So, the last area to look at is the forward line and Arsene Wenger has already taken steps in strengthening this part of the team by recruiting Maroune Chamakh from Bordeaux. Despite the fact that this transfer has rumbled on for the best part of a year now, it is good to have a new name to conjure with so early in the summer.
Chamakh’s scoring record with Bordeaux was solid rather than spectacular with 79 goals from 293 matches - a strike rate of a goal every 3.7 games. However, he has experience and age on his side and he does score a goal every other match when playing internationally for Morocco. Time will tell as to how quickly he adapts to the Premier League but there is nothing supporters like more than a goalscorer who is an instant hit and everyone will be hoping he turns out to be just that.
Van Persie - The Spearhead of Arsenal's Attack
At the centre of Arsenal’s attack though will be Robin Van Persie and the big question is: will we ever see him stay fit for a full season? Since joining the club, not a year has gone by when he has not spent several months injured and on the sidelines. It is hard to pin down why this is. Maybe he is just one of those players who happens to be injury-prone. Or maybe questions should be raised about the Arsenal medical team’s ability to get players fit again as quickly as possible. Certainly, it does seem like the Gunners have suffered from absences through injury more than their rivals over recent seasons. I don’t know if the statistics actually bear that out but, in a way, the statistics do not matter because the fact that it does feel like that is morale-sapping enough.
There is no doubt that the periods where Van Persie has been missing have cost the team in recent years and none more so than last season. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether his presence over those lost months might have led to the Gunners picking up some silverware but his return at the end of the season did give us a few glimpses of what we had been missing.
Van Persie’s injury record does put Arsene Wenger in a tricky position. Does he gamble on him staying fit and stick with a supporting cast of other strikers or does he sign a bigger-name forward who can prove equally integral to the Gunners attack? The signing of Chamakh suggests that he will go with the former, particularly as Nicklas Bendtner continues to develop.
Bendtner is a player who has divided the opinion of supporters more than most over recent seasons. Whilst he took some giant steps in getting the Ashburton Grove faithful behind him last season, he is still the player that comes in for more criticism than any other from fans and pundits alike. Personally, I really do not understand why he gets singled out for his mistakes when other players seem to get away with theirs. He may sometimes look ungainly. He may sometimes say stupid things. However, he is a 22-year-old striker who has netted a double-figure goal tally in each of the past two seasons. He adds some much needed height to the team and his contribution to Arsenal’s approach play often goes unheralded.
It is to his enormous credit that Bendtner has shown the strength of character to shrug off the criticism that has come his way and has quietened down the dissenting voices. He scored some vital goals towards the end of last season and he is only going to improve further.
Another player who is yet to convince some Arsenal supporters is Andrey Arshavin. On his day, he can be wonderful to watch with his low centre of gravity and bustling style. He can change games and produces goals out of nothing. But does his day come often enough? The main gripe that fans have about him is that he seems to only turn in performances when he feels like it and can all-too-easily drift out of matches when he doesn’t. I think this criticism is fair and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the coming season. Arsene Wenger aims to sign self-starting individuals whom he is confident “can do” without the need for him to drill them week-in-week out. There is no doubt that Arshavin has the ability but it is his self-motivation that is in question.
Wenger is not a manager who resorts to the hairdryer treatment very often but it is hard to imagine him allowing the diminutive Russian to breeze his way through next season as he did at times during last term. The bottom line is that Arshavin will have to find it within himself to shape up. If he doesn’t, it would be easy to see the manager simply selling him. Star players on star wages have to deliver performances every week and, even if they are out of form, the least they can do is bust a gut for the team. Arshavin still has a bit to prove in most supporters’ eyes and next season is when he has to do it.
This leaves Eduardo and Vela to consider. Eduardo had a very muted and ineffective season and, sadly, it looked like his injury had caught up with him. He was never the quickest even before that fateful day but now there are serious concerns as to whether he genuinely has the pace to play in the Premier League. It is a real shame because he is a player that Arsenal fans have taken to their hearts. Whether Arsene Wenger thinks he is worth keeping remains to be seen but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go to pastures new.
As for Vela, he seems to be the antithesis to Nicklas Bendtner in that for some indiscernible reason he has had the fans on his side since day-one and yet has produced next to nothing at the highest level. At times, he reminds you of the kid who can do all the tricks in the playground but when put in a real game situation on a full-sized pitch looks totally lost.
For me, Vela is a flashy-looking player who has no real substance. His contribution has been negligible and he doesn’t appear to have the desire or the intelligence to really impose himself on the first team scene. Last season, with Van Persie out for so many months, he had ample opportunity to make an impact and he did nothing of the sort. He has already made comments about hoping the World Cup would open doors for him and a move away to Wigan has been mooted. On the evidence of his Arsenal career so far, were he to be sold, I doubt anyone would really notice.
So there you go. Over the past few weeks I have tried to give you my perspective on where I think the Gunners need to reinforce - and where they need to prune. It is evident from the majority of comments left that Arsenal supporters are not expecting wholesale changes but they do expect the spine of the team to be strengthened with a new goalkeeper, central defender and defensive midfielder. An additional striker wouldn’t go amiss either. And all of these players could largely be financed by cutting loose some of the deadwood in the squad.
I have tried not to mention the Cesc and Barcelona situation this week but we all know that whether he stays or goes will be the pivotal transfer news of the summer. As I said last week, let’s worry about it when there is actually something to worry about. We know that Arsene Wenger will do everything he can to keep him. Let’s hope he achieves that.