As we go to press the weekend before the Emirates Cup tournament, the squad, minus the two players that appeared in the World Cup Final and Sol Campbell, are in Austria for the now traditional pre-season training camp. Some out of contract faces have unsurprisingly departed, along with Eduardo, whilst the club has acquired a forward and a centre back. Given that Chamakh came on a free transfer, the net transfer market spend so far is around £2 million. It is widely believed that keeper Mark Schwarzer will join from Fulham once the club have installed a new manager, although the fee involved should not put a serious dent into Arsène Wenger’s transfer kitty.
There are close to six weeks of the transfer window still to go, so all that can be expressed at this stage is the hope that the manager will give himself the best possible chance of success in the coming season by using all the resources available to him – which of course means spending any money he has. A pile of cash sitting in the bank does little to excite spectators. Wenger stated that he intended to tie up all the club’s transfer business before the beginning of the World Cup, although he’s been fairly quiet on that subject since. Talking of non-communication, the manager’s annual Q&A session with invited shareholders seems to have been quietly forgotten, meaning his ‘judge me in May’ mantra can only really be carried out by fellow holidaymakers he might bump into in Corsica or wherever it is the Wengers go for their annual vacation these days.
The deep-rooted fear of Gooners is that certain of the problems that have handicapped the club in recent times might not be addressed. Ultimately, the title challenge collapsed last season because, in too many matches, the team failed to achieve results from winning positions. Most put this down to a lack of experience, the know-how to close out a game. Whether this will improve is a question that will tell us whether silverware is likely by the end of next May. The signs are that Sol Campbell will remain, but William Gallas has so far been replaced by a relatively unknown Frenchman who does not look to have been round the block too many times in terms of trophies. Marouane Chamakh, at least, has experience of winning the title with Bordeaux, although scoring goals was not often a problem last season.
It must be remembered that Arsenal surprised us in August and September last year. With the lack of transfer activity, pessimism was in the air, but the team started well and played some of their best football in the opening weeks of the season. Gradually, injuries to key players meant the team fell
away at the death, but a stuffed treatment room is now such a given at Arsenal that it would be naïve not to concentrate on strength in depth. And this is where Arsène Wenger must spend his money. Who will cover for Alex Song? Unfortunately, none of the current candidates are good enough, so this is an immediate priority, not least to keep the player himself on his toes.
Arsenal’s formation can be fairly flexible in front of the defence, and at times, Wenger played two holding players in midfield – the other was often Diaby – although as play developed, Song’s partner often drifted forward and the side looked vulnerable to counter attacks. Given the number of midfield and striking options available, it would be reassuring if the additional defensive midfielder that the squad is crying out for were to be played alongside Song, to give some solidity and greater protection. The most successful teams in the World Cup – and indeed the Champions League – had two defined holding midfield players. This still allows four attack-minded players in front. The problem with playing Diaby or Denilson as the Xavi Alonso to Song’s Sergio Busquets is that neither has the intelligence or ability to carry out the role properly. Seeing Gilberto play for Brazil in South Africa made me pine for days gone, such was his positional nous.
There’s no great insight in stating that Arsenal over-prioritise attacking football at the expense of their defensive capabilities. However, what must be hoped is that the manager is fully aware of this, and that – being paid over £100,000 a week to maximise the club’s chances of success – he addresses this glaring handicap. My belief is that this can only be done in the transfer market, unless he has plans to convert a defender to the role. Either that or throw in Craig Eastmond or Emmanuel Frimpong, which isn’t going to happen in a month of Sundays, for the good reason that neither player has the requisite experience. However, there is an argument for these youngsters to be primed for the role so that they could provide back up if required. Basically, Arsenal must stick to a solid 4-2-3-1 and drop the 41-4-1 that has led to the needless concession of goals when an attack breaks down. Of course, the club’s chances of a successful campaign will take a massive dent if the skipper is sold, and the current situation is obviously an undesirable one. Fabregas’s agent was happy enough for him to sign a contract extension that rewarded his client very well in return for his loyalty, but agents being agents, his eye is now on the next commission and the player’s obvious desire to return home is currently being exploited. Chances are that the feelings within the player are no different from what they have been for at least the last two close seasons. The problem now is that he has been encouraged to express himself, leading to questions about his dedication to the Gunners’ cause. Of course, if he did have similar feelings in 2008 and 2009, they in no way affected his contribution, and it must be hoped that the same happens now. There is little doubt the player would be allowed to leave if Barcelona made the kind of offer that a club that prioritises the balance sheets could not refuse. However, the Catalans have money troubles, so it looks as though we will go through all this again in a year’s time.
- Kevin Whitcher
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