Premier League: Arsenal '08/'09 Preview
This season is a defining one in the development of Arsene Wenger’s youthful side. For the past few seasons, after the departures of the influential Patrick Vieira and then the talismanic Thierry Henry, the Gunners have been spared the pressures of a demanding fanbase and expectant media frenzy.
Alternatively, Wenger often offers explanations on his youth philosophies: His illustration of "building a house" concerned with progress in the maturing an adolescent talents is shoved in our faces to distract from the failures of the first team.
We are bombarded with propaganda, from both within and outside the Emirates, reminding us that Arsenal is still a young side, but sure to flourish soon. But not this year, we are told. Maybe next season.
In actual fact, this is the time for the Arsenal to establish themselves as a consistent side. The unreliability of the team is becoming tedious and is threatening to permanently take the limelight away from the undoubted talent within the first-team squad.
Speaking of irregularity in performance levels, goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has flapped at his last cross in this country after signing for Bundesliga outfit VfB Stuttgart. Manuel Almunia is likely to continue between the sticks, with the promising Lukas Fabianski as backup.
Though unlikely, Wenger may be tempted to bring another goalkeeper into the side. It is believed he is a great admirer of Juventus stopper Gianluigi Buffon, but Juventus would be sure to demand an astronomical transfer fee if any deal were to be done.
Defensively, on paper Arsenal look very short. They certainly appear lacking a backline fit for Premier League champions. Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy are athletic and have enough stamina and pace to last for more than ninety minutes at a time, but their concentration levels were tested last season.
The Swiss duo of Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou look out of place in an Arsenal shirt. Djourou does not seem to have the physique to play centre half, and could perhaps be better suited to a central midfield berth. A case of square pegs in round holes?
Senderos, on the other hand, is a case of a special, undesirably shaped peg in a round hole. He is the complete antithesis of everything the Gunners have offered us on the pitch in the past few years; lacking composure, technique, and looking frankly dopey at times.
Although history tells us Wenger likes a bruiser of a defender in his squad—Igors Stepanovs, Pascal Cygan, et al—so he is likely to stay.
William Gallas’ inadequacies in the captaincy role were highlighted last season, with his sulking on the pitch after the disappointing trip to Birmingham the most telling example. The stand-out performer in the defensive setup at Arsenal is undoubtedly Kolo Toure, who suffered a slight dip in form last season, partly due to being shifted between right back and his preferred centre back position.
A cultured defender would undoubtedly improve the side as a whole, a Sergio Ramos or a Philippe Mexes type defender.
Enough doom and gloom for now.
There is cause for optimism in the centre of the pitch. In Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal have one of the finest players in the world at the moment, and he is certain to continue to his dazzling performances in the heart of the midfield.
Yes, Mathieu Flamini has gone and Alexander Hleb looks set to follow. Nevertheless, Gilberto, Abou Diaby, and Denilson will compensate for the failure to secure a new contract for Flamini and, in Samir Nasri, the Gunners have catered for any potential loss of Hleb with the capture of one of the finest young talents from the continent.
Young, full of pace, and technically superb, the man once tipped as the next Zinedine Zidane had attracted a multitude of interest from around Europe before signing on the dotted line at the Emirates.
In press conferences, Wenger has seemed excited at the prospect of the Frenchman in the Premier League. He will have to learn quickly and surpass the low standards that he and his country set in the European Championships if he is to make an immediate impact. But he may have to be patient, as the likes of Walcott and Rosicky have learnt.
In recent years, Wenger has become an aficionado of the one-up-front system now used by so many Premier League managers. In Van Persie, Walcott, and the much-hyped Carlos Vela, Arsenal have a multitude of players who could be classified as wide forwards. However, they lack old-fashioned centre forwards—someone who can stick the ball in the back of the net on a consistent basis.
Last season, Emmanuel Adebayor filled the role, but it looks like he is set to leave after becoming too big for his boots and demanding a massive pay rise. This leaves just two options: long-term injury absentee Eduardo, who had impressed before his horrific injury last season, and the gifted, yet misfiring, Nicklas Bendtner—possibly another player who might have to step up his game if Arsenal are to threaten the best this season.
So who to fill this position?
David Villa looks unlikely to be heading for the Premiership. Mr Wenger has always been a keen admirer of fellow countryman David Trezeguet, and though his best days may be behind him, it may prove to be a shrewd signing.
Could Arsene attempt to snatch Dimitar Berbatov from North London rivals Spurs? Probably not, although he would prove ideal.
So what will it be for Arsenal? Will they finally achieve success or will the promotion of promising youth once again flatter to deceive?
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