was all but in our bag too. But as the haze of the summer window thickens, doubts have crept in. Henry excites me, not because of his name, but because of his pace, his incredible ability to change direction and his lightening quick feet. There is something uncanny about his reaction time, as if everybody else is in slow motion. He is no Messi, but they are neighbors in the same time dimension! Give that lad to Wenger and in two years he could be unplayable. If we don’t get him now, next summer some smart fellow will have put a price tag on him that the silly money boys would be only too glad to pay. There are plenty of returns in that kid whichever way you want to look at it. One thing I don’t want to hear a year or two from now is Wenger saying that he nearly signed him. Watch my words.
In central defence, we currently have Mertersacker, Koscienly, Mustafi, Gabriel, Chambers and Holding. Age and/or injuries should put a question mark on Per and Koscienly. Despite his chronic achilles problem, if properly managed, I expect Kos to give us a minimum of 25 Koscienly-esque games and that alone is mouth watering. As for Per, who did enough in less than 130 minutes to be dubbed the ‘player of the season,’ who would dare let him go? The 3-man central defence is made for him. A very cerebral player, he has a personality that players around him find very reassuring. Blessed with a firmness that is free of any harshness, he has given us a hint that a programme is on the cards that would slowly transform his role on the field to a role outside of it. Is he the Director of Football in the making that we all have been speculating about? Arsenal have done it before in ‘Arsene who?’ Are they going to do it again in ‘Per who?’ This just about leaves us with four central defenders we can fully count upon. Is this number enough for a 3 CB system? Maybe, as Nacho can be factored in as an extra cover.
In PART 1 of this post, I drew attention to how Wenger repeatedly engineered the conversion of offensive players to more defensive roles but has never done it the other way round. The stage seems set, in my eyes, for that trend to experience its first reversal. Also in PART 1, I indicated that the stand out feature of the Invincibles, relative to our teams of the post Invincible era, was the presence of two players in the central midfield–Vieira and Gilberto–who where both equally good in possession as well as without the ball.
Ladies and gentlemen, Rob Holding is the candidate I propose for Wenger’s first ever conversion from a defensive role to a more attacking one. Holding in central midfield would be the resurrection of Gilberto. Dubbed the ‘invisible wall’, Gilberto was also excellent on the ball. It’s the same with Holding, a defender with incredible composure on the ball. He’s a dream defensive midfielder but will Wenger do it or would he prefer to find us a Vieira instead and, if so, who might that be? Maxime Gonalons of Lyon? A battler, but, in my opinion, not nearly there. Naby Keita of Leipzig? Terrific with the ball but not exactly an N’golo Kante without it. Kevin Strootman of Roma? He plays like Xhaka, but with a quicker turn. All of them are great players, but my pick for a place in the Arsenal central midfield is a 23 year old Brazilian international, Fabinho of Monaco. Excellent with and without the ball, Fabinho is Vieira Mark II. It is noteworthy that Fabinho was converted by Monaco’s manager, Leonardo Jardim, from right back to central midfield. Check him out please and tell us what you see.
Wenger has hinted that there will be a maximum of three signings. I wish the operative word was ‘minimum’ because one signing is still within a maximum of three signings. Wenger is an old fox. If he actually means three signings, that would be wonderful–as long as they are world class players able to individually improve our team. The three signings should also come with a proviso–if we lose any world class player, we replace with another.
I saw a certain glint in Stan Kroenke’s eyes as he watched our team slice through Chelsea at Wembley like a knife through butter. It was as if he was seeing for the first time that we actually can make a bid for the top. I figure Wenger must have seized the opportunity to place an ambitious plan on his table the very next day. Do we dare dream of sitting atop the rearranged sequence of top teams come the end of 17/18? I should think so.
BY PONY EYE.