The Squad Has Depth And Window Judgement
It was a tough summer to be an Arsenal supporter and the club took a lot of stick from some very unhappy supporters. Rival supporters and especially the media, revelled in the disharmony surrounding Arsenal on social media.
To make things worse there was a lot of in-fighting amongst the Arsenal faithful and to many, not attacking the club was cause to be attacked. There was no middle ground, you either slagged off the club or you were endorsing “mediocrity”. I, like many, tried to stay on the fence.
I don’t think I have endorsed or accepted mediocrity at Arsenal under Wenger but then again I don’t think we’ve had anything like mediocrity at the club in the past 16 years but that’s for another day.
Throughout the summer I maintained that I would withhold judgement on the transfer window until the 3rd of September so I guess now is as good a time as any to pass my “judgement”.
In simple terms, I think it was a successful window albeit an extremely tense and incredibly frustrating one.
I’ll start with Özil; Mesut’s signing on the last day of the transfer window was cause for much elation but the perpetual moaners and those who like nothing better but to groan and lament are enjoying insisting that it was all a shambles and regardless of how good Özil is, it’s papering over the cracks and we are still “weak” all over the pitch and we should have done our business earlier.
Alongside withholding judgement I also said that I would prefer to wait until the last minute and sign players of absolute quality rather than settle for less just to get it done early.
I admit to going into the last week of the window and worrying if we were going to sign anyone of note as by that point it had become abundantly clear that the early rumours of Cesc and Rooney were not going to come to fruition.
At that point I wished we had maybe signed some “lesser” players like Cabaye and Fellaini earlier in the summer so we were stronger and settled but with the arrival of Özil I feel the club did absolutely the right thing.
It would have been impossible to sign Özil earlier in the summer as it all seemed to hinge on Bale. Madrid wouldn’t sell without having Bale in their clutches and Tottnum wouldn’t sell Bale if they knew we were going to get the better end of the deal. They sell their only world-class player and we buy a world-class player in arguably the area we needed one the most.
George and Ronan on Positively Arsenal spoke an incredible amount of sense in their latest podcast when they said that our biggest problem last year was creating chances. Özil is a genuine solution to that problem.
Some say that we need defenders but as the PA chaps said, and I totally agree, it is insane to suggest that the defence that conceded the second fewest amount of goals last season are defensively inept. It is asinine in the extreme to even contemplate labelling our defence as rubbish because they are anything but.
Maybe I am being harsh on those that incorrectly believe that we are defensively weak or susceptible. Maybe it is years of having a less than great defence programming people into believing we cannot improve defensively but let me assure you that we have.
I wrote a blog last summer defending our “shambolic” defence and explaining why I felt we had conceded so many goals and detailing why I felt we would be better. I even wrote about why I felt Mertesacker could be at the heart of a new “famous back five”. I seem to have a penchant for backing under fire players like Mertesacker and Ramsey and enjoy it immensely when they repay my faith (and that of others) by proving all the doubters wrong. I had a conversation this morning where someone maturely admitted they were wrong about Mertesacker but crucially they were glad to have been wrong. And I have conversations like that all the time.
So the defence isn’t the issue and with the amount of goals our first choice front three scored last season I can’t say it is our strikers inability to hit the back of the net. George is right when he says it was about chances created. Strikers will miss chances but if you make enough of them they will score and last season we didn’t make enough of them.
I honestly believe with the addition of Özil that we have a team, nay a squad, capable of challenging for honours this season. I don’t fancy Manchester United because their midfield is truly awful for a team of their stature, their new manager has nothing like the ability of Ferguson when it comes to dragging average squads over the line and I don’t think Van Persie has another 30 goals in him this year as Dave Seager wrote in this blog a while back.
Tottenham have far too many new players to mount a serious challenge this season but I think they could be a force next season. I don’t think their new players would have strengthened our first XI but I do think as a squad they have enough to be serious top 4 contenders next season and moving forward. It’s Arsenal’s job to ensure they build on the revolutionary potential of our Bergkamp-esque signing and not let Tottnum close the proverbial gap.
If we are to be serious title challengers this season, and I believe we can be, then our competition will mostly be the benefactor backed boys in blue and what an incredible feat it would be for a self-sufficient club, led by a self-bought talisman, to win the title ahead of the oil boys.
Many believe that our squad is not good enough in terms of numbers to cope with a title challenge but I disagree for a few reasons. Firstly, we only have to stay competitive until January to strengthen further. Secondly, no team has picked up as many points as Arsenal this calendar year nor have the form Arsenal have had since March. Lastly, as many have pointed out including Dave Seager on his blog and Queen of Suburbia on twitter talking about Barca and Bayern, you only really need a core squad of 17-18 players, with 16-17 outfield players.
Arsenal have that in: Szczesny, Sagna, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere, Özil, Rosicky, Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski and Giroud.
We also have, in some cases when fit, the following: Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby, Bendtner (I’ll come back to him), Fabianski, Viviano and Frimpong.
In addition we also have young players in the first team squad that are able to step in, on the odd occasion, when needed such as: Ryo, Zelalem, Sanogo, Gnabry, Eisfeld, Yennaris and Akpom.
I’ve heard that we needed to buy a new keeper and some don’t consider Viviano to be of the calibre they wanted such as Casillas or Begovic. I’m not saying that Szczesny is as good as those players but as he continually proves, and did in the North London Derby, he has world class potential. Most people recognise that he his biggest issue is a lack of competition. Some would agree when I say I rate Fabianski as the superior keeper but not the superior player and despite looking to have got over his confidence issues it’s impossible to challenge someone when you are unlucky with injuries.
Our new keeper is 6ft 5! Understudy to Buffon – so basically the 2nd best keeper in Italy…good purchase.
— QueenofSuburbia (@QueenofSuburbia) September 5, 2013
What Viviano brings is greater competition because we have three keepers, hopefully with at least 2 fit at any one time, who are roughly at the same level. It’s not competition if you are vastly better than your rival for the no.1 spot. Szczesny will have a much better year this season because the defence is constantly improving (that Per tackle in the NLD, oh my) and he’ll need to stay at the very top of his game because it’s not just Fabianski breathing down his neck.
Vermaelen will be back soon and that makes 3 top quality CBs fighting for 2 spots and Per and Laurent are probably the best partnership in the league. We also have Sagna who has performed admirably at centre-back and if push came to shove Jenkinson could even do a job there.
We can only play 2 of those 5 players at centre-back at any one time and we only have 23 games, plus 1-2 COC games before we can buy and register another player. It’s not inconceivable to believe those players can last until January. We could fall foul to injuries as we have done in the past but injuries are part and parcel of the game and overloading the squad with insurance players is another cause of deadwood.
We have 9 players who can play as fullbacks, made up of natural fullbacks and versatile players; Sagna, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Monreal, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Flamini, Ramsey and Yennaris. And that’s just the first team.
In our “double pivot” we have four senior players; Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Flamini, Frimpong and Diaby. In some games, maybe later Champions League group games if we qualify early or if in a pinch before January we also have Rosicky, Zelalem, Eisfeld and Yennaris.
Attacking midfield is covered by Özil, Cazorla and Rosicky. Other options include Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Wide forward/midfield is covered by Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Ryo, Gnabry and even Gibbs/Monreal in desperation.
Striker is where some feel we are weakest but we have Giroud, Walcott, Podolski, Sanogo and Bendtner and that’s before we even get to young players. Bendtner is an interesting one because he cuts an extremely unpopular figure with Arsenal supporters.
I am not a massive fan of his attitude but I have no doubts about his quality. There are many who would label him as rubbish but I think some people just get into a mindset that doesn’t allow them to see the wood for the trees.
Bendtner’s record is incredibly good. He can and does score goals, important ones too. He scored 8 goals for Sunderland last season and Sunderland were absolute cack. You let Özil and Cazorla set up him and even as a substitute we begrudgingly use over the season I guarantee he’ll get double figures in all competitions.
Nicklas Bendtner’s problem is he thinks he is better than he is but if he took a good look in the mirror and said “Nic, you’re not TGSTEL but you’re a bloody good player, sort yourself out son and make something of your career” then I think he’d be a great asset to any team. I believe he has done that too, maybe foolishly but I believe it nonetheless.
I think his willingness to go to Palace shows he is maybe turning a corner and wants to prove himself again. I have a few mates who are close to Palace as I’m from that part of the world and whilst I cannot say this is gospel I believe them when they say that Palace would struggle to pay him half of the reported £52k a week he is on at Arsenal.
So where are we lacking depth? Maybe we could have another top quality striker to complement and compete with Giroud but we already have one of the best strikers in the league in Giroud. He’s had his critics but already this season you can see he has improved upon both his strengths and weaknesses. That goal against the Spuds was technically superb.
All we need to do is get to January, and be in a good position, and we can make the signings we want and need. Arsenal may have player a risky game this summer and to many they may have left it too late but the Özil signing is a signing of intent and one that will attract the level of player we want at Arsenal. It seems we tried to bring in a short term solution in Ba, who would have been decent backup, but why should we be held to ransom for a player we only want for insurance purposes?
The recurring theme in the squad and this blog about the squad is versatility. We have an incredibly versatile squad and Wenger re-signing Flamini was, in my opinion, a fantastic piece of business.
I admit to feeling he was maybe past it about 12 months ago due to his repeated injuries but he impressed me with what I saw of him last year at Milan and he obviously impressed Wenger.
I will probably write another blog on Flamini another time as I fear this one is long enough as it is but he showed me enough against Spurs for me to feel extremely grateful for having him at the club once more.
So don’t worry about depth at Arsenal for the moment because January is the target for this current squad and we have more than enough quality and depth to get there.
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