Let me make one thing clear from the off. By nearly every conceivable metric that any person might use, Arsenal Football Club are not better than they were as deadline day dawned, just over 24 hours ago. You don’t lose a young, ascendant player who until just days ago was subjected to some of Arsene Wenger’s most unbecoming public bread buttering of his long career without getting worse. The only way that is possible is if we are talking about a player like Carl Jenkinson leaving the club (and really, top marks on that one Arsene), not a homegrown talent who just happens to be leading the Premier League in successful take ons.
I’m not here to tell Liverpool fans that their club spent £40 million on a player that likes to dribble through players until he is dispossessed. Seriously, all the time. Nor am I here to tell those same patrons of Anfield to duck their heads and cover their Carlsbergs every time their Little Mix lovin’ new signing attempts to play a cross. That would be uncouth, but I must come over all positive for a moment: if this means that Arsene Wenger will now field 5 defensive minded players at centre half and wing back, it cannot be such a bad thing.
Hector Bellerin moving back to his proper position on the right side won’t hurt either. But perhaps there was more to the switch than first thought? What if Alexis Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain could not coexist on the same flank? Certainly both have a penchant for taking opponents on and a desire for every single one of their possessions to end with a shot or pass inside the penalty area. The switch might also have been an attempt to balance the side by Wenger, putting his two best dribblers on opposite flanks, but poor Hector Bellerin has had a torrid time since rupturing ligaments in his ankle last year. Turning him into a slapdash left wing back, particularly with new signing and fly by night NFL linebacker Sead Kolasinac set up behind the manager in a tracksuit, ready to go.
But what of that Alexis Sanchez madness! Will it be a season saving move for the Gunners or a colossal blunder on the part of the Frenchman. Alexis Sanchez is going to be the better player in 2017/18 (provided he doesn’t mail it in like he did on Sunday-yuck!), but 2019 and beyond? If Thomas Lemar was going to cost the Gunners a lot this summer, as their bid of €100 million was accepted by Monaco, he will surely do come the winter window, and by next summer, it will be cheaper to purchase a medium sized country than half of the elite young talent in world football.
Not accepting Manchester City’s £60 million bid for Alexis could prove costly for the Gunners, especially since he is likely to sign a contract with them or another rival the minute he is able to do so this winter. Arsene Wenger is making a big statement by holding on to a star that seemed to want out by all accounts. Unless there really is some truth to the rumoured friction between he and Liverpool’s newest squad player. Still, fans will be hoping that Wenger isn’t as ignorant as some of the more passionate fans and gleefully sadistic pundits believe.
Of course, that notion already took a hit on deadline night, after Arsenal had called off their plans and decided to stand pat, when Laurent Koscielny took a horrific kick to the Achilles from Arjen Robben in France’s battle with the Netherlands in Paris. The reports now are conflicting about the severity of the Arsenal vice-captain’s injury, but quite unanimous about fan reaction to the team electing to not sign a new centre back: total righteous outrage. For fans dreaming of Virgil van Dijk, the disappointment is real, especially considering their best defender is now hurt and the second is apparently unsettled and was just subjected to enormous fan ridicule as they believed him to be leaving.
Still, as in the centre midfield, Arsenal are under-performing but not without options. Calum Chambers has yet to make the bench in a Premier League match, with Wenger instead opting for the experience of Per Mertesacker, fellow youngster Rob Holding, and Nacho Monreal in his match day squad. Mertesacker, who himself hasn’t started since receiving a vicious gash on the bridge of the nose, could also see some more time. Shkodran Mustafi is definitely not as bad a defender as he has shown recently, as his first 15 games or so in an Arsenal shirt were much more promising. Laurent Koscielny is a good example of how defenders don’t often hit their peak until near 30, so Arsenal fans would do well to remember Mustafi’s relative youth. The same people that today call Koscielny the team’s best defender should recall his shambolic start to life in North London, when he was all ears, elbows, beak, and red cards. Players improve, despite what that bloke down the end of the bar keeps muttering into his pint about Mustafi, Bellerin and company.
Similarly, Wenger has a few options and a wild card to tinker with in the centre of the pitch, as Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka have been badly exposed this season in those roles. Jack Wilshere, despite the obvious drawbacks of relying on such an injury prone player, has the perfect skill set to combine with an all-action stopper like Francis Coquelin. Mohammed Elneny, despite having the least flashy style of play as is humanly possible, is another. It is not out of the question that Ramsey and Xhaka could find their groove again and start to look like the lethal pairing that helped stabilize last year’s team for the FA Cup run. Fans wanted Jean Michel Seri, but even an easier option like former Gunner and current Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup could have made for a nice addition to the mix, particularly with the Turkish born talent in the last year of his contract. The midfield could not possibly play any worse than it has so far, right?…Right?!
This summer will obviously be labelled a failure by many fans (judging by their reactions) but it would be a mistake to write it off in such a way. Sure it would have been nice to have Julian Draxler or Thomas Lemar, but your two most talented players are still at the club, at least for this season. The signings of Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette look like absolute money, especially when Wenger lets them play. The squad has been streamlined for financial purposes, which may mean that Arsenal could go against their traditionally quiet winter window transfer policy and spend some money then. After all, 3 major players could all be signed up to future contracts with other teams by the end of next January, so the club may once again find themselves pushed to the brink of massive action. Perhaps next time they will have no choice but to dive in and make some radical changes for the good of he club.
I do have one, very serious question though:
How the f**k is Mathieu Debuchy still here?