And so farewell old friend; return at Christmas to weave your temptestuous torment over troubled souls, wreak havoc for one month and no more at that time. No Twenty-One Gun salute this time; no waving of flags to tumultuous cheers; no bunting will be hung. Expectations built upon a stray word have been crushed.
The transfer window of Summer 2012 has closed for Premier League clubs to reinforce their squads and Arsenal resisted the temptation to sign the cheque of hope. In truth the only excitement yesterday was in watching implosions and empty threats of how they would show their support for the club was deeper than that of the manager, seemingly the fact that he is an employee not a fan escaped their notice.
Too much notice was taken of what others were doing. The wafting chequebooks from north London to Manchester drove a frenzy, signing this player or that was consumed within a desperate charge towards signing anybody, somebody. The three arrivals of weeks ago, were pushed to one side like vaudevillians forgotten in a television age. Attention spans shifted beyond them. A club praised for acting early in the transfer window became derided for lack of incoming activity, the outgoings were as people hoped. Deadwood went but as is the case with driftwood, some remains as the waves gently lap onto the shore.
Nicklas Bendtner left, not good enough for northern English Premier League teams but sufficient for a northern ItalianSerie A team. That Juventus signed him on loan was amusing in some respects. The Dane was not first choice at Arsenal nor was he the first choice Arsenal striker for Juventus. Revenge for Brady was how one wag summed it up. Park Ju Young also left, that’s all that can be said. I wonder if Celta Vigo will be pursuing their interest beyond next summer; it is impossible to offer any opinion on that based on his Arsenal career.
Squillaci and Chamakh remain. The motivation for the former to move is minimal. At the tailend of his career, why should the French defender be concerned about playing time when the salary is still paid into his account each month. For the latter, the decision to remain is baffling. It is apparent that he will only play at Arsenal in the event of injury and that wait can only be damaging to his international aspirations which are already under threat.
Which leaves us with the first team squad; it is what it is. Personally I think it could have been strengthened but I have never made any secret of my view that every squad can be strengthened. The clubs which remain challenging for titles freshen their squad every summer, not with wholesale signings seen too frequently in also-rans but with judicious pruning.
Rumours of Arsenal talking to Chelsea about Michael Essien – his omission from their thrashing at the hands of Atletico Madrid gave them a rickety foundation upon which to build – suggest that the manager was minded to strengthen the midfield with defensive cover. Was there a genuine interest or is it imagined. Whatever the case, the words of Arsène at the time of Alex Song’s sale to Barcelona suggest a real concern about the centre of the park. Still, Jack Wilshere’s return before winter takes a grip will be like signing a new player, I am sure.
Likewise the return of Bacary Sagna in the same timescale. I understand how both absences led to the view that, along with the injury to Szczesny, we needed signings across the squad. Is that really the case though? I would argue not in goal unless the Pole’s absence is long-term. Do Arsenal need to sign a goalkeeper on a long-term contract to sit on the bench? Unless you believe that the current injury situation is tactical, the answer has to be no.
It strikes me similarly so with the defence. Arsenal have four international centre-backs which is what has always been demanded; beyond that, barrels are being scraped with youth more trusted than experience. At full-back, Jenkinson is rejected as inexperienced, like the derided Djourou, every mistake seized upon and matters well done, ignored.
If I had a genuine concern now, it is about the forward line. In this respect, we seem light. Podolski and Giroud are fine and upstanding players but dig deeper and we are struggling for cover, in my opinion. Arshavin is still at the club and could fill that role if needed but he is not a central striker by choice. Walcott has the desire but I made my view on him clear earlier this week. The manager obviously thinks that the quartet and Chamakh is sufficient. His judgement is on the line in that respect, as it is across the whole of the squad.
Fundamentally, the question is whether or not you believe this squad can challenge for the title. On paper, Manchester City ought to be crowned champions now but football is played on grass. We don’t know what injuries will take their toll on us or others; what suspensions will derail matches. The season is but two games old; it is too soon to judge. To write them off now is folly.
Do I believe that this team can win the title? I believe in the hope that they can win the title and that is the same belief I have every season.