Arsenal 2012/13: In Arsene Wenger We Trust? Or...
"They are going down like a sinking ship."
Those aren't my words but those of an Arsenal sympathizer who is feeling less sympathetic for the club's plight everyday, and who, while not an Arsenal fan, is certainly a knowledgeable and avid football fan and with more than a basic understanding of this ship.
Arsene Wenger is the captain of the ship and in two consecutive seasons he has seen his first mate, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, jump ship. Last season the third mate, another important person in the ship's hierarchy (Samir Nasri) also jumped, and it seems Alex Song has followed that route this summer.
After being strongly linked to the Cameroonian midfielder, Barcelona has finally captured his signature (from ESPN Soccernet).
Such sales will again bring about the question of the club's ambitions despite the signing of three solid attacking players.
It hasn't been just this season though. Since the club's last trophy in 2005, first mates, second mates, third mates, whatever you want to call them, have been jumping ship or allowed to move on.
At least the majority of those players went on to play in different countries. Wenger seems to care less with this recent set though as Nasri, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor have gone to Manchester City while Van Persie is going to Manchester United.
These departures have always been somewhat offset by new arrivals, but the constant revolving door means that the team has not been acclimated to each other for more than three years at a time.
No ship can work well when important crew members are constantly leaving. Robin van Persie represents the last team member from that trophy win in 2005.
There is still some championship experience in the squad, but none of these players have won while at Arsenal.
The fact that Wenger went ahead in the market and signed three players more than capable of offsetting the departure of Van Persie helps his cause.
Arsene Wenger cannot be blamed for cashing on Robin van Persie, but selling him to Manchester United qualifies as a gross misconduct on the Frenchman's part.
The season begins tomorrow and the Gunners have again lost their best player and are losing arguably their second best in Song. Given his position and productivity, a team-leading 11 assists last season, it is strange that Wenger would let him go so late in the window.
His sale may not be too much of a negative for the team if, and only if, Wenger finds a suitable defensive-minded midfielder to plug the gap. It does not look possible given the time-frame he has left to accomplish that.
The Gunners are a stronger team on paper on the attacking front but from the defensive midfield area on, even with Song, the team is weak. I wrote last week that the club's defensive frailties will stand in the way of any proper title challenges.
In that article I focused, as some comments quite rightly stated, mainly on the quality of the players and not on any change in defensive shape.
With Steve Bould as the assistant manager there is sure to be an increase in tactical awareness defensively and Thomas Vermalean has already alluded to the new assistant's skills in the matter.
Still, I stand by my argument that should any one of Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna get injured for lengthy periods, the club will still suffer defensively.
Our left-backs are too injury-prone or not defensively sound and no statistics about interceptions etc. will convince me otherwise, because Arsenal still had the worst defense in the top four and seven teams with less goals conceded in the Premier League. That's the only statistic that matters.
Per Mertesacker and Johan Djorou might be good in spurts, but can they really be trusted for long hauls? We shall see. On paper at least, all the other title challengers have quality in their first four defenders and in the back-ups as well.
Song was a part of the defensive problem in that he preferred to roam forward and provide passes which, though productive, meant he was not where he needed to be for the team as a whole.
Gooners will point at the likes of Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong as options, and while the talent these two have cannot be questioned, they may not be the best options experience-wise in a chase for silverware.
While the defensive front still remains a problem where this fan is concerned, the attacking and midfield options are quite enticing. The hype that came with these signings is a little off-putting though.
They all had their good moments against Cologne in the team's last friendly but Sunderland, and every other challenge they will face this season, will prove a much sterner test.
Santi Cazorla is likely to be the best signing of the three and the closest to world-class of the trio. Lukas Podolski is a player with plenty of quality and one will hope that he rises to the occasion and becomes the main man for Arsenal in an attacking sense.
The one signing that didn't generate too much giddiness from me is that of Olivier Giroud. Sure, the player scored 21 goals in Ligue 1 and has the physical tools to withstand the Premier League as well as the technique to fit Arsenal's style of play. One cannot understate Arsene Wenger's eye for talent.
Still, this signing is too similar to one former Bordeaux forward who arrived just two years ago. Were Arsenal fans not excited about Marouane Chamakh's arrival? Was he not presented in virtually the same light as Olivier Giroud is now?
Chamakh at least had more experience in Ligue 1 to back him up than Giroud does at present. Will Giroud follow the same path as Chamakh? I hope not and I think not, but the hype is not justified at the moment.
Maybe I'm an Arsenal fan stuck in perpetual pessimism at the club's current state on the pitch. This doesn't mean I am hopeful that things go as I expect. As an Arsenal fan I'm not hard-wired that way.
I'm excited for the first game of the season against Sunderland and every challenge from here until May. I hope the new attackers fit into the team well and can provide us with wins and eventual silverware.
Arsene Wenger has, for the most part, done a decent job this summer. The loss of Song, despite my personal gripes, would really be disastrous though, especially with the team's current defensive makeup.
On Saturday the 18th of August, Arsenal's season begins. Let's hope the ship has been righted and the captain has the team the on the right course for treasure.
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