So that’s it; the club awaits the return of the stragglers from their international duties, assessing their fitness, physically and mentally. All eyes are on Alexis, particularly with Chile’s back-to-back defeats leaving them looking at a play-off place. Peru, currently 4th, face Colombia and Argentina in their final two games. Asking for a return of the 1978 World Cup favour from the Argentinians seems unlikely to be granted so they rely on Peru’s failure.
The English media are reporting that the striker complained in the local press about his treatment for these matches. A division 2 coach called him a ‘porker’ which probably didn’t help his mood following the collapse of his not-very-close transfer to Manchester City.
“You get tired of being criticized with reason and without reason, you get tired of wanting to be defeated, you get tired of saying to yourself “I’ll get up again” after crying after a defeat, and you get tired of telling the world and people who are with you, that everything is going well.
“And the worst, that no one ever realizes how that makes you feel … I have the No 7 of Chile on my back and it is a huge responsibility, that’s why I’m sorry that journalists and bad people criticize without knowing…”
If he thinks the Chilean media put him under intense scrutiny, I suspect it will be worse at the club. The reaction to the defeat was similar to those we’ve seen at Arsenal. You can understand why the cosy dressing room atmosphere would be upset by passionate outbursts about results and performances. As long as there’s an element of self-awareness and self-criticism, it’s tough on the rest; get over it.
The next month is testing for Arsène and the squad. Aside from the trip to Chelsea, winning the games at a canter is the expectation. Bournemouth, West Brom and Brighton at home in the Premier League; Cologne and BATE in the Europa League, finished off with Doncaster in the League Cup.
While taking games for granted is rash and our start to the season doesn’t warrant it, defeat in any is almost unthinkable. The game against Cologne, despite being at home, will be interesting. It’s three days before Chelsea and Wenger’s previous in this respect is to rotate the side. Heavily.
The month may decide our priorities for the season. We’re not going to win the league; we don’t have the depth in the squad nor do we have the form. While we could upset the form book, it’s unlikely. Already there’s a groundswell of opinion growing that we will drop the back three as a result of the summer transfer activity.
Arsène made no bones about being unimpressed by the notion of 3-4-3 although the 3-5-2 is a lot different in terms of the balance of the side. Nonetheless, the defensive shortcomings of the 4-1-3-2 aren’t solved with the same personnel on board. Unless we’ve changed the coaching routines and philosophy of the team, we’re in the same boat.
Arsène makes no bones about the side suffering from fragile confidence but putting square pegs in round holes and dropping £50m players to the bench is hardly imbuing belief in the squad. It gives more of a sense that the manager is flailing around for ideas. Certainly the whimsy of including Ox as a right back and moving Hector Bellerin to the left was disastrous.
That problem is solved; Bellerin surely reverts to the right with Ox gone. He’s one of the players for whom mental focus is an issue. After Selhurst Park, he became the focal point for criticism of the team; a lightning rod, if you like. The summer saw him return to the club wanting to leave; Wenger has work to do in that respect with a number of players.
If we’re moving to 4-1-3-2, it opens a number of doors again. Wilshere and Walcott are likely to see more game time in that respect. Coquelin possibly but that largely depends on the opposition; Elneny is a better option in European games, certainly in the group stages.
The names aren’t shiny new toys and undermine Ivan’s claim that a ‘selling summer’ now sees the squad stronger, and with more depth. Expectations of improving on last season are low; we’ll finish higher than fifth only if another club suffers a collapse in form. While we haven’t become a bad team overnight, we’re nowhere near as resilient as three or four years ago.
Ladies and gentlemen, the rollercoaster ride is about to begin.