It’s easy to come away from Arsenal’s win at Liverpool with a lot of optimism for the near future. It’s also easy to paint over any good work done by the club this summer with a black brush due to the high-profile departures. But so far, it’s hard not to find some form of understanding with Arsene Wenger’s thinking going into the season.
The obvious area to address was how the club would replace Robin van Persie’s 30 league goals from last season. Considering that Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have come in from other countries and may need some time to adapt, it might be a fair assessment to say the club have moved sideways rather than forward. If, however, van Persie had remained at the club this season, Arsenal would look a much stronger side with ambitions that could match those further up the league table.
It’s not that Giroud or Podolski are bad players, but where’s the depth? Where’s the cushion to fall back on when your new recruits don’t hit the ground running? It was also brought up recently that Arsenal are in fact in the same position as they were last season with regards to their strikers; if Giroud is injured or out of action for any length of time, do the club really want to rely on Marouane Chamakh?
But I think it’s interesting to see that Arsene Wenger is making the most of the resources he has to him, both in terms of cash and playing personnel.
Santi Cazorla’s signing this summer was a masterstroke. It hardly needed the match away at Liverpool to tell that this is one of the most technically gifted and creative midfielders in all of Europe. But instead of raising the question as to why other big clubs didn’t go after him, rather look to the excellent eye for a bargain by the Arsenal manager. While clubs in the Premier league are looking for reinforcements in England, Wenger has found a real magician in a foreign league for a bargain price. I don’t think anyone could argue that Cazorla isn’t good enough for any club in the world. His versatility, calmness in the midfield and status in European football is such an incredible boost to Arsenal.
The loss of Alex Song certainly prompted many to expect an arrival of a similar player on transfer deadline day, and it would be foolish to suggest there wasn’t some degree of disappointment in Arsenal’s failure to strengthen or replace in that area. But what has been really pleasing to see is Arsenal’s lack of reliance on a genuine holding or defensive midfielder. Sure, I recently flagged up that area as a position of weakness even with Song in the team, but the combination of Mikel Arteta and Cazorla really add something different.
While trying very hard not to get carried away, Arsenal’s midfield—whether you want to include Diaby as the consistent third in the midfield trio—look to use their strength of awareness, ball retention and calmness under pressure to combat the loss of an Alex Song figure in the side.
I made the point recently that Arsenal looked like they were attacking with 11 players but defending with only 10. It was clear that Alex Song’s desire to get further up the pitch left a huge gap in the midfield for the opposition to exploit. Now, it seems like there is a real hunger from these current midfield players to help one another out and take up their defensive responsibilities. It would, however, be foolish to assume this Arsenal team could sail through the season without a real defensive midfielder. But it does appear that Wenger has a lot of faith in Francis Coquelin to fill in that role where needed, while Diaby—provided he can stay fit—will feature in the bigger and much more open games.
As I said, it’s important not to get carried away with this Arsenal side following their impressive win at Anfield, but it is clear that the squad is short of a few bodies. Attacking and at both full-back positions could prove to be a problem going forward: Arsenal are never far from a long term injury to a key player.
But Steve Bould has arguably been one of the signings of the season, as the new assistant manager has surely played an enormous role in helping the club to three league clean sheets in a row—two of which featured the third choice keeper.
It’s more of a frustration that the club didn’t do what they could to ensure this team could challenge for the title this season. But away from that, the versatility of a few members in the squad—namely Cazorla, Podolski, Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain—leave this Arsenal team deceptively strong.
Key members have departed the club this summer, but at least Wenger has completed some very exciting and clever moves during the window.