Arsenal confuse me. The whole club, really. They’re a classy club who seem to care about doing the right thing (like playing football the proper way), and yet their ticket prices are the highest in the land.
The manager also buys into this philosophy – he’s the one who instilled it – and yet is changing his idealistic approach in favour of creating a little bit more steel. And I like Arsene Wenger because he’s a great manager and seems like a decent guy, but – like most football fans – I hate it when he whinges after a game, I hate how he’ll rarely praise the opposition after a defeat, and I hate how he’ll blame anyone other than himself. It’s all very confusing.
But now they’re starting to confuse me in terms of tactics and recruitment too.
Arsenal have a great squad this season, capable of competing for the title. They have two players in every position, and they have a wonderful attacking midfield filled with world class players. But more than that, they have a variety of options – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are very different to Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil. Not all can play at any one time, but Wenger can pick and choose depending on the nature of the opposition.
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But it’s the defensive part I worry about, and it’s confusing me. Because Wenger seems to want to add a pragmatic edge to his squad this season. Last year Arsenal beat Manchester City at the Etihad because they played a very pragmatic defensive game and were devastating on the counter attack. In the Community Shield against Chelsea, the Gunners again played on the counter, infuriating Jose Mourinho. Both those games they won, and both were good for setting a marker down to the rest of the league, saying Arsenal are back.
At the start of this season Francis Coquelin is again trusted in the defensive midfield role of the Arsenal XI. He’s a capable player even though just a year ago he was on loan out in the wilderness. But Wenger insists that Coquelin would have been hailed as a wonderful signing had he cost the Gunners £40m. I don’t disagree, he’s been that good and he may well be the answer to Arsenal’s midfield woes – those woes stemming from a lack of muscle in the middle.
But given that Coquelin cost nothing, and given that Arsenal were so shaky in that department, and given that Coquelin has only managed a good half a season, why not invest some more money in there? Why not go after another defensive midfielder who can either play alongside Coquelin in the bigger games, or compete with him for that role when they play the smaller teams? What if Coquelin gets injured – or, you know, a red card – and misses games? Flamini?
That’s confusing me, because all the talk this summer is of Wenger going after a top quality centre forward instead. Gonzalo Higuain or Karim Benzema were all the rage a month ago. Now it’s Cavani or Ibrahimovic! But Arsenal aren’t light in this area.
They have Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott who both want to play in this position. Both will need to work on their finishing, but both are capable and on their day devastating Premier League centre forwards. Especially for a team who may play more on the counter attack this season – their pace and power is frightening.
And then there’s the main man: Olivier Giroud. There are two goals that show exactly what Giroud is all about – the goal at the weekend, a masterpiece of improvisation and ‘knowing where the goal is’, and his goal in the FA Cup final, he only came on for the final 15 minutes, but managed to score a dainty little near-post flick: his speciality.
The Frenchman managed 14 Premier League goals in 21 starts last term, despite breaking his leg early on. The season before that he scored 16 league goals. He’s a goal machine, he’s strong and technical, and he’s elegant. He’s a man who describes himself as an Epicurean, so tell me he’s not an Arsene Wenger player!
All he means by this pretentious language is that he loves good food, but still, he’s exactly the kind of player this Arsenal team want. Someone who can do the gritty side of holding the ball up, but also has the elegance and flair to play alongside players like Mesut Ozil in an Arsene Wenger team.
So why go after a top striker when you problems lie behind him? It’s confusing to those of us who clearly aren’t as philosophical as Arsene Wenger. Let’s just hope he knows what he’s doing!