Arsenal were far from down to the bare bones in their 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday, but they did make hard work of the three points. Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski’s absence was coupled with the uncharacteristic sluggishness and profligacy of Santi Cazorla. Both lasting effects of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
It does raise concern for the coming weeks. Laurent Koscielny was not fully fit following his Achilles injury suffered in the Community Shield against Manchester City, but he saw minutes nevertheless in the opening weekend. Partnering him, because there was no other option, was Calum Chambers. The former Southampton starlet’s assured performance should not take away from the negligence of going into the start of the campaign with only one senior centre-back available.
In attack, Olivier Giroud started on the bench, also due to a lack of fitness, with Yaya Sanogo lining up through the middle and flanked by Alexis Sanchez and Cazorla. He’ll work for the team and he’ll give his all, but Sanogo, as if we need further reminding, is still not good enough for this Arsenal team. It may be a lack of attacking intelligence; does Sanogo know when to make the runs of an established centre-forward? Maybe, maybe not. But the real worry is his lack of ability to properly complement those around him.
There’s a danger of it all unravelling early. This summer has been the best for the club in many years, arguably the best in Arsene Wenger’s tenure as manager. Thus far, the buys have been either exciting or positive, and the departures haven’t forced sleepless nights. It’s the kind of transfer activity a club of Arsenal’s resources should be conducting regularly.
But the team isn’t ready, and forced selections can lead to injury. It wasn’t lost on anyone that Arsenal have only played three pre-season games ahead of the Community Shield, and that trip to New York featured less than half of the first-team regulars.
This week the team travel to Turkey to face Besiktas in their first leg effort to be included in this season’s Champions League proper. On Saturday, a tough away trip to Everton awaits.
What struck most about the win over Palace was just how poor the passing was throughout the entire team, as if none had quite woken up to the fact that the league season had begun. Had it been midway through the campaign, you’d be able to easily forget the performance. Sort of. It would be one of those that you check off as that of the mentality of (potential) champions, winning even when playing poorly.
Arsenal need reinforcements – and that’s not the reflex of years of frustration. The team are undermanned in defence, and one more central midfielder is also needed. For those who try to build it up as a necessity, though I feel it’s more of a luxury due to the numbers in the squad, another centre-forward should also be on the end-of-window shopping list.
But ahead of all that, Arsenal need to find their fitness and rhythm, and quick. None of the top teams who played on the weekend were totally convincing, and there have been plenty of comments that the Premier League season has come too soon. But even with three points in the bag, Arsenal are still some way off where they need to be for this season.