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.

The Arsenal Keeps-A-Rollin’

More momentum. More belief. More confidence. These were the positive results of yesterday’s 2-nil victory over West Ham. While, on paper, it may have looked like a home match against a genuine relegation candidate, we all know that derbies with West Ham have been anything but easy in the last few years.

The  match started out strangely with Arsenal scoring right out of the gates. I can think of only three goals we’ve scored in the first 10-15 minutes all season. But it was a well-worked one-two between Denilson and Bendtner to create just enough space for Denilson to perfectly place a shot low and in the corner with his laces.

The sending-off of Vermaelen was undeniably harsh from an Arsenal perspective. I wonder what role all the media noise about whether or not Campbell should’ve been sent off according to the rule of law for his challenge on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink the other week instead of just being cautioned played in Atkinson’s decision.

In the heat of the moment, all I could think of was Vermaelen being suspended for three of our seven remaining fixtures. However, it does appear that since he was not sent-off for violent conduct that his suspension will be only one game and he will miss the Birmingham match. The obvious option is to sacrifice Song in midfield for the one match by partnering him with Sol and letting Diaby and Denilson take the midfield behind Cesc.

This is so disagreeable to many of us because yesterday was a perfect example of the growing stature of Song. His performance yesterday was efficient, energetic, and technical. What more could you ask for from a defensive midfielder. He won balls, he held the ball, he distributed it well, and he ran for most of the match. The real supporters’ test of Song’s importance to the side is to ask yourself if there is any other defensive midfielder in the Premier League that you would rather have instead of Song… Me neither.

I also wanted to comment on Diaby’s performance. I used to criticize Diaby for being all style and no substance. Yes, he had technical ability but he didn’t know how to use it in a team context. However, this season has also witnessed the emergence of Diaby into a far more mature player than I thought he could ever be. He never used to look like part of the team when he was on the pitch, but no more. He has toned down his theatrics and now uses them far more effectively because of it. His ability to control possession in midfield is outstanding and a bit reminiscent of Hleb’s ability to do the same. He has become extremely hard to dispossess in midfield and in so doing has finally become an integral part of the side.

I have to admit that I almost felt bad for Matthew Upson but even he didn’t bother to argue the penalty. Cesc stepped up, took it confidently, and added to his career-high goal tally of 15 in the league and 18 overall. There is just not enough you can say about Cesc’s form and importance this season. But his emergence as one of the most complete players in the league, if not Europe, is emblematic of the team’s overall development.

Arsene hit on it in his post-match press conference. This is simply not the same side, mentally, as last season. We are now able to grind out wins, win the matches we should win, and not just stand up to physical, bullying opponents, but match them as well. All the traits are there. Even if we don’t win the league this season, we’d have to be a fair favorite for next season’s title because this team will only get better.

It’s something I’ve been saying for two years. Some pundits thought Arsenal would drop out of the top 4 and some fans felt that we should give up on this side and even on Wenger. But even though it has been a very long wait for them to come good, I have never doubted that if we kept this team together, they would eventually bring alot of silverware to the Emirates. A team of 23 year olds can’t help but get better. And over the course of the season, and especially the last two months, we are seeing this Arsenal side burst into maturity before our very own eyes. And it is a joy to watch.

Arsenal Rely Too Much on Samir Nasri

Obviously the title is a swipe at those “pundits” whose favorite criticism of Arsenal for the past two or three months was that Arsenal relied too much on Cesc Fabregas. As if it’s a bad thing to have Fabregas playing the best football of his career. I said it a hundred times in the last few months but, in no way, do Arsenal rely on Fabregas in the way that United over-rely on Wayne Rooney, especially considering that the club’s second leading goalscorer behind Rooney is the other team… own goals!! That is pathetic. Even Chelsea look just better than average when Drogba isn’t on top-form, as witnessed over the last 4-6 weeks.

Arsenal showed up to play last night and they hit the bricks running, playing some of the quickest and deftest football of the season in the first half. And all without Fabregas. Samir Nasri gave a glimpse of what Arsenal’s post-Fabregas-era might look like. He took control of the Burnley match after the skipper went off and picked right up where he left off. His hold-up play, distribution, vision, and sheer industry was just magnificent. The goal itself was beyond magnificent. It was absolutely stunning. It really says something about the depth of this side that despite a number of significant injuries they continue to not only win but win in their usual style.

Nicklas Bendtner shrugged off the criticism of a few days ago from nearly all corners to give Arsenal a 2-nil lead within the first half-hour. Like I said after the weekend, Bendtner had just had “one of those days” against Burnley and the most encouraging thing about his performance was how he didn’t let either his performance at the weekend or the criticism of it affect his self-confidence. That is a sign of a growing maturity on Bendtner’s part. He has been criticized for his cockiness, but that is exactly what allowed him to step back on the pitch only 3 days after the events against Burnley and score a hat-trick in the most important European match of the season so far.

This Arsenal side continues to go from strength to strength. The freak events of the first leg were responded to with an emphatic performance to overcome a first-leg deficit in Europe for the first time since 1978. Belief and confidence continues to grow throughout the side and their is a commitment and togetherness that we haven’t seen in a while, certainly not at all last season. We are through to the Quarterfinals of the Champions League and four straight wins find us 2 points off the top of the Premier League. We are still very much alive in both competitions and no one questions whether or not this Arsenal side have the desire and the talent. Now we have the opportunity to finally turn it into silverware.

ARSENE WENGER POST-MATCH INTERVIEW