The Premier League season kicked off with Arsenal sitting pretty in first place after a convincing 6-1 win over a dismal Everton side. There has been a lot of discussion of the sort of players that Arsenal need and after watching the game Saturday, it can be debated that maybe Wenger’s dedication to his side has finally paid off.
Yet it’s still early days. Can the squad keep this sort of momentum going through what has been traditionally the injury months; October and November? Are they deep enough? Wenger fielded a 4-3-3 formation with a backline of Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, new signing Thomas Vermaelen and Gael Clichy. The midfield consisted of Nicholas Bendtner, Denilson and Song. The attack was headed up with Cesc Fabergas and Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin on either side of him.
Slotting Bendtner in the outside mid position proved to be technically and tactfully a smart decision by Le Boss….It allowed Van Persie to exploit the outside channel as he does with Holland as Bendtner dropped inside for attacking runs to the inside of the park. And the call for a defensive midfielder may have been answered with Song providing the much-needed steel and strength in front of the defense.
With that said and the preseason over, what does Arsenal still need, if anything? Wenger has stated that there will be no purchases, if any, until they play Celtic in the Champions League. The formation has provided the answers of how the squad should play, styling much of it after the Barcelona side that won last year’s Champion League.
The attacking side that was fielded against Everton was and is still strong enough to give any Premier League side a run for their money. The beauty of that game was that Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere were all left out for various reasons. Personally, I was skeptical myself after reading Wenger’s comments that having Eduardo and Rosicky back will be like new signings, but after seeing Eduardo’s form during preseason and with Croatia and his ‘fox-in-the-box” goal on Saturday, I’ll have to say that I agree with him.
I am still concerned with Rosicky though. I was fortunate to catch all the preseason games and he looked dangerous and reminded me of why he’s always been one of my favorite players, even before he signed with Arsenal. But the fact that he is already out with a hamstring injury makes me wonder if the surgery that was performed on the Czech playmaker will cause this to be a constant for the remainder of his career.
The biggest concern I believe for Arsenal will be injuries. If Wenger can keep his side healthy or at least without major injuries (i.e. another leg break), then I believe that the side will be title contenders.
But the fact remains that this is a crucial season for Arsenal. Simply put, silverware must be won. We risk losing our captain and other crucial players if not. The faith that Wenger has put into building side into world-class champions must pay off, in full.
Even if there are a few more players added to the squad, I feel that Le Boss will not add an impact player, especially those that we have been linked to over the transfer window.
Having a look at the squad, there are players that must contribute weekly and as it’s been said, “Know your role!”
Keeper Manuel Almunia continues to be the starter in the position after pushing Jens Lehmann out of the position prior to the German’s transfer to Stuttgart. He’s consistent and as any player knows, having a strong dependable keeper allows them to concentrate on their tasks on the field. His distribution could be a problem throughout the season, but with the addition of Vermealen to the side, it looks like the defensive problems of the past may have been addressed. Almunia is being pushed this season by Vito Manonne and Lukaz Fabianski and expect to see a rotation in various competitions throughout the season as Wenger is known to do.
The defense this season must forget the sins of the past with the departure of Kolo Toure, who has seems to have never fully recovered from his bout of malaria last season. The headless chicken defense in the center of the park that Arsenal was known for during the past seasons seems to have been put to rest.
Gallas seems to have stepped up his game after being stripped of the captain’s armband and looks to be back to his old self providing a goal on Saturday against Everton. The two centre-backs look great together; Vermaelen attacks the ball while Gallas slips back into more of a traditional sweeper role. It will take another couple of games for the two to get used to each other, but I suspect that we will see a return of the old days of Arsenal in the back; simple, solid defense.
The outside backs; Sagna and Clichy, are some of the best in the league, if not the world and this season will be another productive one for the French internationals. The movement to a 4-3-3 formation allows the two of them to further exploit the attacking runs that they’ve made in the past.
Looking onto the midfield, Arshavin has transitioned easily to the side and the speed and physical play of the league and this will be a big year for the little Russian. Barcelona has Leo Messi and Arsenal has Arshavin. Similar in stature and both make attacking runs, rarely turn the ball over and can be just as dangerous playing on the outside of field or in the middle.
Holding midfielder Alex Song needs to continue to grow and step his game up as he did during the Everton match to convince supporters and the most important person at the club; Wenger. His lack of mobility and distribution has left much to be desired, but Saturday, he proved to be the rock in the mids that allowed the remainder of the team to run rampant over the Everton defense.
No one touched the ball more than Denilson last season and on Saturday, he proved why. The Brazilian version of Arsenal’s captain Cesc Fabergas, scored a goal to open the season and the game off to a great start coincidentally thanks to Cesc’s square pass at the 26th minute. Denilson must continue his form from last year as he has filled in at the “Cesc role” providing cover along with Song and passing to the front line.
In what was an unusual move, Wenger moved Bendtner back to the outside mid position. His tracking back and attacking from the front forced turnovers by Everton and after moving out from Adebayor’s shadow, the Dane must show that he can continue this form throughout the season. His lack of consistent form have come into question and while he can score almost at will, he should put his past behind him and do what has been asked of him to support the side.
The remaining players; Robin Van Persie, Cesc and Arshavin speak for themselves. Cesc is back to top form after a great Confederations Cup run and appears to be even hungrier this season during preseason matches and against Everton. As he scored on Saturday after a classic counter-attacking run past several Everton players, his curling shot past Tim Howard was proof why Wenger stole him away from Barcelona.
His dedication to the side has never come into question as he has quickly rubbished any transfer rumors and continues to do so, but as most supporters will tell you, another season without trophies may prove to be the last straw.
Dutch international Robin Van Persie has to show why he, at one time, was dubbed the “next Bergkamp.” While he carried the squad last season after Eduardo’s injury and Adebayor’s lack of scoring run, his flashes of brilliance counter in what can only be described as poor or even selfish decisions.
In addition, the bane of Arsenal’s existence; the free kick, should be addressed as well. While struck with brutal force, the accuracy from the Dutch striker leaves much to be desired when he steps up. Surprise, surprise though Robin proved to be the provider of the ball that allowed new boy Vermaelen to head past Howard at the 37th minute. Has Wenger also addressed this with Van Persie?
Looking at the next few games, it can be said that the road will not exactly be easy for the Gunners. Regardless of the opening game, the squad simply must give 110 percent in every match. It was said by the pundits during Saturday that the squad looked hungry. Has the dressing room problems been addressed with the departure of Adebayor and Toure to Man City? It would appear so, in my opinion.
Squad players such as Eboue, Ramsey, Silvestre, Merida, Diaby and the rest have to understand that this is probably the starting lineup more or less as they head into each match and as shown on Saturday, there’s a reason why. The most important aspect of this season is to maintain an injury-free season mixed with the constant drive and hunger that was shown against Everton. It won’t be easy as Man City continues to buy and the other rivals; United, Liverpool and Chelsea all clamor to challenge for the silverware in England this season.
Wenger addressed several issues that had been asked of him by not only stockholders, but also various supporter groups. He asked for patience and promised that everything would be paid off in full. After the game on Saturday, he addressed the fact as I mentioned that several players were not even on the team sheet and he himself sees a maturity in the side and expects much more from them.
Sure it’s easy to sit from afar and play armchair manager and think that it’s as easy as playing Football Manager, but there’s a reason why we’re sitting here reading stories online and Wenger walks into offices that carry the crest that we know and love so well.
I believe that it’s simply put as “Arsene knows.”
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