Same Sh*t, Different Season: Wenger’s Worries
Watching Arsenal getting systematically dismantled last night in their opening Champions League game against Borussia Dortmund, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Gunners fans.
Every season seems to be a footballing Groundhog Day for them. Strong optimism of a stellar campaign followed by the blunt realisation that, once again, Arsene Wenger’s belligerence in the transfer market has left them short.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not this season. A £35 million splash on Chilean wing-wizard Alexis Sanchez was a hint that Wenger would break the habit of a lifetime and empty the coffers of the Emirates. It didn’t quite pan out the way most thought it would.
That’s not to say he didn’t spend big money; he did – about £78 million worth on the aforementioned Alexis, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, David Ospina & the belated arrival of Danny Welbeck.
The problem is that fundamental issues within the squad still have not been addressed. The absolute prerequisite was a physically imposing defensive midfielder capable of dictating play and breaking up opposition attacks. Linked with a number of targets throughout the summer, William Carvalho of Sporting Club De Portugal was the most realistic.
Rumours were rife that a deal was close but Wenger reportedly decided against the pursuit after a disagreement over a few million euros in transfer fees. The Frenchman’s reputation for being frugal outdid him in this instance as deadline day came and went without any incomings in that particular area – astounding considering just how limited his options are right now.
Mikel Arteta, at 32, was never the most mobile of midfielders. His expertise lies in controlling a game against lesser opposition where Arsenal will have the majority of possession. When having to face energetic, high-intensity pressing sides, an Arsenal side involving Arteta crumble; think Liverpool at Anfield last season (5-1) or last night’s capitulation at the Westfalenstadion.
The more dynamic, fiery Mathieu Flamini is the obvious go-to option in these scenarios but the 30-year old can’t seem to stay fit for more than 48 hours without going down with some sort of niggle.
Pace also seems to be an issue with this Arsenal squad, too – particularly in the central areas. Laurent Koscielny is regarded as the quickest of the centre halves but the way in which Ciro Immobile burst past him for Dortmund’s opening goal last night was cause for concern; Per Mertesacker has the turning circle of a Boeing 747.
In midfield, in addition to the plodding Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are hardly speed demons, either – something Wenger has acknowledged in certain games by playing the precocious Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain centrally rather than out wide.
While it’s true that Arsenal remain unbeaten domestically this season the performances haven’t been great. A last gasp win against manager-less Crystal Palace, they struggled past Besiktas to reach the group stages of the Champions League. A disappointing draw against Leicester followed whilst last weekend they gifted a point to an under-strength Man City side.
It is still very early in the season to be making any definitive predictions but how this all pans out for the Gunners will more than likely depend on injuries from here until May – as it always and ever seems to be the case with Arsenal.
If Wenger can add that elusive world class defensive midfielder and find a way to get the best out of a lost-looking Mesut Özil, they really do have a chance at doing something special this season but going on past performance, I wouldn’t hold my breath.