If you want to, finding fault with Arsenal isn’t difficult. Transfers in, out, Raul shaking it all about; there’s good and bad in everything, with quite a lot falling into the various shades of grey in between.
This morning sees the ‘Visit Rwanda’ sponsorship deal in the spotlight. Arsenal were as late to the shirt sleeve sponsorship game as we were to advertising boards in football grounds. The club’s history is littered with innovation on the pitch and pock-marked with sloth off it.
The Rwanda deal raised eyebrows when it was signed. After stories in this morning’s press, it is teetering on the edge of blowing up in our faces. Diane Rwigara, a Rwandan dissident, claims that the current government “encourages the beheading of its’ opponents”. That doesn’t sit comfortably with the exhortation Visit Rwanda borne on our shirt sleeves. Two years remain on the deal, but I hope the club is actively seeking a less controversial partner. When I think back to the fraudulent truck deal, I’m not hopeful we’re going to find one…
Whilst that search goes on, this week is shaping to be a busy one for the Transfer Window Action Team. The first job is to get shot of Laurent Koscielny. His goodwill goose is cooked and news he’s agreed terms with Rennes is a step in the right direction. He falls flat on his face, however, with the claim it is dependent upon Arsenal acquiescing to a free transfer. It’s claimed Rennes called a press conference for today.
It’s a Brenda Slagg Moment
If – and it’s a big ‘IF’ – the French media reports are correct, both Koscielny and Rennes are royally screwed. The player and club both face sanctions should they not reach a deal with Arsenal. Rennes face a transfer ban if we complain about tapping up. Koscielny and his agent also face sanctions if the charge is proven.
The way this is going, Arsenal could end up keeping him without paying any salary. Make no mistake, this is about as serious a breach of club discipline the player could make. At the moment, Koscielny probably suffered a fine of two weeks wages. Continuing his action surely leads to more fines. Hats off to Raul if that’s the strategy; £8m in transfer income or £3m in salary savings.
Honestly, you could not make this up.
Meanwhile, Celtic are happy with the £25m valuation we placed on Kieran Tierney but not the structure of the deal. Raul left the USA!USA!USA! to sign deals so hopefully, this is one of them. Most outlets report Tierney kicked Napoli into touch, leaving Arsenal with a clear run at the left-back. He’ll feel right at home if that’s the case. Our defensive play was so bad last year, everyone had a clear run at our left-back.
The turbulence surrounding Arsenal sees a convulsion of headlines surfacing to prove the point. Dark times, especially as Sky claims we have “hidden” problems. I admire – to some degree – the likes of Mustafi and Kolasinac; they are openly our problems, wearing their situation on their sleeves as a badge of pride. Better than a ‘Visit Rwanda’ motif, I grant you.
Ten Is The Magic Number
According to Sky, never knowingly outsmarted in the clickbait stakes, the issue is our reliance upon Aubameyang and Lacazette. Fifty of our 112 goals came from their boots, 44.6% of the total. Liverpool and Tottenham posted similar statistics for their top two goalscorers; I’m not sure it’s as much of a problem as is claimed.
It does, however, underline a point I’ve made for several years: the midfield doesn’t contribute enough goals. No player in the Arsenal squad last season came close to scoring double figures in total goals. That’s not good enough. Five players scored five or more and now two of them are no longer with us; there’s work to be done in training. A lot of work.
While Eddie and Joe Willock are delivering on this tour, it’s unrealistic to expect them to deliver this season. Certainly in the Premier League. Maybe in the Europa League, expectations should be higher. After all, this is where I see them getting a lot of game time. However, as substitutes in the league? It’s hard to see them grabbing more than 10 between them.
Iwobi, Ozil and Mkhitaryan are the ones who genuinely need to step up to the plate. The latter is infuriating; I’m sure there would be a lot more takers for him if he reached double figures consistently. In England, he has yet to score 10 Premier League goals in four seasons while his highest return was 11 overall in his first season at United. The devastating season at Dortmund is looking more freakish with every passing year.
Score, Score, Score! Once You Get One You’ll Get More.
The trio has the talent to score more goals. Crucially, there’s a sense they enjoy creating opportunities more. Is that a genuine joy in creation, similar to Robert Pires? He struck a balance between scoring and creating but with this trio, is there a subconscious element holding them back? Are they shirking responsibility in front of goal; it feels that way at times. Maybe that’s my subconscious coming into play.
Whatever the reason, if they each grabbed ten goals a season then we might find ourselves vying for silverware. The Champions League places wouldn’t feel as far out of reach as they do now, that’s for certain. We could argue, quite rightly, that the defence conceding ten fewer goals per season holds the same effect.
One hundred and two goals conceded over the past two Premier League seasons; 51 in each, the seventh ‘best’ in that time of teams not relegated. Newcastle conceded fewer than us, to offer some perspective. They scored 66 fewer than us, with our 147 goals for being the third-best over the two seasons. One year of Arsene, one of Unai; the same problems remain.
Remain to be resolved is perhaps a better phrase. This, I think, is the season where Unai faces pressure in that sense. While he got a ‘free pass’ to some degree last year, now he has twelve months of work on the training ground to build upon. It’s weird thinking that given we showed precious little improvement last season defensively.
One and One is One
However, Emery’s contract is a two-year deal with the option of one more. I’d be surprised – or would I? – if Arsenal exercised that option should we finish sixth with another poor defensive record. I think that in attack we’re almost there. Not so at the other end of the pitch. When the goalkeeper says we’ve got to stop conceding stupid goals, you know there is a big problem.
The friendlies thus far show little sign of that being solved. As much as we won those games, we might not have done had the opening ten minutes seen us concede as we threatened to do. In reality, going into the season without another centre-back is madness. Rob Holding is coming back but Chambers played in midfield at Fulham last season and looked a better player for it. However, we need options to keep Mustafi out of the starting line-up and as Unai admitted, Nacho as a centre-back in a back four isn’t viable.
Raul, you’re back and busy; get the magic wand waving to find a solution. Either that or keep a prayer mat handy; we’re going to need it.