Each season Wenger makes his pledge to challenge for the title and win trophies, one must therefore judge the season’s success on this pledge.
Arsenal and importantly Arsene Wenger have been common topics on The Whitehouse Address in recent months. Poor tactics, poor transfers and failed philosophies have all led the assumption that Wenger is simply not very good.
Although these views have weight there are issues such as the finances which need to be given consideration and credit must go to the impressive feat of attaining Champions League football for 14 years in a row. However, when each season Wenger makes his pledge to challenge for the title and win trophies, one must therefore judge the season’s success on this pledge. Thus, for eight years Wenger has failed in his task at Arsenal.
So far impressive, yet it's early days
Last season was one of Arsenal’s worst for many years, transfers in and out of the club were poorly managed and timed and Arsenal were quite simply a shambles. Credit to Wenger for finishing 3rd yet he must be thankful for the capitulation of Spurs and the mismanagement of Chelsea and Liverpool. Yet if you judge a club on their final standing, Arsenal had a relatively successful campaign.
So far this season they have impressed many and have many believing that this may be Arsenal’s best side for a long while. Some are even saying they are title challengers. Yet haven’t we been here before? Last season was an anomaly on what usually happens at Arsenal.
In 10/11 Arsenal won four and drew two of their opening six games. They finished the season 4th, 12 points off the top. In 09/10 they won eight, drew one and lost two of their opening 11, they ended 3rd, 11 points off the top. One of their best starts came in 07/08 they won 11 and drew four of first 15 games, they came 3rd, 4 points from the top.
The truth is, that in recent seasons, Arsenal have tended to have good starts, only to fall away when it really mattered, when the pressure got high. Although this has been an impressive start, let us not judge Arsenal’s performance until April. Because it has been the “business end” of the season where Arsenal are often left wanting and I do not see any difference again this season. Although there are clearly positives to the side this year of which I will address, there are clearly concerns which will ultimately cost the side.
Moving on from RVP
Replacing Van Persie effectively was never going to happen because Arsenal do not have the money and means to do so. Only perhaps a player like Falcao or Llorente could have come in and made an impact like RVP. However, the signing of Podolski has so far brought Wenger some vindication, however one wonders if he will continue this form throughout the season. He struggled badly at a big club when at Bayern and although he has matured since then, one wonders if he will continue his impressive start.
And for every Podolski, there is a Giroud, or a Chamakh or a Park; players who come with a good reputation of scoring goals, possessing height and strength yet ultimately failing when at Arsenal. Whether it is the way they train or the environment they are in I am not sure, yet the worry is that these “big men” are not influencing the game.
Perhaps this comes down to the lack of quality in the delivery from the side, Walcott, Gervinho, Gibbs and Jenkinson are useless at crossing balls in the air, the type of delivery of which the big men thrive. Instead, the success has come from driven balls across the ground, a more Arsenal type goal. If Wenger wishes to implement his big men successfully, more crossing practice will be needed for his wide players.
A major factor of the season will however be keeping Santi Cazorla fit. His performances for Villareal, Malaga and Spain would have shown any fan who watches anything but the Premier League that Arsenal had made a very impressive signing. And his performances so far have shown his class and already his importance to this new look Arsenal side.
A player like Cazorla unlocks defences and has vision and craft which many players lack. At 27 and with 48 caps for Spain, he is a real talent with genuine experience. I am not afraid to say that Cazorla is a better player than Cesc Fabregas and he will be the difference and key to Arsenal's success this season in the attacking part of the game.
A Bould-er defence
I spoke before about Wenger's admission that the defence needed sorted and highlighted the clear benefits that Bould has brought to the side. Yet the key is that it is not just an improvement in defence but in midfield which has brought the difference. The decision to allow Song to leave was seen by many as a mistake, yet it was a great deal for a player who did very poor in the role he was instructed to have last season.
Mikel Arteta has shown how the role of a defensive midfielder should be played and Arsenal have benefited immensely to this tactical shift. Arteta’s ability to read the game, anticipate and intercept passes have meant Arsenal's defence is exposed much less than it was last year. It has also allowed the full backs to push on more and Arsenal have looked much better attacking down both flanks. Arteta’s role as the “water carrier”has improved the solidity and balance of the side.
A new goalkeeping coach required?
Arsenal’s problem will come from the mediocrity of their goalkeepers. It is this position which Wenger has struggled with for such a long period. A position which caused Ferguson such grief when he was playing Howard and Carroll.
Your goalkeeper is essential for success, not many successful sides do not possess a top class goalkeeper. It took Van Der Saar to arrive at Old Trafford before United started winning again. And Arsenal have simply not replaced Lehmann. Almunia, Fabianski, Mannone and Szczesny have all failed to impress sufficiently when given the chance at Arsenal.
My belief is that Wenger brings them in too early and puts too much pressure on their young, inexperienced shoulders. Although many rate Szczesny highly, he is prone to making too many mistakes, mistakes which will cost Arsenal throughout the season.
Nothing but failure and disappointment?
Wenger has learnt his lesson regarding his failed philosophy of attempting to bring through and nurture youth players in the mould of what he wants. He has decided to bring a balance to his side with both experience and youth. It is a method which is bearing fruit so far, one in which Ferguson has used to great effect throughout his career at United.
It was one which Wenger had accomplished so well in 2003-2004, yet he believed he could do something different. Well, he failed and Arsenal have been left trophyless while Wenger has realised his mistake. Sure Arsenal have profitedfrom player sales, yet the club’s success should be judged on trophies.
Some people this will be the year that they can win something. Yet I see only the FA Cup or League Cup as viable options. Until they prove me wrong, Wenger’s sides will always be a fairweather team. The usual impressive start will deteoriate during winter and a capitulation will more than likely occur during March – April where Arsenal will find themselves out of each competition in the matter of a week.
For all the technical skill that Wenger’s player possess and for all the beautiful football played, each side in the past six years has lacked the key ingredient of a winning side, a strong mentality and belief. Ferguson’s sides are not always the best, yet they are often the most determined and committed.
Perhaps with the experience of Mertesacker, Vermaelan, Podolski, Cazorla and Arteta Arsenal have a more realistic chance of success, yet something tells me this will be the same sort of season for Arsenal as the past several; one that offers much but in the end produces nothing but failure and disappointment.