When the story of Liverpool’s interest broke on Sky Sports News last night, they were quick to show footage of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on Goals on Sunday a few months back. Ox answered the question with a straight bat: he’s close to the point in his career where he wants regular first team football, if he’s not already there. A move away from the Emirates can’t be ruled out.
Liverpool’s interest in the midfielder is of no surprise. Arsenal are in a bit of a pickle, PR-wise, over contracts. Leaks that deals were done with the French contingent are yet to prove true while Arsène’s claim that the club were talking to Jack Wilshere was met with bewilderment by the midfielder.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil are both (apparently) stalling on deals. Arsenal, it’s suggested in various quarters, are more confident of the German committing his future to the club than the Chilean. That was when we were in good form. God knows what the title hopes all but disappearing for another season has done for the mood.
Did I mention the club taking up the option for an additional year from Santi and Per? Kieran Gibbs is in the same boat as Ox.
It’s little wonder that deals aren’t being completed. Without particularly thinking about it, I’ve come up with a third of the first team squad in talks with the club. That is an unhealthy number at any one point and I haven’t mentioned the manager’s future either.
Flippantly, I suggested yesterday that we might start talks with Team Walcott as they seem to take forever. We need to seriously think about it. He and Chuba Akpom may be the only strikers left at the club come the summer.
Don’t panic indeed.
Issues to address or opportunities?
The talk of players moving on is always thorny. Mid-season, it isn’t going to happen en masse but come next summer, there could well be a big clear-out. It’s time to reassess where the squad is going and which direction the club is moving.
In terms of playing staff, there is a very good squad screaming to get out of the current one. And by ‘get out’, I don’t mean leave, I mean challenge for the title. Who knows, we may buck a trend and challenge this year but it’s so unlikely. We did in 1997/98 from a worse position but the quality of the teams above us then – Manchester United aside – was nowhere near as good as now. But as with then, Chelsea have shown what a long winning run can do for a side.
Except I can’t see us embarking on that kind of run. That Arsène has spoken about the excesses of supporter engagement on social media, as well as referencing the power of positive support in the stadium, tells you about the fragile state of the squad. They aren’t confident at all and the manner of the defeats at Everton and Manchester City is a manifestation of that.
Winning is the only way to recover that belief and a positive sign was the win over West Brom. The XI kept going, pushing for the goal to take three points and when it came, Giroud encapsulated the relief in his celebration, as well as answering his own critics he no doubt felt.
However, with the same type of mistakes undermining their efforts, should we refresh the squad?
Are we there yet?
It doesn’t mean twenty have to leave, simply that once again key positions need to be assessed. However, before that is carried out, Arsène needs to assess his own approach to the game. Is 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 and the habitual passing we’re slipping back into, the route to success? Chelsea’s move to three at the back has seen a rise in the use of 4 – 3 – 3 elsewhere.
Wenger needs to address whether his vision of the game can be successful in England. He can be as single-minded in his pursuit of victory as he likes – and that’s no bad thing either – but only if he’s open to recognising our weaknesses which recur every year. Some can be explained away by having less money to spend in the past but now? It’s questionable whether we don’t have the money or are too narrow in our selection of players to invest in.
Is one delayed deal stalling the others?
These processes should be ongoing at Arsenal but there’s a hiatus at the moment driven by the question over Wenger’s future. A new manager (you hope) will bring fresh ideas and want his own squad. Will that delay our already ponderous approach to signings?
Having scratched their way to the surface and ready to break through, are we sinking back into the mud? Progress is often slow going but It feels like Arsenal are running up the down escalator. Are old habits resurfacing? Arsène will swat away this transfer talk about Ox when he talks to the press. We shouldn’t sell to Liverpool on a point of principle – the Guardian is right to suggest an element of bitterness remains over Suarez. It should do.
However, the question is whether losing Ox this summer is a bad thing for Arsenal in the long-term? That’s not such a straightforward answer. He is of the quality we need in the squad; first team material? Potentially but you can only talk about potential for so long. Delivery on a consistent basis is what is needed.
He’s in the same boat as Jack Wilshere. Both have the talent to succeed at the highest level and Jack is definitely one I would not want to lose. Ox could be the same and a second half of the season in the same vein as the first, should see him in the team ahead of Alex Iwobi in my view.