If pre-season is meant to answer the question of ‘Are we gonna be a force this season?” then you’d have to say the chance of Arsenal winning the league are about the same of Amir Khan getting his wedding vows renewed. Beating some Aussie sides, jamming a win on pens against Bayern, getting battered by Chelsea, and an Emirates Cup victory on a comical technicality. Thing is, dissecting Arsenal’s pre-season and getting granular would suggest it’s massively unfair to think that performances are reflective of what we can expect in the new season. Our lineups in pre-season have been seriously random. In fairness, it’s Wenger’s opportunity to try out anything he wants to by way of tactics, combinations, whether young players are ready for the first team, whether certain players have the ability to play in relatively unfamiliar positions, etc. Pre-season is for managers.
When I think about the take home messages I had from pre-season, a few were concerning, but a few were positive. The big negative for me is that we haven’t been able to play our best XI together once which concerns me mainly from a defensive point of view given the formation itself is pretty new. The big area of intrigue for me the most though is that we seem to be getting a real indication that Wenger is going retro with this team. He seems to be looking for a throwback to his glory years. Power. It doesn’t seem to have been discussed much (or at all) in the mainstream media, but how many of you have noticed the Arsenal team getting significantly more powerful over the last couple of years?
I enjoy reading ‘Arsenal News Review’, and like Myles Palmer’s take on Arsenal even though often being in disagreement. One of the things he has alluded to regularly has been around how Wenger took the Premier League on with a brand of pace and power that it quite simply wasn’t prepared for. It made Fergie react and change accordingly to combat against it, and Manchester United were successfully able to stop Arsenal being truly dominant in that period. Since then, Arsene have been widely criticised for moving towards assembling a team of small technicians who have been bullied out of games and in a broader sense, bullied out of trophies.
Over the last five or six years, we’ve seen glimpses of more fight and bottle coming in sporadically, as well as some recruitment to suggest some prioritisation of physicality points. However, this pre-season was the first time in a while where I thought that an Arsenal XI could exert a real level of physical dominance and genuine power. Some of my favourite moments in pre-season were seeing the Ox and Kolasinac literally bulldoze players out of the way. Sead is a beast. Anyone remember The Mighty Ducks 2, the one where they become Team USA? I like to think Sead on Ox can be our Bash Brothers. Genuine power players, they scare opposite numbers. Even take Bellerin, yes he doesn’t have the bulk of the other two but he’s not short of muscle and he’s lightning.
If we move to the centre of defence, Gabriel, Kos, and Mustafi are over 6ft, and Rob Holding is probably a tad taller than all of them. In midfield, Ramsey although under 6 ft has the box-to-box physicality and Granit Xhaka is over 6ft. Ozil is just under 6ft and has bulked up visibly over the past couple of seasons. Iwobi is athletic and just under 6ft, Going further forward, Giroud is a deceptively big unit, Sanchez although small in height is arguably the most powerful physically in the squad. The Cassette is actually notably pretty small and proves a bit of an exception to recent recruitment although he seems pacey. Little Theo seems relatively marginalised since we moved to the new formation, however again he’s notably bulked up and on a number of occasions last season seemed to get a bit lairy on the pitch.
So are we seeing Wenger putting together a blend of choreography and battery? Maybe we finally have a team of experienced, savvy technicians who are not only up for a scrap, but looking to proactively stamp their physical dominance on matches? People forget that in Arsenal’s best years under Wenger, the disciplinary records weren’t great. We’d see a fair few games out with 10 men, it was part and parcel of maintaining a physical edge over our opponents, we had to accept that every so often someone would get sent off.
I’m not putting on rose-tinted glasses here and having a standard pre-season splurge of optimism. I don’t necessarily think the physical enhancement will guarantee us success. We could still end up having a really bad season given the investment and evolution of the other top sides in the league. However, I do think we could see a different Arsenal in many ways. The Shield might be a good indication of things to come but really it’s the Friday game against Leicester that will tell us more.