The Questions That Nag Me As An Arsenal Supporter

With the silence of Arsenal transfers growing to deafening proportions, I find myself being nagged by numerous questions as the Emirates Cup and the Premier League season proper grow nearer with each breath. I long ago ceased being one of those supporters infatuated and enthralled by every summer transfer rumor no matter how ridiculous. What does that leave for a supporter like me to do during the summer, then? Well, this summer, like many I assume, I am mostly just worrying about the following questions:

1. Where’s the defence?

This question is not number one by random. One cannot help but wonder how it is already almost the beginning of August and Vermaelen has no partner in the center. For me, the thing that separated us from United and Chelsea last season, and for the last couple of years, is both are much stronger defensively than we are and concede far less goals than we do. Even considering that we conceded a bunch of goals last season late in games when we were leading by 2, 3, or 4 goals, we continue to allow alarmingly soft goals far too regularly. Even bringing in a new signing will mean time for a true partnership to develop. Koscielny is not the answer. I can’t believe that the Boss has bought him thinking he will play regularly this season. I am willing to wait and see with Koscielny but close your eyes and picture him up against Drogba… What do you see? Scary, innit? Djourou is the in-house option, but, after almost an entire year off the pitch, who knows how he will return or how well he will partner with Vermaelen.

2. Who’s the keeper?

Almunia appears to be on the outs and Fabianski has turned into our very own version of David James. Szczesny has a lot of potential and performed well on-loan last season but is he ready to be the number one at a club challenging for the Premier League? I don’t think so. Arsene obviously realizes the problem as he had made numerous attempts to pry Schwarzer from Fulham, but, at 37, Arsene would only be using him as a stop-gap solution until either Fabianski or Szczesny are ready? We could not win the Premier League with a keeper of Almunia’s quality and neither Fabianski or Szczesny are much better, at this point. This question could almost bundle up with #1. Since Lehmann left, we have not had a real physical presence in goal and the same goes for the central defense. Weaker teams have targeted our weaknesses here and have been successful enough to keep us from winning anything.

3. Even if Cesc stays, will his heart be in it?

I read alot of people saying, “I hope we get at least one more year out of him.” And, don’t get me wrong, I want Cesc to stay as much as anyone. But, there can be no doubt that if he does stay, Barca will only ramp up their player-driven, management-sponsored media campaign next summer. If Cesc comes back knowing he will leave the following summer, how will that affect his performances? It’s especially disappointing as just one year ago, Cesc came back from the summer break rejuvenated in his desire to win something for the club and turned in an almost-heroic season as captain, i.e. winning the crucial Villa match single-handedly as an already injured substitute. Fast-forward 12 months and it appears his attitude and commitment have changed. Now, I know Cesc is never one to just play on auto-pilot, but how will it affect the team as well knowing that their captain, and what Americans call a “franchise player,” is likely to leave at the end of the season?

4. Will Ramsey suffer from “Eduardo Syndrome?”

In the long-run, this question is probably even more worrisome than the previous question. When Cesc leaves, his job would likely fall to Nasri and/or Ramsey. Or should I say “would have fallen?” Will Ramsey come back without the reticence that seemed to plague Eduardo upon his return? Even worse, will he be subject to the same little niggling injuries that are unrelated to the break but inevitable after such a long lay-off? Personally, I believe that Ramsey’s youth will be on his side. I think it is easier for a younger player to return from an injury like that without the mental and physical baggage that accumulated in Eduardo. But, we cannot know for sure yet, and it likely will remain a viable question until a few months into the season.

5. Is Arsene ready to give Wilshere and Vela the minutes they need to develop and contribute?

Arsene’s reluctance to let Wilshere go back to Bolton is a good sign that Wilshere may finally get a run of real league minutes. One can only hope the same is in store for Carlos Vela. Vela played a full season as a regular starter in La Liga and turned in some promising (and some absolutely stunning) performances in his first Carling Cup matches. But his League starts have been few and far between (3 out of 25 appearances). For me, Vela is just as promising a player as Wilhsere but he needs minutes. It is the only way for him to realize his potential. Obviously, his forays with the Mexican National Team have not helped his situation at the club, but I believe underusing him or, even worse, eventually losing him due to underuse, will prove to be highly regrettable a few years on.

6. Is this team really capable of winning the league?

No. The team we have RIGHT NOW, with only 3 CBs and no real keeper, likely cannot win the league. If Arsene adds the CB and keeper we desperately need, then a re-assessment would be in order. With even just a solid keeper and CB added, I believe we will once-again be in the mix come March. Just as big a factor in our potential title chances, will be injuries. I firmly believe that if van Persie had not been injured on international duty last season we could have carried our challenge even further and perhaps to a different conclusion. But, the injuries have plagued us for years now and I don’t see any reason to believe that things will be different this year. However, should it all come together and we actually get through a campaign without any long-term injuries to key players, this could also put us in a position to make a push for the title. In other words, at the moment, it appears that the stars will need to align just right, if we are to carry a title challenge to fruition this season.

There is also a sense that we are playing on borrowed time before another £250m buys City a League title and more profligate billionaires invade the game. I have always been a staunch supporter of Wenger and his youth and transfer policies. However, the dynamic of the league and football in general have changed significantly in the four or five years of Wenger’s youth project. I don’t see how, with other sides continuing to spend, we will be able to continue to compete as we have without making some changes to our approach. I firmly believe that if Arsene and the Board would only loosen their grip on the purse-strings a little bit, we could make the push that we need. When you take the amount Arsenal have spent on transfers in the last 5 years and subtract their sales of players, we are over £30m in the black. Surely, a real title challenge is worth spending £30-40m in a summer when your club has two glaring deficiencies. For once, I would love to see a little aggression (but not Barca-style aggression) in the transfer market. We should recognize that Chelsea and City have created a dynamic in the last five years which means spending is no longer just important but necessary to maintain and improve our chances. Why not spend he £25-30m it would take to bring in, say, Mertesacker and Akinfeev, two proven players in positions which need filling?

Overall, I am hopeful but cautious about the upcoming season.

Goodbye Eduardo, Hello Austria!

Today Arsenal take on Sturm Graz in what will be the first-team’s second preseason match following the 4-nil victory at Barnet last weekend. However, at least here at Arsenal Station, the optimism and hope for the new season takes a slight backseat as Shakhtar Donetsk confirm that they have bought Eduardo for £6.2m.

Of course, it’s not totally unexpected as the rumors have been flying for weeks now. Nevertheless, it is a bit of a sad moment. Eduardo came to the club in the summer of 2007 and, though he didn’t walk right into the starting XI, many of us believed he had the potential to be a great Premier League striker. He was technical, creative, and, most importantly, he was a clinical finisher. By the turn of the New Year, Eduardo was getting regular minutes in the starting XI of a side that at one point was five points clear at the top of the table. And we all know what happened next…

It took him a year to come back from that horrific injury, but, when he did, he came back in style including that fantastic goal in the FA Cup in January 2009. But, the long layoff opened him up to more niggling injuries and he was never able to get a real run of the games. Fast forward to last season.. Eduardo came out strong, like the rest of the side. And we all know what happened next…

Despite these patches of form and flashes of his former brilliance, Eduardo never seemed to fully recover mentally from that dreadful day at Birmingham. And now, with Carlos Vela and new signing Marouane Chamakh, the time was right for Eduardo to move on and get another shot at rejuvenating his successful international career with Croatia.

It’s sad to think what could have been if Birmingham hadn’t happened or, even, if Celtic Park hadn’t happened. Eduardo always seemed like a really nice guy and no teammate has ever had a bad thing to say about him. Yet, whether it was on the pitch or in the media, he was desperately unlucky. Arsenal Station wishes Eduardo all the best with his new club.

OTHER NEWS

Those senior reserve players Arsenal left behind, including Mark Randall, Jay Simpson, and Nacer Barazite, took part in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw at Crawley Town last night. Young Guns reports they “are available for a transfer should a suitable offer arrive.” While many Arsenal fans seem to rate Jay Simpson highly, I just cannot understand what has gone wrong with Barazite. He was never given as many Carling Cup opportunities as other less talented and less proven youth players.

More tomorrow…

The Dream is Over

Even I, Arsenal Station, can now admit that the dream is over. I refrained from posting after the Tottenham match because I didn’t want to make a kind of “end of season” post. However, I still don’t. I will save that for when the entire season is over. Partly because I am in the middle of an incredibly busy few weeks at school and partly because I am still in mourning for our title challenge.

To blow a 2-nil lead by conceding 3 goals in ten minutes to a side that averaged scoring less than a goal per match is something I still do not want to contemplate. Yet, having that come on the heels of our first league loss to Tottenham since I was of a legal drinking age (a long time, needless to say) a damn near suicidal turn of events. I could go through the run-down but you all saw the match. You saw damn near everyone on the pitch in a red shirt struggle except for the one man who many thought shouldn’t even be there.

I expect the end of our run to engender even more ill-will towards Arsene and the lads and the backlash has started pretty quickly. Not reproducing posts like this one on The Online Gooner is why I try to wait a little while before posting after disappointing results. For example:

How much longer can Arsene deploy the argument of youth to justify the lack of progress? This mantra is becoming as tedious as David O’Leary’s copious references to his “babies” while he was manager of Leeds United. Admittedly much of the squad may still be younger than the aforementioned blues and reds above us in the table, but they have had ample time to mature collectively. That they haven’t can only be attributed to the simple fact that they are not good enough.

“Lack of progress?” We have turned an 18-point deficit from last season into single-digits this season. That is partly due to Chelsea and United’s relative weakness to previous seasons but there can be no denying that this side is far better overall than last season and far more mature than the 2007/08 side who bottled it long before this stage.

To say that the side has not matured is ridiculous. A number of players including Song, Diaby, Bendtner, Ramsey, and Gibbs (until his injury) all were much improved over last season. As a whole, the team has matured as well having, before yesterday, lost only once to teams in the bottom half of the table. Beating the teams you should beat consistently is a sign of maturity and we have shown that this season. Don’t let the immediate disappointment blind you to the long-term improvement the side has made this season.

And then there’s Nicklas Bendtner. Does anyone apart from Bendtner and his dad really take him seriously as a footballer? Jesus, he makes Shola Ameobi look like a world class striker.

Nicklas Bendtner’s scoring run in the last two months of the season kept us in the Champions League and in the league race. If you don’t “take seriously” a guy who has scored 9 goals in his last 11 starts during the most crucial part of the season, then you must only take Rooney and Drogba seriously. I mean, what else can the kid do? He scored 16 goals last season from outside the starting XI much of the time.

And, finally:

Unless there is wholesale change, the myth will persist. That change has to start with the manager. If he is not prepared to admit that he is wrong about this latest Arsenal model, and set about rectifying things by (for starters) signing a new goalkeeper, a left back, a central defensive partner for Vermaelen, a couple of midfielders with a bit of bollocks, and a forward who knows how to score regularly and doesn’t care how the goals come, then he should go now before the legacy he has built becomes tarnished.

So “for starters” you want Arsene to go out and buy 6 players? Give me a break. I agree on the keeper and striker and possibly the CB, but a left-back? Why on earth would he spend money on a left-back? I understand that the writer is upset, as am I, over the events of the past week but that is exactly my point. Let’s wait until the season is over and then look back on the progress the side has made.

NOTE: To hear a full-length interview I did with the guys from Arsenal Review USA podcast last week prior the Spurs match where we talked about the club, the blog, and players like Bendtner and Eduardo, go here. The interview was originally used for an episode which also included an interview with 7amkickoff’s Tim Bostelle. Or listen below: