The headlines at Arsenal this summer have been the departures. Robin van Persie and, more recently, Alex Song, both packed their bags. spat in the face and gladly helped out of the door (delete as applicable) by the man who made them what they are. Following the precedents set by recent seasons, in which first team players have left and we’ve failed to win a trophy, the media have automatically assumed the same will happen again.
Poor media. Their blindness to the positives at Arsenal will inevitably come back to bite them in the, ahem, arse. It’s happened before when they predicted us to finish outside the top four, and those who don’t think we’ll challenge will be chewing the bland, rubbery humble pie they know so well at the end of the season. They should know better.
The reason for my confidence is what the media have overlooked – the quality of the replacements Arsenal have brought in. Van Persie’s departure has been offset not only by the signings of international strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud but also Santi Cazorla, who I’m sure I don’t need to tell you anything about. Except those that are calling him “Carzola”. Stop that.
It’s important that people realise Van Persie was so important to us because we didn’t properly replace Cesc Fabregas – Aaron Ramsey was in no way ready for ‘the Cesc role’, and because the most central (in terms of location and importance) role was being filled by someone not quite up to the task, we suffered, and Van Persie was required to win us games on his own.
Later, Tomas Rosicky began to make the role his own, and it’s no coincidence that the loss of Van Persie’s form went fairly unnoticed at the time. The vital piece of the puzzle was sufficiently placed by Rosicky, and our efficiency increased – Van Persie wasn’t the only way we could win games, as demonstrated by a 3-0 win over Aston Villa with no contribution from The Lying Dutchman.
Still, Rosicky was only an adequate stop-gap, and the perceived wisdom was that Arsenal would need someone to fill the Cesc-shaped hole properly – especially with the Czech’s injury problems which have unsurprisingly crept up once more.
For once, our luck was in, and we managed to wrest Santi Cazorla from Malaga’s relenting grasp due to their financial problems which came fairly out of the blue. Cazorla is, let’s be honest, not quite as good as Cesc. Very few players are. But since Cesc’s time at Arsenal, some of the players he was surrounded by have matured, and we’ve brought in others to improve the team.
Per Mertesacker was brought in last season, and should have adapted more to the league so as to be able to better instil his calming influence and exemplary reading of the game. Laurent Koscielny became one of the best defenders in the league last season. Thomas Vermaelen, despite occasional struggles last season, should improve with the added responsibility of the armband, and for once we’ll have a captain who can lead as a general, rather than a soldier, if that analogy makes any sense whatsoever.
Moving up the pitch, Mikel Arteta was superb last season with his precise passing, retention of possession and positional discipline and will continue to use his experience to help the side. Jack Wilshere, touch wood, returns in October, and will add guile and energy to the midfield. Abou Diaby is another who is hoping to put an injury nightmare behind him, and while performances might be inconsistent to start with, he has the potential to be an important player for this team.
It’s hard to place Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in this article, as he could be in the midfield paragraph or forwards paragraph, but I imagine he’ll play as a wide player this season given that we need a less direct option who’s happy to help keep the ball and probe against deep-sitting, bus-parking opposition. After a season under his belt he’ll have improved, as will his competitors on the flanks, Theo Walcott and Gervinho, who both showed signs of that in pre-season.
Lukas Podolski will also play out wide, but will be vying also for that central spot with Olivier Giroud also in contention. Last season Van Persie was our only option, with Chamakh a stuttering, nervous wreck and Park possibly not existing. This season we’ll be able to rotate up front, as well as in other positions, meaning we’re much less predictable.
And finally a mention to our new signing, Nuri Sahin. At the time of writing he’s not been confirmed officially, but I’ve already been assured I can order my Turkey away shirt with ‘Sahin 10’ on the back without worrying the move will fall through. At Dortmund he was fantastic, and while a loan deal is always slightly disappointing, he’s sure to be a great asset this season, and will allow for even more rotation and, by extension, unpredictability.
All in all, Arsenal’s options, on paper, look promising. An opening day draw against Sunderland has drawn criticism from some quarters, but teams don’t click overnight, and this one will need time to begin firing. The team showed classic signs (I’m sounding like a shrink) of being a team in need of time to gel and in particular patience, and they deserve that before our fans start ripping their hair out and throwing it at Arsène Wenger. Who, by the way, knows more about football than pretty much everyone who has criticised him.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have his faults, but look at our signings this summer – Olivier Giroud, top scorer in Ligue 1 in a title-winning side who came from nowhere to clinch it; Lukas Podolski, 18 goals in a relegated side and over 100 caps for Germany; Santi Cazorla, widely acclaimed as the best player outside of La Liga’s ‘big two’ and winner of 46 caps in a Spain midfield including Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and Iniesta; and finally Nuri Sahin, Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2011. I could list more accolades, but I’ve written too much as it is.
So that’s four fantastic additions from Wenger, and many more reasons to be cheerful at the Emirates. It may well be a far better season than many are predicting. I for one am looking forward to it.
Written by Sam.