It’s a bit funny, that after a summer of such excitement and drama and comings and goings and good and bad and ugly; after all the speculation and hope; the feverish anticipation; and endless prophecies and predictions, Arsenal have actually opened the season with two perfectly unremarkable 0-0 draws.
It’s an odd feeling. Kind of like turning up to the Playboy mansion to find the cast of “Golden Girls” serving up tea and scones.
I suppose it’s because over the past five or six years our beloved Gunners have developed something of a reputation for producing “unusual” performances—we win when we’re not supposed to, we lose when we’re not supposed to—and thus we have evolved to expect the unexpected.
Not this season, apparently. Which is wonderful.
In the past the Gunners’ team was built on a foundation of youth and energy and we both reaped the rewards and accepted the consequences of that foundation.
Flair and spontaneous brilliance and team synchronicity was familiar, but so too were those follies of the young: rash decision-making; over-zealousness; a tendency to lose concentration and sight of the collective team goals; and those underlying, oft-repeated adjectives—“developing”, “promising”, “maturing”—which are really just polite euphemisms for a team which had gleaming technical and attacking skills, but lacked the solid, condensed mental core of champions.
No longer. After years of crying out for more experienced and influential players, the Gunners are heading into a season, finally, in which nine of the 11 first-choice players are 24 or older.
This is an important number, both in the context of the season ahead, and—possibly more pertinently in the short-term—with regard to the transfer window, which shuts in three days’ time now and into which Arsene Wenger has cryptically suggested he might dip his big toe.
Their composed start to the season suggests that the Gunners will not be quite as directionless this year as they have been going into past seasons. This means that any purchases Wenger could possibly make during what is left of the window will, as far as I can tell, be decided by four criteria.
1: What is a “need” of the team?
2: Which available players can fulfil that “need”?
3: Are the players available also affordable to us?
4: How would the overall balance of the team be affected if that player was purchased?
In an assessment of the Arsenal, there appears to be a general consensus that there are three areas the Gunners could look at bolstering.
The first is a supposedly shallow and inexperienced defense, which could suffer should we sustain long-term injuries on either defensive flank or to a first-choice centre-back.
The second is the defensive midfielder role, which I am getting sick of typing. This area has been identified as one of need because Arsenal’s most defensive-minded midfielder Alex Song has been sold.
There seems to be a prevalent opinion that if a piece of the puzzle goes missing, you have to instantly replace it with a piece that resembles the lost piece’s shape and role as closely as possible.
This is silly, because it appears that Wenger is building an entirely different puzzle to the one Alex Song happened to be in, and even when Wenger was doing the puzzle that needed the Alex Song piece, the Alex Song piece kept getting lost under the couch anyway.
Finally, the position of striker has been identified as a position of utmost weakness because Arsenal’s two new strikers—who have played just over three games between them in an Arsenal shirt—have been deemed as incapable of finding the net, despite both being seasoned internationals coming off rampant seasons with their respective clubs and both of whom could easily have opened their accounts multiple times in the two opening matches were it not for those damn rust mites.
For these three reasons, the following names have been frequently and sometimes strongly linked with the Gunners. This is an assessment of the likelihood that each player would be purchased, and a study of the factors that led to the grade given.