How important is the preseason? To kick off Arsenal’s Far East adventure this summer, two uneven but victorious performances in Sydney replete with several fine displays from academy products showed a team in pretty good nick to begin the summer friendly season.
Another relocation to Shanghai and a significantly less convincing victory on penalties against Bayern Munich then brought a preseason trophy and dreams of perhaps equaling Manchester United’s yawn inducing “Mourinho Treble” from a year ago. Then, as is invariably the case with a fan base as volatile as francium-223 (my nuclear physicist readers are laughing, I promise), the first loss of the friendly season has already put some supporters on high alert.
Seeming to hit the proverbial wall after a tough match against the Bavarian giants, Arsenal were no match for Chelsea who had only just arrived in China to begin their tour. Youngsters like Cohen Bramall, who had fans raving in Australia, looked their age in China, and Chelsea walked away the 3-0 victors in a professional display.
In truth, most of the fans that have voiced their concerns in the aftermath of the Chelsea match might not be so tense at this point in the season if Chelsea’s perceived superiority (with Arsenal gleefully left out of most top 4 predictions in the punditry world) did not also extend to the transfer market. Though Arsenal appeared to get the drop on their fellow big 6 rivals, signing Sead Kolasinac immediately to open the summer and securing Alexandre Lacazette to a deal in time to come on tour, the chequebooks finally worked their way out of the silk-lined pockets of England’s heavy hitters.
Despite Antonio Conte managing to win the Premier League last season with an ageing squad almost entirely of another manager’s creation, he has had the Blues aggressively on the trail of some of Europe’s most talented players, already agreeing with an outfield player at every level of the squad. With both Manchester clubs and Liverpool working hard to bolster their squads as well, Arsenal have to do anything they can to keep pace.
While I will be the first to admit to a bit of a cavalier attitude towards the Alexis Sanchez departure rumours all summer long, they refuse to go away. Given that nearly every football publication in the world is running with the story, every move the Chilean makes is scrutinised and interpreted, and every comment dissected for clues.
With rumours in the last week or so shifting from league rival Manchester City and Bayern Munich to Paris Saint-Germain, it is being reported that Sanchez is demanding anywhere from £300-500k in wages, well within the Parisian club’s significant means. If Alexis’ agent is trying to get the Chilean the best possible contract extension by linking him to Europe’s biggest clubs, he has played his hand masterfully. With every day that passes, Arsenal becomes less likely to be able to replace Sanchez this summer should he force his way out.
If Arsene Wenger is to be believed, Sanchez is going nowhere else but back to North London this summer. If just about every columnist, pundit and worry wart fan is to be believed, he is more likely to be elsewhere. Ultimately, I am still of the belief that he stays, signing a new deal in the process, but my confidence is waning.
As for Arsenal’s other great alleged contract rebel, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, there appears to be even more diversity of opinion. Is Liverpool going to swoop for him after all? Will Chelsea continue to make themselves stronger this summer and attempt to pry him away? Will he go back to Southampton to guarantee his importance in the squad? Or is the Ox actually quite happy at Arsenal, and all of the commotion is about getting the best deal from the club?
There is no denying the massive potential that the former St Mary’s star possesses, and his strong, confident play through the second half of last season gave the Englishman some leverage in his negotiations with the club. However, the Ox has been a willing and cheerful participant in Arsenal’s preseason tour so far, and aside from reports in the media, has given no indication that he wants to leave Arsenal. If the club are ultimately forced to sell Alexis Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain would have to be convinced to stay on. Losing 2 of the most talented players from the squad would totally change the complexion of the upcoming season for the Gunners, and fans will be anxiously waiting for the window to slam shut, locking both alleged want-aways in, at least until the rumours start afresh in December.
Rumours and Miscellany
According to Stewart Robson, Arsenal singed the wrong striker. Alvaro Morata, he claims, would have been his selection. The former Arsenal midfielder is convinced that Morata, a player who sat on Real Madrid’s bench for much of last season is more consistent and has a higher work rate than his French counterpart, Alexandre Lacazette, scorer of 100 league goals in 171 games. He may ultimately be proven right about the two strikers, but to call a player that has yet to be a starter in his entire career more consistent than one of Europe’s most clinical forwards for the last 3 seasons is, shall we say, one way of looking at it. Arguing that he is better built to be an all around striker in the Premier League? I’ll bite. Arguing that he has more potential left to realise than Lacazette? Sounds right to me. Saying he is the more consistent of the two? You’ve lost me Stew.
Have you heard? Riyad Mahrez is just going to keep turning down offers until Arsenal, the team he allegedly turned down last year to keep the Leicester magic alive (they didn’t) come calling for his services. While certainly a flattering story towards the North London club, it can’t feel too good for Roma, who appear to have had their advances all but ignored while the Algerian waits for his “dream move” to materialise. Do you suppose someone should tell him that Arsene has moved on?
In other news, Manchester City youth product, Jaden Sancho appears ready for a new challenge, and Arsenal appears to be leading the race to sign him up. Having turned down a lucrative (especially for a player yet to make a first team appearance) £30k a week contract to stay at City, Arsenal and Tottenham have begun a North London battle for his signature. Arsenal will be hoping that a better reputation for talent development and the player’s friendship with Arsenal youngster Reiss Nelson might be enough to tempt the player back down to London. Manchester City will probably just be hoping to hold on to a “homegrown” player for the squad size advantage. No matter which of the 3 clubs young Sancho chooses, he will be facing a lot of top, top quality players at his favoured left wing to break into whichever team he chooses.
Continuing to be linked with a move away, former future, Jack Wilshere is no being linked with Turkish club Antalyaspor. With the quoted fee in this story being £20 million, the same as what Crystal Palace would allegedly have to pay, so the interest is probably legitimate. Though Wilshere would be the perfect player to hold in reserve, along with a fit Santi Cazorla (if possible) for Aaron Ramsey’s inevitable injury blight. Wenger will be remembering last season, in which Cazorla’s injury almost single-handedly derailed the Gunners’ season, and most likely be hesitant to sell Wilshere. However, it has become apparent that the player may never reach his potential with Arsenal, and a clean break might be the best for both parties. Still, it will be a sad day for many fans, myself included, should Wilshere leave the club permanently.
Finally, Arsenal are still being linked with Celtic striker, Moussa Dembele for over £20 million. Though Marseille is the latest and strongest linked club to the talented striker, Arsenal was one of the most interested parties last year when Dembele left Fulham for Celtic. The forward did not disappoint, scoring goals for fun and making his stepping stone move to the Scottish Premier League a resounding success. Though Arsenal have more than enough strikers in their squad, none combine Dembele’s skill with his high potential and young age. With the fee still reportedly reasonable, he would represent a tidy bit of business for the club should they choose to go in that direction.
What do you think Gooners? Have our plans changed now that our rivals are having good summers? Will Wenger ultimately do enough?