Is there a worse time to draw conclusions about transfer policy than deadline day morning?
No? Well I’ll try anyway. Humour me.
It’s only natural, but since Alex Song left I’ve felt Arsenal needs one or two more new faces. Problem is I haven’t been able to work out what kind of players we need, or in what positions. And as the hours tick down to 11pm I’m wondering if we need any at all.
I don’t know about you, but I have one nagging doubt when it comes to recruitment this summer. And that is this – with so many fresh faces it’s too early to know what the team is missing. And if there’s a limited amount of money to spend it’s got to be done efficiently, on footballers the manager will know can improve the team.
The moment I knew Song would be off, I figured the most obvious position that needed filling was defensive midfield, but the double pivot we’re using looks like it might be the way forward, and cover is plentiful, with Rosicky, Coquelin, Ramsey, Wilshere, Frimpong and even younger players like Nico Yennaris, who turned heads in the Next Gen game on Wednesday night. Still, maybe a little more physicality wouldn’t hurt.
So, if we have to make one signing, what kind of player (within reason) would improve the team most? And what if the signing doesn’t work out? Roll the dice again? Do we even want to be signing more players when the ones we have don’t yet know each other? I’ve been a bit hard on Walcott so far this season, when really, more than anything, he just needs to work out what those around him want from him.
But then again, when you lose players that you’ve developed over the best part of a decade and there are no obvious replacements already at the club then there you might have no option but to enter the transfer market.
Part of the problem as I see it is that the youth supply line dried up a little. Coming up behind the 2009 Youth Cup winning team that gave us Wilshere and Coquelin were a couple of generations that fell a little flat. Chuks Aneke, perhaps the most gifted, hasn’t yet made an impact on loan – Yennaris has missed a lot of football with a series of injuries. Another talent, Alban Bunjaku had attitude problems, and has since left the club. Now there’s renewed optimism down the ranks, for guys like Gnabry, Olsson and Bellerin, although it’s way too early to talk about possible first-team chances.
Mindful that we’ve got a new team, the first two performances have left me upbeat, but clearly something is lacking at the moment. My feelings are, that until bonds form between a group of players that have never played competitive football together before, nobody’s going to be able to identify where we could be better. And maybe once the team does settle, it could turn out that we don’t even need anyone.
Because right now, I’ve got to say, I don’t know what to make of this Arsenal side. It’s all so unfamiliar – new assistant manager, three new players this season, five last season.
Just look at our first-choice midfield, which is perhaps the most crucial part of the pitch for a passing team.
Diaby has started well but is almost alien to me – and his teammates. He hasn’t played regularly for nearly two seasons, and yet, here he is, getting fit, trying to shake off the rust and get back to the standard we know he can achieve. When he was last a starter he was slotting in next to Alex Song and Cesc Fàbregas – he’s got some adapting to do.
Arsenal fans see Mikel Arteta as a pillar. He’s vice captain, and we all know the calming influence he had on the team last season. You almost forget that he’s been at the club for exactly one year. In Arsenal terms, at least in the past, that is nothing; we were always told never to expect much from a player until the second season. 30 years-old he may be, but I’ve never hoped for so much from a player so early in his Arsenal career.
Speaking of high expectations, we’ve also got Santi Cazorla. I think everyone has seen what he can offer the team. But there’s so much more to come once he’s comfortable at the club, acquainted and communicating freely with his teammates.
See, for the past season I’ve wondered if Arsenal could use a playmaking winger. And we all know how cheap that kind of player can be! I suppose, if I had to identify an ideal player it would be someone like Iker Muniain – I’m not suggesting for a moment that I want Arsenal to buy him, just indicating the role I think might be unfulfilled at Arsenal, and he’s also the right kind of age.
Andrei Arshavin would be the obvious candidate already at the club, but whatever you think of him, he hasn’t been able to find his best form as consistently as we might have hoped over the last two seasons. Wenger is no doubt aware of the magic he can weave, but doesn’t seem to trust him with a starting place.
Then again Cazorla could certainly play in this role. He might not be jet-heeled, but pace isn’t crucial here; it’s more about intelligence, quick-feet and vision. To make the point I’ll be naive and assume that Jack Wilshere will get fit in the autumn and integrated back into the squad, say, by mid-November.
Wilshere could start in the middle next to Arteta and Diaby, and Cazorla could play either on the left or right, starting relatively deep so he can conduct play as we know he can. If Wilshere’s not around then Rosicky’s a few weeks away from fitness and is more than capable as the furthermost midfielder. Deeper down there’s Thomas Eisfeld, who can’t stop scoring at u21 level, and Chuks Aneke, whose on-pitch intelligence is astounding for a 19-year-old, but could do with a bit more dynamism for the Premier League.
So what can you draw from this post? I’m confused and uncertain. I see the team as a mix of raw ingredients, and as an outsider it will be winter before I know what the cake will taste like.
Importantly though, a master baker (oi, I said “baker”) is baking the cake, and he’s working with first-rate produce, some of which is homegrown and some of which has been shipped- OK enough with the cake talk.