Interesting Days To Be A Gooner

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The opening 13 days of the 2010-11 season has been dominated by a few motifs. The first is the emergence of Theo Walcott. The second is the “re-emergence” of Tomas Rosicky. Third, we have the neverending Mark Schwarzer saga. And now, it’s been capped off with the “arrest” of Jack Wilshere. Ah, interesting days to be a Gooner, to say the least.

Well, we were all treated to a rare, but always satisfying, sight on Saturday evening… that of Alan Hansen eating crow. It was nice to see Shearer put Hansen’s comments from the previous week to the test. I mean, who the fuck is Alan Hansen to talk about a football brain? But, anyway…  Four goals in the first three matches for Theo has seen his stock rise and everyone take notice. There is no doubt that he will benefit long-term from being left out of the debacle that was England at South Africa this summer. Ironically, going to the World Cup in 2006 proved to be detrimental to his career, while missing it in 2010 will likely prove to be beneficial.

What else is there to say about Rosicky’s start to the season? I covered it in a post last week. The only thing to do when it comes to Rosicky is pray. I have no doubt that he can sustain this kind of form long-term throughout the season. The key, however, is will he even have the chance. With an injury record that almost makes Robin van Persie look like Superman, Rosicky needs a full season at this point in his career. He is 29 now and has watched what should have been his prime years as a footballer pass him by. He is not too old yet, but he certainly is not too young either.

I think we all knew that the Schwarzer saga would go down to the final day of the window. Hughes was never really prepared to sell him until he could be assured of a deal to bring Given to Fulham on loan. That end appears to have been worked out and I imagine Hughes will now take Arsene down to the wire in an effort to increase Arsene’s desperation and, therefore, the fee. Meanwhile, rumors are that Arsene has upped his original bid of £2.5m to £3m.

Should Schwarzer come in, and Almunia leave, it still will not resolve our long-term keeper situation. I think it is a rare Gooner these days that has any confidence left in Fabianski. He just never seems to have gotten over that night at Porto. That leaves Szczesny and Mannone, neither of which will truly be ready to be a top 4 club’s number one in a year or two, which is the most we can expect from the 38-year old Schwarzer. Having said that, if you were to ask me who will be the Arsenal goalkeeper 3-4 years from now, I would have to say it would most likely be Szczesny.

Finally, as I’m sure most of you have read by now on Young Guns and all over Twitter, Wilshere was indeed “arrested” and released on bail following a fight in which a woman suffered a broken elbow and a man was injured. It has subsequently come out that he is an “important witness” to the events and “played the role of peacemaker.” One cannot help but be reminded of the trouble Robin van Persie got into in Holland during his more impetuous, early spell with the club. Obviously, the media jumped all over this and, while, I’m sure we’d all like this story to go away or resolve itself sooner rather than later, I doubt that will be the case.

As we move into the international break, I think we can feel about as confident as we could have to hoped to be following our first three fixtures. It’s hard not to think back on the opportunity lost at Anfield, but it’s hard to break down a team like Liverpool, especially with 10 men all behind the ball and the lead. The result at Blackburn was encouraging but not quite as significant as some may think. Lazy pundits still expect us to lose when we go up north. The loss at Ewood Park at the end of last season nothwithstanding, our record away to clubs like Blackburn and Bolton in the last 3 years has been very good. I did the numbers last year on our trips to the north over that period, but just don’t have time to dig them up this morning. But trust me, they’re good. Nevertheless, it was a stern test for the club and will have clued in players like Koscielny and Chamakh more into what to expect in England than either of the two previous matches.

War-saw, What Was It Good For?

An all-too familiar sight.

Yesterday’s match in Poland against Legia Warsaw still has me scratching my head wondering, “What the hell was that?” Some have suggested that yesterday’s 6-5 victory over a team that finished 4th in the Poland encapsulated both the positives and negatives of the current side. We can score a ton of goals, but we also concede a ton. (Highlights on the right).

Of course, it’s impossible to judge a team based on pre-season results against lesser sides, as Arsene has said. However, there is no denying that what we all witnessed yesterday was nothing less than disturbing. And to still be without a 4th center-back, with Anfield a week away, is even more disturbing. A Liverpool side, revitalized by the arrival of Hodgson, could’ve scored 12 goals against our defense yesterday.

All this is further exacerbated by the keeper problems. Perhaps 1-in-10 Arsenal fans have any confidence in Almunia. Even less in Fabianski. We can all agree that Szczesny is a right prospect but not ready for a title challenge. Arsene must’ve been hoping that Fabianski would put the past behind him and put in solid enough performances over the pre-season to quiet criticism of the keeping situation especially as Fulham continued to rebuff his interest in Mark Schwarzer. Instead Fabianski goes out tripping over his own defender’s leg in front of his hometown crowd. He just doesn’t seem to have ever been able to put Porto behind him.

Nasri continues to shine to the point where it almost seems wrong to push him out of that central role when Cesc returns. Gibbs also appears to be getting back to his best. While many seem happy that Gibbs and Wilshere have been called up to the England squad for the most meaningless and inopportune of friendlies, I can honestly say that I’d rather they hadn’t been.

I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the criticism of the official website over the Spahic article. It is without a doubt hypocritical on the club’s part and embarrassing. This is most embarrassing because the article has an Arsenal player, Bacary Sagna, talking about another club’s player. But this isn’t something happening for the first time. It’s been going on all summer long with these ridiculous “Transfer Linked” articles. Since the summer started, I have been unable to understand just exactly what an official website is doing posting things like that. How can we complain about Barca’s players talking about Cesc when we have linked ourselves with 20 players on our own website since May? It’s obviously such bullshit anyway because anyone who knows Wenger knows that he would never let the club put a news article about a player he’s interested in on the website. That would only drive up the price further or, worse, alienate the other club into not dealing with us. So, please Arsenal.com, do us all a favor and remove the entire section and all the articles from the official website.

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.