At the end of last weeks’ blog, I said we had a busy week ahead of us and here, at the end of transfer deadline day, I feel that was an accurate assumption. We had a match against Besiktas in midweek, the Champions League group stage draw on Friday, a match against Leicester City on Sunday and the drama of transfer deadline day to test the strength of our hearts. I apologize for the length of this entry but there is quite a bit to discuss.
Let’s go ahead and start with the good news. Champions League group stage was assured with a 1-0 win over Besiktas last Wednesday. All in all, it was a good performance from the Gunners with Alexis Sanchez leading the line for the injured Olivier Giroud. With Ramsey out with his away leg red card meant that Wilshere saw a start alongside Flamini. It has to be said that Wilshere had (roughly) his best game I had seen him play in a while. He was direct made quick, accurate passes and was a menace on defense. That being said, he still plays with a brashness that can be on the side of reckless more often than not and I feel like despite his clear skill, he can be a liability. He made a tough tackle in our box which could have meant a penalty and a vital away goal to Besiktas. I think the tackle was fair, but you never want to give the ref a reason to give a penalty. We dodged a bullet there.
On the opposite end of the pitch, Alexis was stellar as the main striker. He was active both offensively and defensively with runs into the box and tracking back well to win the ball. As he gets further acclimated to the Arsenal style, I think Alexis will be a regular goal-scorer and worth every bit of his transfer fee. Since Giroud is injured, we may be seeing him in that central striker position more than once, especially when Walcott returns to match fitness.
Overall, the Besiktas match was a positive response after the tough Everton match. Wilshere, Alexis and Ox played particularly well. The one bad note was the Debuchy red card. I don’t think anyone can contest the first yellow, but the second was harsh as he made contact with the ball. His absence in the first match against Dortmund will be test of our defensive strength. I will touch on that in moment.
To continue with the good news, I think we received a fairly favorable draw in the Champions League group stage. Dortmund, Galatasaray, and Anderlecht are tough teams but not ones that we haven’t faced before (I am talking about you Dortmund). We have plenty of experience playing in Turkey with Fenerbahce and Besiktas, and we have faced Dortmund twice in the last three years. Anderlecht was last faced in the 1969/70 Fairs Cup final (took some digging for that one). Galatasaray was last faced in the 2000 UEFA Cup final, a 4-1 (on penalties) victory for Galatasaray. The event was marred by rioting from fans of both sides which resulted in 19 injuries and 60 arrests, so let’s hope that never happens again. There will be tricky away matches for sure but all in all we have the experience to handle the pressure and finish top of the group. The only caveat will be our squad depth, which brings me to the part of the blog I have been dreading: the bad news.
Starting off is the horrendous display against Leicester City on Sunday. The less said about this match the better. Start to finish, it was a pathetic performance by the Gunners. Leicester gave Everton and Chelsea trouble in their respective matches but on paper you have to look at the sides and say that we should have been the class of the field. Instead was a confusing mismatch of squad selection that left a lot to be desired.
After seeing how well Alexis played up top against Besiktas, I was surprised to see Sanogo starting as the main striker and Alexis on the right. I am trying my hardest to give Sanogo the benefit of the doubt but he plays like a lost puppy sometimes. He is not up to the level of the Premier League yet. He drags too long on the ball and his decision making is atrocious. The goal we scored is a prime example of this. The ball got played to him over the top and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to shoot or pass. Luckily for Arsenal, Alexis was there to clean up the mess and give us the 1-0 lead. Yet as soon as we had the lead we lost it.
Koscielny took a hard hit to the head previously and was taken off for treatment and returned with what looked like a swimmers cap on his noggin. The Leicester goal was a direct result of Kos not following through with his marker. His head injury clearly was the first thing on his mind and his health is more important than anything else as we do not have much cover in central defense. He should have been subbed immediately for Chambers but this was not done and just like that it was 1-1.
Arsenal continued to press and try to get the game winner but nothing was working. Cazorla, Özil, and Alexis were constantly drifting from their starting positions. I am not sure if this was intentional or not but I kept asking myself “Is that Alexis on the left?” or “What is Özil doing on the right?” It was not the right game plan because our attacks never amounted to much, especially with the inexperience of Sanogo up top.
Continuing down the ranks, Ramsey had a pre-13/14 match for sure. He was simply too selfish on the ball. In the end, it resulted in misplaced passes, poor shots and frustration from the players and fans. We can appreciate his attitude to try and turn the tide of a match, but the tactics were all wrong and not even our Welsh Jesus could save us. Podolski came on late for Sanogo but frankly with only 10 minutes of game time in a game where we were playing like a rec-league team, there wasn’t much he could do. His one moment that stands out was when he received the ball on the left edge of the box and normally you think he is just going to swing that left foot as hard as he can and hope for the best. Not this time, his touch was heavy and it was cleared by the defense. He had a chance to become a hero but the criticisms continued for the Prince of Hashtags. In the end, a draw against Everton was positive but a draw against Leicester was a cause for alarm.
With a bitter taste in the mouths of Gooners worldwide, we entered transfer deadline day. The past few matches and our glaring away defeats to the top four teams last season meant we are still short several players. Giroud being out until January compounded the depth problem further. All day I kept checking Twitter for any news of a CB, DM and striker signing. We have six defensive players and two of them are injured. A long term injury to Koscielny or Mertesacker means that Chambers and Monreal would have to play center back with Debuchy right and Gibbs left. That’s four fullbacks playing center, or swap Flamini in for an absolute worst case scenario that would leave me terrified if we faced Man City or Chelsea with that set up.
The hours ticked by as I ran errands, checking Twitter with such frequently that I am surprised my phone didn’t explode. The general consensus was that DM and CB was the most important positions to fill and yet there wasn’t a single mention of a link to those players. A few “Nastasic to Arsenal” lies popped up but nothing from a concrete source. Then there was a hint that we were trying to sign Danny Welbeck on loan from Manchester United. He was training at London Colney with the England team and was going through a medical. Seemed like another bogus rumor but it turned out to be the only signing we made. A permanent move, not a loan, for £16 million, but only after Arsenal needed an extension.
Welbeck was not exactly the player we needed to fill the gaps in our squad. However, there are some positives to the signing. I like the fact that he has goal-scoring experience in the Premier League. Whether or not this means he will start over Sanogo has yet to be seen. If the stories are to be believed, he snubbed Tottenham for us. If correct, that already gives him a bonus in my eyes. Now, Manchester United fans seem to be relatively irate with us getting Welbeck, despite (to our horror) the fact they got Falcao from Monaco. Add this with Di Maria and the Dutch Skunk and now United begin to worry me. Chelsea has Costa, Remy and Drogba. City has Jovetic, Dzeko and Aguero. Liverpool has Sturridge and Balotelli. We have Giroud, who is injured for four months, Sanogo, and now Welbeck as strikers. Alexis can play the role, as can Walcott in certain matches. As much as I like our forwards, including Podolski, we still lack that game changer 20+ goal scorer, and as great as it would be to have that player, that may not been our weakness.
As I mentioned last week, our top goal scorers last season were Giroud, Ramsey and Podolski. Ramsey had the best season of his career last year and he can’t fly under the radar, which increases the pressure on him to continue that form, 10 or more goals are possible from him for sure. Podolski had some of the best finishing numbers of any player last year, 12 goals from 27 appearances, .44 goals per appearance, which edges Giroud by .01 ( 22 goals from 51 app., .43 goals to appearances) but bested by Ramsey at .47 goals per appearance (16 goals to 34 app.). Podolski was injured from August to December and made almost all of his appearances in the second half of the season. Ramsey was injured for a portion of the second half of last season and we lost his goal scoring. Add into this mix was the Walcott injury, who at the time, was turning up and scoring. Injuries have been critical in stopping our goal scoring. Giroud was the only forward that was healthy throughout last season.
I don’t necessarily think that striker is the area that was most needed in this transfer window. We may not have that player like Costa or Suarez, but we have the players to get goals, they just have to be distributed more amongst many players versus one. It presents a tougher challenge but one that can be met with the right setup. We were top of the league for a long time last season, more than any other team, but fatigue and injuries (attributing to lack of depth) killed it.
Defense and defensive midfield is where we are lacking the most depth. Arteta and Flamini just don’t provide the cover for Mertesacker and Koscielny. Flamini is reckless and Arteta isn’t the fastest player and being ahead of Mertesacker usually means that any type of pace opens us up, especially when we play a high line. Making Arteta the captain pretty much cancelled any hope of signing a DM. I was most surprised by the lack of signing of a CB. Once again we are playing Russian roulette with our options. One or two injuries and we are facing a defensive selection migraine.
All in all, I truly felt we were fine up top for goals, a world class striker would have been nice but we aren’t going to spend that kind of money on a player like Cavani or Falcao. We needed some defensive cover and it never came. If injuries hit, it could be trial by fire for Hector Bellerin or Isaac Hayden, a prospect which may give us a heart attack.
For now, let’s welcome Welbeck, and pray or offer sacrifices to the football gods that we don’t suffer any more injury setbacks because frankly we can’t afford it. We have the international break to suffer through which puts us on the injury red alert before our match against Manchester City. Let that sink in for a minute.
Until next week,
Oh to be a Gooner!