“We don’t sign players for special positions – we sign footballers who can do their job anywhere”
I omitted the opening words of the quote for the identity of the manager would be readily apparent: “At Arsenal Stadium“, dates the sentence from before a time many of us were born. Herbert Chapman speaking in August 1933, espoused a philosophy with which many are familiar; it is one Arsène fervently believes in and why talk of transfers around a particular position are often one-dimensional. Of course, players have a prime role in the team but adaptability is the key when he talks about ability. Indeed, whereas in the past versatility was almost a dirty word, is it now a pre-requisite in the age of squad systems? Is the necessity that your wide players can occupy a central position with relative ease, be they attack, midfield or defence? If they can’t, are they of any use to the side.
You’ll note I didn’t offer the role reversal, very few from the spine of the team can make the opposite journey. Koscielny or Mertesacker as a full back is a marginally less frightening prospect than Giroud on the wing.
But versatility is what Arsène needs and one immediate disadvantage of Bacary Sagna’s departure became apparent yesterday when the manager discussed the staggered return of the German players from the World Cup final. Not all of them will be ready for the opening game of the season, returning to training in about a fortnight’s time, as the trio of Mertesacker, Özil and Podolski do.
The suspicion is that unless Arsène signs a new centre back in the next week or so, Thomas Vermaelen will not be going anywhere, any time soon. If he does, Wenger faces the prospect of playing a relatively untested central defensive pairing for the opening couple of Premier League games, as well as both legs of the Champions League qualifier. Having slipped up Aston Villa last season, the manager will keen to avoid a repeat when Crystal Palace visit The Emirates. Indeed, with the second game being a trip to Goodison Park, Arsenal have to win the opening fixture to avoid being on the back foot for the rest of the season. Six points dropped in the first week of the season is the nightmare scenario that doesn’t bear thinking about.
And it’s why I believe Per Mertesacker will be the German who bucks Wenger’s trend and returns to first team action quicker than Özil and Podolski. Wenger alluded to that, observing that the central defender “prepares well“; he may have qualified that statement but rather like his injury reports, it is not to be taken entirely at face value. However, the lack of depth is exposed at this moment with the folly of selling Vermaelen exposed. Arsenal don’t have a replacement bedded into the squad and if the Belgian is going to leave, it must be at the end of August when the window is about to close when it suits the club better. The past may have indicated that players could dictate their departure but with financial muscle, Arsenal hold the upper hand in this situation.
Quite why the season is starting mid-August is beyond me. Next summer is bereft of international tournaments so the Premier League season could have finished a month later without impacting adversely on anything or anyone. Such simple logic is beyond the powers that be, with UEFA slamming that door shut with their insistence that the final act of any season be their Champions League final. Concern over the players health obviously does not extend to resting them properly in the close season.
Little wonder Arsène was critical of pre-season tours for commercial purposes. Less strident that Van Gaal who is seeking to impose his reality on Manchester United, managers have little choice but to incorporate such matches into their schedules as the commercial reality hits home. At this level, clubs have no alternative to exploit new markets having saturated those at home. As unhappy as he is, Wenger knows this is his new reality and the suspicion is that next summer’s tour – surely already planned – will be spoken of in terms of weeks not days.
The touring party offers an interesting insight into the fitness levels of the players. Yaya Sanogo’s apparent omission was explained with Arsène commenting that he wanted Thierry Henry to play one half for each team,
I came here with only one striker because I hoped [Henry] would play one half for us. He practices with us and is still very sharp and he came back here in very good shape.
A joke of course but Sanogo’s omission raised a few eyebrows. Is it a sign that Akpom is being evaluated for promotion to the first team squad or is it a combination of that and an injury to the Frenchman? Whatever the case, it is a chase for Akpom to reinforce the message from last weekend when he was livelier of the two in the stroll at Borehamwood.
Any aspirations for the future should be shaped by Wenger’s fulsome praise of Henry and his attitude toward the game. In a wide-ranging Q&A session, the focus and work Henry did away from the pitch was identified as a key reason for his elevation to club legend by the manager, as well as giving preferential treatment to Robert Pires’ peripheral vision. The talk about Henry underlines what the likes of Akpom or Sanogo must do to achieve even half of the level he reached. They have youth on their side, of course and more importantly, their desire should be to make their own names in the game rather than emulating others. The efforts in reaching that level do however, offer them guidance of the work and sacrifices they will need to make.
On the transfer front, David Ospina’s move to Arsenal is likely to plough ahead now that Nice have signed his replacement. If it doesn’t, never fear Iker Casillas is here! With Real Madrid having five goalkeepers on their books – including Keylor Navas when his deal is completed – it’s little wonder Ancelotti doesn’t think he has much of a problem between the sticks. The question is can either Ospina or Casillas play centre back, we’re a bit short there.