No, it wasn’t how Arsene Wenger would have drawn it up. No, that is not the sort of back line that will bring home the titles. And no, you didn’t even get to see the best-attacking player that still plies his trade for the Gunners. But at the end of the match, it was a victory all the same.
When Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould sat down to look at the film from last season, they would have noticed the almost goal per game improvement on defence after the long overdue switch to a back 3, debuting first against Middlesbrough. They might have even taken the time to flesh out the system a bit more, evolving last season’s bandage into this season’s tactical foundation. Given the promising signs of the initial shift, they certainly couldn’t have been blamed for imagining further improvement this season. So why are fans calling for Wenger to sign a new centre half after just one match?
The short answer: because fans like to react in the most irrational of ways.
Digging into the issues that held Arsenal back in the first match of the season against Leicester on Friday shows a wealth of correctable mistakes, missed assignments and missed opportunities that surely the team will iron out to some effect. Playing two left backs and a young centre back in the back 3 does not often ensure a clean sheet (let alone playing 3 fullbacks and a wide midfielder in a back 4 toward the end). With Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Shkodran Mustafi all likely due back within the next couple of weeks and Callum Chambers somehow still at the club, do not expect Arsene to make a run at another defender. Sorry folks, but Virgil Van Dijk is not coming to North London. At least not this half.
We Will Always Have That Time In Paris…
So Alexis Sanchez is going to PSG. Not really, I totally just made that up, but if certain French publications are to be believed about why Alexis was in Paris on Saturday, I would bet the words “Neymar”, “PSG”, “Lorry full of money” and “January” came up. However, Sanchez might find himself a bit annoyed that his short trip to the continent was discovered.
First, it was at Luton Airport, where a sneaky looking Alexis was spotted waiting to board his private jet with his girlfriend and agent. The Chilean apparently looked uncomfortable when he was spotted in the terminal. As if this wasn’t enough to arouse the suspicions of Gooners everywhere, Alexis later got into an exchange with a friend on social media that geotagged him in Paris, leading to even more panic and a very quick removal by the player himself.
It is hard to see how this one will be explained away by Sanchez and his agent. When you leave the team soon after a match to spend 24 hours in a different country, it is highly unlikely to have been a holiday. If Alexis returns from his injury, trains with his teammates and plays, I am convinced that the joy of playing football and winning could turn his head, but he needs to actually get on the pitch first.
Thomas Lemar Deal Off?
According to multiple new reports, Arsenal are quickly shifting their attention from signing Thomas Lemar from Monaco to simply focusing on clearing out bloated wages, unhappy players, and those without a role any longer. Aside from the news being diametrically opposed to the will of most fans, it could also be slightly misleading.
Arsenal have only spent around £50 million on the transfer market so far, excluding wages, which is still about half the amount spent last season, and only a third of what Arsene Wenger’s transfer budget was rumoured to be this summer. The real issue for the team is that, with over 30 players on the squad, of which 25 can be registered (provided the home grown quota is filled), Arsenal are practically an entire substitutes bench away from being compliant with Premier League Squad rules.
Does Arsenal need to sell players, whether for the good of the club, the player, or to be rule compliant? Yes, it sure does. Does this mean that their transfer market work is done? No, it does not. It simply means that subtraction is necessary before any additions can be made. For the good of the fans, the manager, and the delicate truce struck between the two on Friday night that led to the first 20 minutes of honest to goodness atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium in recent memory. Fans will look at the gargantuan sums spent by the Manchester clubs, and at the money that Chelsea probably will spend to appease their fiery manager and say that Arsenal need to keep pace.
The problem with this is that it’s not like Europe is filled to the brim with elite players that could both improve the current squad, and be purchased for a reasonable sum from his current club. Without these circumstances being true, the purchase of a player has no real purpose, save for placating the fans. While I am convinced that Arsene Wenger will try to add to the squad before the window slams shut, I do not think that creating a logjam at certain positions or bringing in a player to warm the bench, a la Lucas Perez is the right way to go about summer business again this year.
Perhaps the third biggest name on Arsenal’s poorly staggered expiring contracts list is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It seems that playing him out of position is starting to turn his head, as the rumours now are that he could leave to join Chelsea. While this would be devastating for Arsenal, it does make sense on several levels for the Blues. Despite being Premier League champions last season, Chelsea do not have as deep of a squad as Arsenal, and when looking at the wingers they currently have in their squad, the Ox could certainly find playing time in a preferred role for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side, with just Pedro and Eden Hazard in a position to stay ahead of him in the pecking order. Ultimately, I believe he stays and gets the £120k wages he is reportedly after, but the possibility and the logic behind a Chelsea move should still be enough to cause worry amongst the fans.
Have you heard? Newcastle is back in the Premier League, and they are interested in well…every Arsenal squad player, apparently. Lucas Perez and Jack Wilshere are the latest to be linked to the Tyneside club. With a £13.4 million price tag a week ago, Lucas Perez seems to now be valued at £20 million, despite not even playing yet this season. As a club that often witnesses the effects of the “Premier League Premium” paid by the rich clubs in England for players in Europe, Arsenal must be hoping that they can pick up some healthy fees for their squad players, in addition to getting their bloated wages off of the books.
As for Jack Wilshere, well, it does make sense. The England International would get to stay in England and play for another of the country’s more historic clubs. With little in the squad of comparable quality to Wilshere, he could certainly carve out a role for himself in Rafa Benitez’ side.
Ideally, most Arsenal fans would love to see their favorite son return to the pitch in red and white, finally fulfilling his potential. Arsenal have a use for a versatile midfielder, particularly with the injury woes and inconsistencies of Aaron Ramsey being such an important part of the way the current squad plays. Whatever happens with Wilshere, I for one will be hoping that he succeeds. He deserves a shot at the career he has always been promised.
That’s all for today Arsenal fans! Be sure to tune in Thursday for the Transfer Monger Midweek Memo!