Sorry everyone for the little break. I was traveling for work the past few weeks, but I am back—for good—as the new season has commenced.
The game has been exhaustively dissected, so I will just touch on it briefly.
Overall, a good result. A tough game where was motivated to leave behind last year’s failures; and an Arsenal team still lacking the touch and timing which will surely come—especially with the inclusion of Cesc/Song.
Almunia was exposed again, more for his indecisiveness on crosses than for the goal, and a lack of defensive cover is clear. Chamakh already demonstrated his value; Rosicky was effective; and Koscienly looked calm (with wonderful touch).
On the whole, given a tough away tie at Anfield, Arsenal should be relatively pleased.
Turning to the season in general. First, Cesc returning is a huge plus; everyone knows that. His importance cannot be stated, only witnessed as he pulls the strings in every Arsenal match.
The collective sigh emanating from Arsenal fans was felt from to when he pledged his loyalty and provides a massive morale boost early in the season.
- Side point: I have been frustrated with some articles over the past week questioning Cesc’s commitment and speculating as to whether his play will suffer this year as a result of the failed move. Obviously, no one can predict a player’s form over 9 months, but Cesc, if nothing else, has always shown himself to be the utmost professional. This transfer saga should have convinced people on this point if they ever wavered before. Throughout this ordeal—as Barca players, coaches, and fans pulled at him relentlessly—Cesc remained humble and non-combative. He stayed above the fray and refused to be pulled into the saga. Although he is likely disappointed at the outcome, he has likely been assured he will eventually be granted his transfer – whether next year or in the near future. And, for now, Cesc will continue to drive Arsenal forward.
However, Cesc’s return must be put in perspective; his staying is not an addition, rather the prevention of a devastating subtraction. Arsenal fell short WITH Cesc last year.
Putting aside the injuries and other excuses, Arsenal was just not good enough to win the title. Therefore, one must think that we are in need of improvement. Some of this will come internally: from the growth of our young squad. As Song improved by leaps and bounds last year, another young Gunner will surely make the jump.
Still, this is not enough.
Arsenal must make external additions. Chamakh and Koscielny are a start. From his early performances, I especially like what I see from Chamakh. He is adept at holding up play, involving the creative midfielders, while also offering a genuine threat upfront—most importantly in the air.
Koscienly has looked decent. I like his aggression and aerial ability, although there have been a couple troubling instances of getting out of position. Nevertheless, these mental lapses will lessen as he settles in; he appears to have the necessary physical talents.
The emergence of young Gunners and the addition of two Ligue One players is not enough to replace four defensive players (whatever their individual merits).
So, a couple things:
- Schwarzer will likely sign, and I think he is the right choice. A proven Premier League and International goalkeeper. Big body and commanding presence who can dominate the box and—more importantly—instill calm and confidence in the backline. Shay Given is a good option as well, though he will cost more and I worry that Mancini will draw out/stop any potential transfer to a top rival. I see Arsene signing Schwarzer by the weekend.
- As has been said time and again, another defensive reinforcement is needed. Early signs suggest a Vermalean/Koscienly partnership can be formidable. However, as we know, this is not enough. I don’t trust Djourou to make it through the entire season and, even if he does, I don’t think he can guide a top-flight team to a title. Jagielka would be a perfect signing. His versatility across the back four, as well as a CDM, not to mention being a “homegrown.” This, though, seems dead. Arsene apparently made his play for the Everton defender and was rebuffed. The professor is not one to unsettle a team by persistently poaching.
- My second choice would be City’s Kompany. He fits the mould—with a great footwork and an ability to push forward. Moreover, he has a nasty streak and is comfortable at center-back or defensive-midfielder. The problem is (as with Given) I see it as unlikely that Arsene could pry him away. He was in danger of being left out in the cold with City’s many additions; however, early indications suggest Mancini sees a place for him. Probably a long shot at this point.
- Therefore, I would settle on either Roma’s Mexes or PSG’s Sakho. Both are tough and aren’t afraid to tackle with some steel. Mexes is older and more experienced; Sakho is young but battle-tested in Ligue One. Both probably cost around 10 million pounds (very affordable) and could be convinced to leave PSG’s financial problems; Roma’s desire to cash in before his contract expires next summer. Mexes would bring organization to the defense (along with Schwarzer) which has been lacking. Sakho is someone to build around and would give us four strong under-25 central-defenders (and he is a left-footed back-up to TV). I think Sakho is more realistic, but I would be happy with either one.
I don’t feel about good the season, yet. I think most of the pieces are there, but we still need two additions (Wenger’s comments suggest they same). Also:
- Frimpong can deputize as a defensive-midfielder when necessary, so my earlier fears concerning that position have largely subsided. He showed enough ability to be a genuine pest, with a tireless motor, to interrupt play; though not polished offensively, he can do enough in Song’s absence (and is much better than Eastmond).
We need a new goalie (everyone knows that) and a central defender. Wenger has admitted as much and I am confident he will make moves before August 31.
We are short right now, hence my uncertainty, but I am confident the current first-team is not complete.
So, Arsenal fans, no need to panic yet. As always, let’s wait and see.