Looking at Arsenal last season it looked as though the squad looked very thin. This was most apparent in the defence and the attack. With Gallas injured for a very large chunk of the season, Arsenal were left with only 3 natural Central defenders, 2 of which were only young talents, (Senderos and Djourou). These two did an admirable job but are still learning their trade.
In attack, the most glaring statistic is that Robin Van Persie was our top goalscorer with 13 and his season ended in January. Emmanuel Adebayor played most of the season and should have scored more with the chances he had. Julio Baptista was the same but now he has left. What makes this season any different you might ask? Well at the back Bakary Sagna even by Wenger’s standards seems to be a real quality signing (Charlie Nicholas). He is a right back by trade and has added solidarity to what was a shaky defence but has not shirked on his attacking duties aswell. A perfect example being the run he made to set up Alex Hleb’s first and Arsenal’s second goal in Prague. Many defenders would have hoofed it clear and regrouped at the back but Sagna ran the length of the pitch to take full advantage of the space and opportunity to add to Arsenal’s slender lead.
The interesting thing with Sagna is that he can play centre back aswell if needed. This will be key when the African Cup of Nations comes around. Wenger will deploy Senderos there with Gallas but Sagna can be used if needed with Hoyte filling in. The one strange thing is Djourou leaving with this absurd tournament coming around right when the season really kicks in. HE will gain experience but the loan should surely end here? With only 3 central defenders for what will probably be a month (bearing in mind the likely progression of the Ivory Coast) we might suffer here. Hopefully there is a recall clause, something Wenger would surely have added into the deal with this in mind.
Wenger may have in his mind the idea of using Gilberto as a centre back during this period, as he did for a time last season.Last season we only had Clichy as a left back option. He is looking brilliant and right now no other option is needed. However for the cups maybe and if in the worst scenario Clichy gets injured, we have an able deputy waiting in the wings. Armand Traore is an electric full back with pace to burn, great attacking instincts and his defending improves with every game. He was one of the main players who developed hugely with last year’s successful Carling Cup run. I touched on it but at right back we have Justin Hoyte who also came on leaps and bounds last season. Yet he is behind Sagna and if Eboue doesn’t work on the right of midfield then Eboue as well. He will get his chance most likely during the ACON and he will need to take it otherwise I feel he will be sold on. In goal he has Lehmann who on his day is top class During pre season Manuel Almunia showed why he should be considered for the no.1 jersey. Lukasz Fabianski also came in and will look to push for the first team. This is all healthy competition and will keep the keepers on their toes and hungry. Last year Wenger seemed set on playing central midfield players on the flanks, Rosicky, Hleb, sometimes even Diaby and Fabregas. Rosicky does well on the left, drifting in to play a second playmaker role to Cesc. However he needs more goals if he is to take this position on the left. You need your midfield to chip in goals and the wide positions are key to this. This is maybe why Wenger has given himself an extra option with Eboue acting as a wide midfielder this year. He also has Walcott who wants to have a considerable amount of starts this year. His pre-season was brilliant and now he just needs games. Both of these players offer pace and directness, something we lacked at times.
Alex Hleb had the right midfield role last season but it seems this has been changed. He has played on the left where he seems far more effective. In the Emirates Cup he played behind one striker and he really pulled the strings, as Wenger said Hleb prefers to play centrally. He has already got two goals in the first two games of the season, long may it continue! If Wenger wants width on the left he can call upon youngster Kieran Gibbs who was excellent in his debut against Inter Milan. He didn’t look fazed by the occasion and seems to know the Arsenal-Way. The centre of midfield is once again packed, even with Gilberto away; Wenger has Cesc, Flamini, Diaby and Denilson fighting for a place. The midfield lacks substance at the moment in my opinion with Flamini supporting Cesc, for me Diaby and Denilson offer more, whether it be power and pace, or a better passing range and vision. Gilberto will add what he did last year, hopefully just as well, while also being a leader on the pitch.
Up front we have a different array of strikers. None of them are like Thierry Henry but together they may just be able to lighten the burden after his departure. Van Persie shone last season until his injury but he needs a partner to really show this again this season. He looks isolated as a lone striker and needs Adebayor or Eduardo there with him. He has the ability to be a brilliant player with bags of goals. However he likes to play in a more withdrawn role. This will be perfect for Eduardo who plays on the shoulder and is hopefully the clinical finisher we missed last season. If he can do this with the chances we create he can flourish. Adebayor is an instinct player and hopefully he will be fighting for his place and improve his finishing. However what he does add is 100% effort for 90 minutes and he is a nightmare for defenders. IF needed Bendtner can come on and change a game. He is awkward to deal with and has a good touch on the ground and in the air. This coupled with a hard shot should get him a goal or two amongst a few sub appearances, maybe starts during the ACON. To sum up Wenger has more options this year than last year and can rotate a bit more.
All across the team he shouldn’t be afraid to trust his squad. After all, winning is about the entire squad not just the first team. If a player gets injured the manager must trust his replacement. Last year I feel we didn’t have that, this year we seem to. The attitude is different according to Gallas, hopefully these different options will also help to push on and win silverware for the first time since 2005. Does Wenger have the squad he has been working towards ever since Vieira left? That’s still to be seen.