Going into the new Premier League season there was something strange surrounding and engulfing Arsenal football club, optimism for the season ahead. Coming off the back of successive FA Cups and a good second half of the season (Monaco aside) the squad seemed strong and in good shape. Petr Cech’s arrival from Chelsea was in the eyes of many a turning point in this squad’s success. His pedigree of winning trophies and experience would win Arsenal 8, 10 or 15 points a season depending on which pundit you listened to. How a goalkeeper can win you 15 points a season is beyond me but that’s for another day. Cech’s arrival meant David Ospina was ousted from the number 1 position which was a clear improvement, lo and behold Arsenal now had a keeper who could actually physically jump.
The squad was trim lined and most of the deadwood was sent off to Turkey or out on loan across the continent. A strong preseason seemed to back this view up with Arsenal proving that they are indeed the greatest team the world has ever seen by winning the all elusive treble of Preseason trophies, The Asia trophy, Emirates Cup and Community Shield. But then, West Ham United happened.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the result but what I would say is that despite how poorly Arsenal performed and how well West Ham did, it was a match Arsenal should still have won and had Cech not performed so badly they would surely have. An important and confidence boosting win at Crystal Palace followed before they faced Liverpool in a game truly of two halves. To say Arsenal underperformed in that first half would be an understatement. If there is a more nervous performance than Calum Chambers this year I will be amazed. Now to be fair to Chambers he was playing alongside Gabriel who speaks next to no English whatsoever so that didn’t help his cause.
Somehow a combination of luck, poor finishing and Petr Cech meant that the score line remained nil nil and in the second half they greatly improved. A dubious offside decision and some poor finishing from Alexis and Giroud meant that yet another home game went by without a goal. Next up was Newcastle who took the bold approach of trying to foul their way to success. It didn’t work. Against 10 men Arsenal huffed and puffed but got the breakthrough and ultimately the win. Which leads us nicely to the one day all Arsenal fans fear- deadline day.
I could write a thesis on why I loathe all that is deadline day and Jim White but that’s not for just now. Instead, what needs to be discussed is Arsenal’s transfer dealings, and indeed the lack of signings brought in. Despite an exodus of players leaving the club, including many young players on loan to be fair, Arsene Wenger brought just the one recruit in, Chelsea’s Petr Cech. This prompted a meltdown across Arsenal’s fans with everyone’s favourite Arsenal fan Piers Morgan labelling it a “disgrace”. There was even a twitter led protest outside the Emirates planned to which a grand total of none turned up. Now to some this won’t come as a surprise but it’s time for me to defend Arsene.
Yes Arsenal should have brought an extra striking option or defensive midfielder. Yes Mikel Arteta doesn’t have the ability to run anymore. And yes Mathieu Flamini continues to be paid real money to play football. But it’s simply not as easy as that. I’ve heard so many opinions over the past few days that Arsenal have missed out on many top players and that there were many available to a club of Arsenal’s resources. Yet my main response to this would be who? One of Wenger’s main reasons to not signing anyone was simply, what players were both A) available and at a right price and B) a clear improvement on what they already have.
Now it’s easy to speculate and I’ve heard many say “Oh Cavani was available! He’s brilliant”. However a reported £50 million asking price for a 28 year old striker who has never quite performed at the highest levels represents a huge risk and crucially to Wenger, isn’t great value. There can be no other top level manager who cares as much about value and good business as Arsene Wenger.
Don’t get me wrong this can be a big criticism, many top players have passed Arsenal by because Wenger didn’t think it made financial sense or wasn’t willing to take the plunge , but he’s a man of principle and will not panic buy. Take Anthony Martial for example, Wenger has pointed to this deal as an example of the obscene and inflated prices that English clubs have to pay because clubs know they have the money to do so and are desperate. Now Martial may very well prove to be a top player and Martial certainly has attributes to suggest that. But he may also fade and struggle as many top young French talents over the years have done. After all France’s acclaimed youth system has produced many highly rated youth players over the years who despite spells of brilliance have never quite lived up to their potential such as Ben Arfa, Gourcuff, and to an extent Nasri and Anelka. Ironically, Martial is the sort of player Wenger would have bought 10 years ago for 5 or 6 million but spending the £35 million (plus clauses) that Man United spent would in the eyes of Wenger be a huge risk and almost unthinkable.
So where does all this leave Arsenal for the rest of the season. Before the news of Danny Welbeck’s injury broke I would have said that between Welbeck, Giroud, Walcott and even Alexis there was enough striking options at Wenger’s disposal. But the news of Welbeck’s injury for 3- 6 months, reports are varying, represents a big problem. One thing is for sure this season will be a huge examination of Olivier Giroud. He will most likely be Arsenal’s starting striker for at least half of the season and with fans more critical than ever he certainly will have to perform. I do have a fear that fans may turn on Giroud, as some already have, and he will be made the scapegoat for poor results and performances. I feel that Giroud gets something of a hard deal at times, he may not be “top, top quality” as Arsene proclaims but he’s a far better striker than some give him credit for. His hold up play and first time passes around the corner and finishes inside the box are at times delightful and I don’t think you can question his effort.
With the prospect of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge just a couple of days after playing in Zagreb these next couple of weeks are pivotal for the Gunners. Rightly or wrongly Arsene Wenger has put immense faith and pressure on his team to perform and they will be judged more harshly than ever. It’s now time for Arsenal’s fans to stop complaining and get behind them, contrary to belief Arsenal do have a good squad. It will be upfront where Arsenal will be judged this season though, with fans clearly not happy after the summer transfer window. Some fans are already against Wenger and his reluctance to spend and faith in his current crop. Wenger simply needs Giroud, and to a lesser extent Walcott, to perform. Finally, I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that how Olivier Giroud performs this year will determine not only Arsenal’s season but define his own Arsenal career.