Arsenal arrived in Singapore and the passion displayed by the local supporters was, I am sure, warmly welcomed by the players. It’s a passion for the club that is sometimes undervalued in the electronic world. Not by the club – they have to tap into the commercial side of it all – or by the players but by other supporters, closer to home. I always cringe when someones support for Arsenal is belittled because of geography; it isn’t about where you live, it’s about the club. That’s it, full stop.
I know I’ll watch this weeks games, the same as I will The Emirates Cup but beyond seeing football again, it’s not something I can get excited by. Pre-season friendlies are all about preparation for the real action and in the same way that winning every friendly is no indicator of success, losing a few is nothing to be worried by. The only issue with the latter is the cost; is morale or confidence adversely affected by the results? Only then should there be any concerns.
Arsène thinks otherwise; “there is so much interest in the preparation that if you do not win these games it’s already a crisis“, signals as much sensitivity about the media perceptions and their influence on supporters in social media as a genuine belief in problems existing. There is a quick and (relatively speaking) easy way to negate anything; a new signing! It’s good publicity and a big fee is guaranteed to solve any PR problem. Step to it! Look lively!
Preparation isn’t just down to the players, the manager needs to get back into the swing of press conferences, of saying a lot but nothing of substance. His first of the summer took place yesterday and if the players are as ready for their task as he was his, they are in fine fettle already. It would have been an easy shot – if somewhat cheap – if he had noted that the deal was a good one all round for Arsenal with City spending a sizeable chunk of their budget on one player whilst giving Brendan Rodgers £49m is the footballing equivalent of lighting your coal fire with £50 notes.
At the same time, the platitudes poured forth about Manchester United’s strengthening. They won’t be happy with fourth and now that Sir Alex Ferguson’s self-indulgent signing Robin van Persie has left, they are looking at a younger strikeforce. Arsène knows it, you know it, I know it; the Premier League is indeed more competitive. It’s up to Arsenal to put themselves in the mix.
Wenger though is content with his squad, particularly where Sterling is concerned. It seems the only person who can’t play in the wide striking role is Petr Cech but Arsène is confident that he will learn the basics of the role in a short time. You think I’m joking but he started it by talking about Mesut Özil’s defensive abilities.
The issue isn’t why Arsenal didn’t bid for Raheem Sterling – why would they? Sterling is a good player, there’s no doubt about that and Liverpool acted in the Liverpool Way by wrenching the wallet from a richer club. But for Arsenal, as Arsène rightly points out, is he better than those we already have? It’s hard to make that argument for a lot of the list of players he quoted and impossible for the likes of Sanchez and even Walcott, I contend. So no surprise or complaint that Arsenal weren’t ‘in the mix’ for the signature.
But it all boils down to one thing. So, Arsène, are Arsenal going to challenge for the title this season?
We finished third last season and won the FA Cup. The pressure is on us to do better, but there are plenty of competitors to win the Premier League. You have seen the buys clubs have made already, but we will give absolutely everything to do it.
And to achieve that, when will the new players arrive?
That doesn’t depend only on us, it depends on whether we can find them, but if we can find one or two players we will do it.
Which is exactly what you would expect to be said; if you were looking for a startling revelation from the manager, you were sorely disappointed.
It’s an interesting exercise to re-read the platitudes. One season to the next, the theme is the same from manager and supporters. I hadn’t realised until the headline popped up that it was a decade ago Patrick Vieira was sold. Not a curious sale at the time, his form post-Invincibles had been stuttering. Like the rest of the team, losing was a shock to the system that took a while to recover from. That we are still searching for the next Patrick Vieira is a mark of the impact he had on the club and his role in the side. That we are still searching for the next defensive midfielder is disconcerting.
Francis Coquelin is the latest incumbent. Whether he is the solution long-term remains to be seen. He’s following a distinctly similar path to Alex Song, rising from the crumbled ashes of youth to earn his place in the side with few complaints. What Alex did next is the lesson to avoid; curb your attacking enthusiasm, Francis.
He deserves a chance but to be ready to challenge, Arsenal need to be fully invested in the squad. It’s not about adding another midfielder, it’s about adding one specific type of midfielder. About having cover and competition because as much as I like Mikel Arteta, Coquelin knows he will have to play consistently badly to lose his place in the side to the Spaniard for a sustained spell.
Crucially, Arsenal know, Arsène knows all of this. He has been around the block enough to be well aware, more aware, of where he needs to strengthen and he won’t be happy with just Petr Cech arriving this summer. But he has a squad to keep happy, a positive message to reinforce in their minds so he isn’t going to admit to weaknesses unless or until they are exposed. It’s the way it is, the way it always has been and the way it always will be. To expect anything else is just daft.