Our results in pre-season have been indifferent. After the win and draw in Asia, we beat Cologne but drew both games in the Emirates Cup. Pre-season finished with a disappointing defeat to Benfica last Saturday. We looked good in the first half of the Benfica match, with Robin van Persie finishing off a good passing move to make it 1-0. However, we saw the lack of depth in the squad exposed again as a changed second half team saw us lose the match 2-1. He wasn’t directly at fault for both goals, but there is an alarming correlation between Sebastien Squillaci coming on, and our defence suddenly failing epically. It was evident in the 4-4 at Newcastle last season, and has re-appeared in pre-season.
It isn’t just Squillaci however. Outside of our first XI, the squad doesn’t look strong enough, which is why injuries have a serious effect on the team. It’s most serious in defence and up front. As mentioned, Squillaci is not good enough and affects the team badly. Up front, as soon as Robin van Persie isn’t on the field, we can look lost going forward. Marouane Chamakh has had a dire pre-season and Nicklas Bendtner has long looked like leaving.
This is one of the main reasons that, like most fans, my optimism is low for the season. There’s a serious fear that if we are missing players, there isn’t the quality to fit in. Plus, if the first choice players aren’t firing, there aren’t good enough players to challenge them for positions in the first XI.
Then there is the mentality of the team. Is it too fragile? Is there really the ‘mental strength’ that Arsene Wenger always talks of? Honestly, August could make or break any mental strength in the side. Newcastle away brings back bad memories of last season, so getting that out of the system will be important. Udinese in the Champions League will be tough, and in recent seasons it has been unthinkable that we won’t be in the group stages of the competition. With key players missing in the first leg, it will help the mental strength to get through that qualifier. There’s also Liverpool at the Emirates, another bad memory of the late equaliser last season, so a good result can eradicate that from the mind. The month finishes at Old Trafford, and it goes without saying that winning up there would boost the mental strength of the team.
However, should any of the five games in August feature similar problems to last season, then we could be in the trouble for the whole campaign. It’ll also be dependent on arrivals and departures before the end of August. Pre-season hasn’t inspired confidence in the fans that this vital start to the season will go well. It can’t be stressed enough how important the next three weeks are for our season.
Whilst I want to be able to fully focus on matches on the pitch, there are still numerous rumours in the papers about certain Arsenal players. Once more, I’m writing the names Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona in the same sentence on this blog. It does seem the stupid saga is nearing an end, but it’s debateable if it’s a good end for Gooners. I’ve maintained throughout Barca’s merciless, and often disrespectful, attempts to sign our skipper, that it’s still better for Cesc to stay and that any move has to be for the right price. The rumoured figure being suggested is around £35m with various extras, but that’s still short of the £40m that Arsenal should expect to get in today’s market for one of the best young midfielders in the world.
As suggested by some, this is probably Barcelona’s last offer and Arsenal will probably accept it, but rejecting it could also end the saga for the summer. Another way of finishing the issue is playing Cesc against Udinese in the Champions League qualifier, as Barcelona won’t want to sign him when cup-tied in Europe. However things do seem to be progressing, and most Arsenal fans will be very surprised to see the name of Francesc Fabregas in the Arsenal squad when we play Newcastle on Saturday.
The move won’t come as a surprise to Gooners, but the way it has come still hurts. Barcelona was always going to be his likely destination, but the whole saga has shown the Catalans to be a lot less than their ‘More Than A Club’ motto. All Arsenal fans will agree that their pursuit of Fabregas has been verging on disgraceful and unfortunately their persistence could see Fabregas go for slightly less than he’s worth in the modern market.
I’m sure all Gooners will wish Cesc the best, but not echo that for the general success of his new club. Should we again draw Barcelona in the Champions League, Cesc will get a great welcome back, but Barcelona’s reception will deservedly be a lot more volatile.
I thought this blog post would have been finished yesterday, however the news is progressing quickly over the sale of Cesc so I’ve kept having to make amendments. The latest is that Wenger says that it will be resolved quickly one way or the other. Being optimistic, we could still say no. I’m probably the only Arsenal fan who has even contemplated that happening though.
Another recurring name on this blog over the summer has been Samir Nasri. As I said last week, he was shocking in the Emirates Cup, and could well be heading out the door as well. Whereas there will be genuine disappointment when or if Cesc goes, not many Arsenal fans will be overly gutted to see the Frenchman go. He isn’t committed to the club, has messed us around with his contract and looks disinterested. He is a lot more replaceable than Fabregas, so he can go.
Obviously, losing both just a day before the season starts wouldn’t be ideal, but life goes on. No two players are more important than the club and the transfers would give us money to reinforce the squad. Rumours are that a defender will be signed, with Scott Dann and Per Mertesacker the new names being mentioned. Neither would have been my preferred choice, but either would be better than Squillaci. Realistically, we’ll need an attacking midfielder. We can’t rely on a midfield three of Ramsey, Song and Wilshere for the whole season. Mata is an option there. Finally I’d like to see another centre forward, especially if Bendtner completes a move anywhere. Chamakh has had a rubbish pre-season and Robin van Persie will undoubtedly be injured at some point, so a good striker should be bought.
The signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was good, but not really what is needed at this stage. I’m sure he’ll do well at Arsenal, although he isn’t a centre back that has the experience we need now.
Although, as Arsenal fans, we know what Arsene Wenger is like with money. Whatever number of players leave before the end of August, I’ll be surprised if we sign at least three players in that time. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking it’s what we need, but history doesn’t suggest Arsene Wenger will make such bold moves in the transfer market.
All the indecision and lack of clarity over transfers has led to the massive amount of pessimism amongst fans ahead of the season. The last few weeks before the season should be about reading season preview pull outs, dreaming of what could be in May, booking to see the team live and feeling so starved of football that excitement reaches a fever pitch just before the opening day. I get a sense a number of Arsenal fans are fed up of football before the season has started. The club for one reason and another has been all over the papers and other media, and the pre-season friendlies haven’t gone as well as expected. Hopes ahead of a new season are at an all-time low in the Wenger years.
As downbeat as most Gooners feel, we are close to drawing a line under the debacles of the summer, and that can only be a good thing. Optimism may be low, but that shouldn’t squash excitement for the season. I’ve suffered with the lack of proper football over the summer, so am looking forward to finally getting underway at St James’ Park on Saturday. We can moan as much as we like about Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, but we know this season will be nothing if not interesting.
We need a statement result in August, one that gets fans off their seats and reminds them of the size and importance of Arsenal football club. Think of the thrill everyone got from the Chelsea or Barcelona matches at the Emirates last season, they’re the sort of games we look for as Arsenal fans, and we have to maintain hope that we can produce similar results in the coming season. In some ways, should a trophy come Arsenal’s way this season, we’ll appreciate and celebrate the victory more due to the underdog tag we’re increasingly taking on.
Arguably, a club like Arsenal shouldn’t be considered underdogs. We’re one of the biggest clubs in England, but unfortunately the game is changing and many don’t think we’re keeping up.
We’re nearing a point where all the players in the squad actually want to be at Arsenal, so our role as fans has to be to support them, whoever they are. Despite the low expectations, we can still try to enjoy this season as Arsenal can surprise us for good or bad. Obviously any hope could be killed by a dismal showing at Newcastle, but in the hours before then it’d be good to see some positivity from Arsenal and the fans.
It’s hard to do any sweeping predictions for the season given no-one knows who will be in the squad for most of it, so I’ll hold off until the end of August. For the moment, we need to be grateful that important football is returning. No-one will care if pre-season was rubbish if we get good results in August, with or without Fabregas and Nasri. If we’re depressed now, we’ve got another nine months to get through, so let’s start as we mean to go on and be positive.
Here’s a good season, and that Arsene finally cuts loose in the transfer market before the end of August. I know the second part of that sentence is very optimistic but August is the time to dream. Come On You Gunners!
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