When will they ever learn? For once, I am not talking about ‘Same Old Arsenal’, but rather the talking heads on the television and in the papers who seem to think they have Arsene Wenger’s club all figured out. It has been many years since Wenger fielded a true ‘Banter Era’ level side in a meaningful game, despite what many fans might prattle on about anytime Wenger’s team selection doesn’t jive with their Football Manager or FIFA fantasy version of the squad. However, if you were to listen to certain members of the media, you would never know that this Arsenal team is one of significantly more means than the one that trimmed every kilo of fat off of the wage bill to pay down the new stadium loans from just a few seasons ago.
Look at some of the comments from pundits after the first match of the season last Friday against Leicester. Despite missing their 3 best centre halves for that match, the whistle had barely blown before the suited stiffs and former players began laying into the team and Wenger for not bolstering their options in defence this summer, and gleefully dancing around the apparent infallible notion of the ‘Same Old Arsenal’ back at it again. Hardly any mention of the starting back 3 consisting of two left backs and a young centre back.
Elsewhere, pundits and fans took issue with the Granit Xhaka and Mohammed Elneny pairing in centre midfield, as some felt that the ball often bypassed the midfield altogether when Leicester City were in possession. Well yes, this is true, but given The Foxes tendency to tighten up and play counter attacking football against the better sides in the Premier League, it is hardly the fault of the centre midfield when the ball is being cleared deep or played long into the strikers. Nevermind the fact that last year’s starter (when healthy) next to Xhaka was Aaron Ramsey, who improved Arsenal’s attacking potential immensely after subbing on in the second half. And forget also Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and hopefully, Santi Cazorla.
The problem is not so much that fans are calling for another central midfielder. Unlike centre back, the midfield is full of question marks, whether they be disciplinary or injury related. The real problem is the market itself. Had Wenger acted immediately at the beginning of the window to secure another midfielder for his squad, he might have been able to avoid the exorbitant fees that started coming out after other teams had done their homework. Rumours can be thrown around all summer long, but unless a player would legitimately make the team better, doesn’t have an absurd price tag, and is interested in coming, it is just not likely to happen. This could be one area that Wenger decides to address during the winter window if need be.
The biggest problem of all with Arsenal in the media is that the perception has been incredibly slow in catching up to reality with this club. To far too many people around the game who should absolutely know better, Arsenal are still in the second tier; still just another feeder club to the real big fish in the pond of Europe’s elite. As a result, no matter how many times Arsene Wenger says flatly that he will NOT be selling Alexis, especially NOT to a direct rival. His words on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are similar. Yet too many in the media want to look back to 2006-2012 Arsenal, when Wenger was desperately trying to hold on to world class players that were being criminally underpaid during the lean years (Just ask Danny Rose how universal a truth this is for upscaled stadia migrations), and use that as evidence that he is simply doing the same now.
Arsene Wenger seems to have a unique trouble getting the media to listen to the words he speaks, without liberally colouring his words with preconceived notions and opinions, many of which are pulled straight from the ‘Same Old Arsenal’ storybook ad nauseam. I have long felt that his biggest problem with reporters is his refusal to play their daily news, short term focused game. His answers about working to achieve results in training or building the winning mentality fall on deaf ears in the world of instant reaction and feedback. One thing is for certain, however: somewhere between lifting the Premier League’s only golden winner’s trophy in history a little over a decade ago and present day, it was decided in the football press that Wenger had become a loser, and it seems a narrative that too many are willing to buy into.
Audition or Rehabilitation?
Did you watch the Arsenal U23 match this past week against Derby U23? No? Well you can bet that several other teams (looking at you Newcastle) did. Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs both turned out for the side, and while neither were over the top impressive, it is clear that they both are in desperate need of games. For Gibbs, whose senior squad place has evaporated faster than petrol on hot tarmac, it has been a summer of brief flirtations. First it was a West Brom thought to be interested in his services, followed at the end of July by Watford allegedly also registering interest. Now it is Newcastle that are after him in an August swoop for what looks like the lower half of the Arsenal first team squad. It remains to be seen how long the interest lasts, but for a player who is reportedly intent on rescuing his place in the England squad, he doesn’t exactly seem to be prioritising a chance to play over his cushy Arsenal pay packet.
For Wilshere, if Arsene Wenger is to be believed, his stint with the u23s is purely a rehab stint. Perhaps remembering last season in which the loss of Santi Cazorla completely derailed the Gunners’ title hopes, Wenger will be keen to not leave himself short in the centre of the pitch this season. It is far from an ideal solution, but if Wenger can extract a full season of quality play and good health next to Granit Xhaka using a combination of Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla, should he return, then Arsenal should have enough in the middle to keep their title charge alive. Time was, Wenger would not be caught dead with such a light midfield, but the switch to a 3-4-2-1 has shifted the focus of the squad to the flanks.
In a bit of a surprise this week, it has been reported that Gabriel Paulista is close to departing the club. For a rumoured fee of around £10 million, Valencia have come in quickly and quietly for the Brazilian, with the news coming as a bit of a surprise, compounded by the conspicuous absence of Calum Chambers from the match day squad. Currently coming back from a knee injury suffered at the end of last season against Everton, Gabriel has never fully assimilated into the Arsenal backline since his arrival from a previously successful spell in La Liga for Villarreal, and his place in the side was only assured if there were several injuries to those ahead of him at the Emirates. No word on whether this means Chambers will stay, but it would probably be best to get him on the pitch if he is indeed part of the team’s plans.
Less Likely But Still Reported
Borussia Dortmund apparently didn’t get the memo last week when Arsene Wenger was speaking of his love for Olivier Giroud, as well as the Frenchman’s desire to stay at Arsenal and fight for his place. Apparently, however, Dortmund is of the belief that he would prefer to be the Bundesliga’s ultimate Plan B behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as opposed to the same role with Arsenal. If that sounds likely to you, I have this miracle tonic I would love to sell you…
Now hold on just a minute; I thought we needed more defenders? So why on earth does it say right here in front of me that Inter Milan have opened talks with Shkodran Mustafi about a potential move? Oh that’s right, it’s August. Unfortunately for those whose job it is to come up with a new column or two every day, it’s not easy finding new bits of credible transfer news to report. It is presently unclear, due to the creative ambiguity that is a football blogger’s hallmark, how far along these talks are, but without further information, it just doesn’t seem likely at all. Arriving last summer from Valencia, Mustafi practically walked into the side and did not relinquish his place until a midseason dip in form and fitness saw him fall out of the side for a time. It simply does not seem like the German played poorly enough last season to be labelled a failure at the club already, nor did he play well enough, in my humble estimation, to warrant a move away that might recuperate most of the cost of his transfer to Arsenal.
Julian Draxler has already grown tired of Paris. Either that or he was upset by the arrival of Neymar to take his place in the XI. But one thing is sure: he did not join the French giants because of a love and desire to play for the club. As a father emerged frequent target of Arsenal, this news has naturally led to many “which would you prefer” questions, as some are now asking whether he or Thomas Lemar would be the better signing for the club.
Ross Barkley is apparently still attracting attention from the Gunners, as is young Real Madrid star Marco Asensio. The Barkley story is just not happening, and I cannot see why Arsenal would even consider bringing him in. He is not a fit to the system in place at the Emirates, and he has a tendency to try and create opportunities by himself. Overall, Asensio is the much better prospect, and his blistering 33 yard strike last weekend put many teams on further notice of his talents. Don’t see him coming to Arsenal either as I believe his transfer figure would rapidly rise into the stratosphere.