Many blogs and opinion-mongers will, as a matter of principle, refrain from writing season previews before a transfer has even been signed. Consider then, that Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea all have a line of signings to boast about already, and have all practically won the league 11 months before it’s meant to finish. In what proves to be an historic first, the Reds, the Blues and the Red Devils all tie on points on 106 points each – 34 wins, trouncing everyone in sight, and each drawing with the other in spectacular 7-7 draws. Arsenal are left smouldering, smoked and thrashed by the transfer happy Man City (thank Ian Wright for that piece of Soothsaying), and Keaninised Sunderland, left with a meagre 6 points at season’s end, having beaten Tottenham home and away as per usual.
Six lousy points. The lowest total ever in Premier League history. More than likely First Division History.
And how did we as the fans allow such a travesty to occur? With such visions of the future, in which we see the scintillating ooh’s and aah’s eminating from Old Trafford (snicker), and the bursting pace of Ballack (no, seriously) unleashed with the signing of Steve Sidwell (all is forgivven, Steve), and…well, I cant actually make fun of Liverpool at the moment, but I’ll get there in time…how is it that we allowed our once glorious club of Kiwomya-fame to fall into an abyss of anonymity?
How is it that our club, having lost Thierry Henry, as well as the tied-for-leading-goal-scorer against the Big Clubs (that’s right, I’m referring to Matthieu Flamini), has failed to replace the outgoings with shiny new trinkets? Outgoings list as Henry, Reyes (imminent, surely), Lupoli, Muamba, Flamini (coming soon to a Brum near you), with only Bendtner and Super-Nordtveit coming in. For now.
Notice something perculiar, people? Henry aside, none of those players had any bearing on the season prior at all. Yes, Flamini scored vital goals against Chelsea and Liverpool, but we didnt win/nearly win those games because of him. Henry rescued us against Boro (twice), scored a wonderful header against Manchester United, and seven other goals in fourteen other appearances. The season was over fifty games long. Now tell me that we’re seeing our club disintegrate into nothing. We are losing the chaff, the fat from the lean, not the other way round.
So ends the satire. I’ve said it a million times: Don’t Panic. Let’s take a look at the Arsenal team as is:
Adebayor van Persie
Rosicky Gilberto Fabregas Hleb
Clichy Gallas Toure Eboue
::with backup in the following positions::
Diaby Song Denilson Walcott (the clone)
Traore Senderos Djourou Hoyte
Nay, I hear you cry! We are in desperate need of wingers, this much is certain. And now with Henry departing, a striker’s been added to the list. The defence is up for debate, but at least Goalkeeping options are well-secured. The aim of this article, though, is to speculate how the current squad will fare in the coming season, with reference to last season. As it is currently topical, we’ll start with the striking options. Henry is gone, and long may his legacy remain. It is time to move on. In his absence (which we’ve already had a season to get used to, thanks to sciatica), we have the brilliant van Persie and the severely underrated (hell, castigated) Adebayor, the hype of Bendtner, and the potential of Walcott. Of those four, van Persie is the gem, and it’s time to start pushing that envelope more and more – Henry may have moved on, but we still have van Persie. He is a crucial player with the world at his feet, and not in a ‘Jason-Roberts-has-the-world-at-his-feet’-world-at-his-feet sort of way, neither. van Persie is pure dynamite. Can score from anywhere, can send defenders into a spin (ask Ooijer) and is a very competent winger when need be as well. To me, Adebayor is the interesting player – I am still blissfully unaware as to why his skills are so harshly berated by fans and rivals alike. He missed countless opportunities last season, yes. But consider that Henry, in his first season and a half, couldn’t find a banjo or a barn door for an extended period of time. Not to say Adebayor is the next Henry, but he could be better than Kanu, given time – perhaps straight into next season, even. He looks a lot older than he really is, too – the kid’s a young a one, remember. I for one would be exceptionally happy with an Ade/Robin partnership, provided the backup was a little more convincing. The backup, at present, is Bendtner and Walcott. Much remains to be seen of Bendtner, which will be left for the ‘Season Prospects 2′ entry, coming in a few weeks time. Walcott, however, is exceptionally exciting, and I will call upon three cases which justify this excitement – the loss to Manchester City, the win against Hamburg and the Carling Cup Final. The first demonstrated an incredible dribbling ability that can only be improved if he learns more off the likes of Rosicky and Hleb (yes, I said Hleb) – and couple that with a bit more upper-body development, and he can prove himself as a real gem. The Hamburg game was one of his best performance in an Arsenal shirt, I feel – he commanded the right wing once he came on, and exploited the opponent’s tired legs to provide a wonderful cross for Baptista’s goal. I don’t think there’s much to be said about the Carling Cup Final that you don’t already know. I still reference the first half of that match to show that there is a brilliance coming out of Arsenal that is being dampened down by all the negative PR. I still remain the optimist in that regard.
The midfield is interesting. Bad news first, I say – we need wingers. And the whole world knows this. Getting wingers will prove more important than signing Henry’s replacement. Why? Wenger is a keen admirer of the winger-striker: Van Persie, Reyes, Walcott as examples, Pires and Ljungberg as the kinda-maybe factor. Oh, and Thierry. Getting wingers means we have backup for the four strikers we already have. I could rattle off a bunch of wingers names, but wont. What I will focus on is the current crop. Let it be known that I am very pro-Rosicky, pro-Adebayor (as mentioned), and pro-Hleb. Before you jump out with your daggers and chainsaws, I’ll make their defence. (This is the good news, I guess, which may seem like bad news for the rest of you)…It seems many are going to give Rosicky time, justifiably. An amazingly gifted footballer who came in as an ACM for Dortmund. We all knew he was a central midfielder, and we all knew he was going to play on the wing. He is skillful enough to balance out his ‘cutting-in’s with some width play. He will learn, and all the coaching staff will know one of our problems last season was a lack of width. Rosicky can cross – I saw some incredible crosses of his during the Dortmund days, and he can provide that on a regular basis if coached correctly. Let’s get straight to Hleb – his first season (Highbury Salute) won me over. Brilliant start, dwindled for a bit, and then discovered Eboue in the Champions League and linked up well. This carried on over to the beginning stages of the season, until something terrible happened – Hleb lost the blonde highlights in his hair.
Let’s get one thing straight – the sooner Hleb goes back to blonde, the better.
An old school dribbler, Hleb has linked up brilliantly with Cesc and Rosicky before, cutting inside more often than heading for the right-corner flag. Problem? Yes, unless we change to a 4-5-1. More on that later. If you can recall the buildup to Flamini’s goal against Liverpool in November 06, and the buildup to van Persie’s goal against Reading away, you’ll know of Hleb’s uses. And they’re very good uses. I’m still going to get very strange looks about Hleb, but I stand by Aliaksandr – at least because of the awesome spelling of his name. And the memory of the blonde days.
Nothing much more needs to be said about Gilberto and Cesc – the partnership works best with Gilberto sitting in front of the defence, and Cesc reeling off his ranging assists. If anything, the central midfield for Arsenal is more than fine, with Denilson and Diaby providing more than adequate backup. Questions still linger with Ljungberg, however – the aging star (well, he’s only 30…) has lost a lot of pace over the years, thanks to injuries, in a similar way that Michael Owen lost a lot of his, too. I still get this feeling that he has an ounce or two left to give to the club, albeit for one more year. And it comes in the form of my desire for a 4-5-1 formation. Hleb’s tendencies/fanatical-desire to cut inwards means he should be playing more centrally than right wing. Ljungberg’s natural position is the afformentioned one, competing with Walcott and Eboue. That possible selection of competition could make it an intriguing position – Ljungberg would need to learn how to cross, but the latter two seem to have no hesitation to cross, neither. Plus they have quite substantial pace. Ljungberg, for some reason, is gelling my thinking, here, in that his utility is still necessary backup for the centre, right wing and strikers.
To the defence: No arguments about Clichy – brilliant application, concentration and pace. The only settled player, in some regards. Gallas and Toure, as a partnership, remains an enigma. Both are essential to the squad as seniors, certainly – however, a lot of work must be done in pre-season to gel that partnership together. Nearing season’s end, Toure seemed to lose concentration more than once. His partnership with Senderos has been cut short too early, I feel, but both Phillipe and Johan Djourou are able back ups. The latter excites a lot of fans, currently. Eboue and Hoyte are two different players – many feel Eboue should be played further forward. Again, it comes down to coaching – a lot of changes must come from within in this club, and these two players are just an example – Hoyte shows signs of developing an attacking streak to his sound defensive record, and vice versa for Eboue. I am convinced this can be done in the coaching circles, and not necessarily by transfers.
Can this team challenge for the title as is? Something needs to be done to combat the ‘little teams’, which aren’t so little anymore, given the TV money. Within the Big-Four, we were awesome last season, and it will be interesting (probably crucial) to see if they can repeat those feats again. For now, we’ll end it there – the sequel to this piece will probably be shorter, but will round some things off. Like Bendtner, and transfers. Just remember to breathe.
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