What Does 2008/09 Hold For Arsenal?
So the transfer activity is about to reach a frenzy. Well, by Arsenal’s summer 2008 standards anyway. Justin Hoyte is Middlesbrough-bound, denying he and Gavin the opportunity to become a rare case of brothers appearing in the same first team at Arsenal. Apparently, Gareth Southgate believes that Jeremie Aliadiere will help ‘lure’ the unsuspecting Justin to his doom, sorry, the Riverside. And Arsene has told us that there will be a new signing before the second leg against FC Twente. Whether that pans out or not remains to be seen; there have been many false dawns in recent years. Strangely though, there is not much speculation as to whom that might be although there have been so many players linked to the club by the media that it would not be surprising if one of them is able to say, ‘Scoop! The Daily Dogs Doodah’s first told you of this move on May 28th!‘.
The Premier League season kicks off tomorrow with the lunchtime start against West Brom. How this season will pan out is subject to wide degree of opinions and a huge gulf in the placings. Generally, if you believe the pre-season previews by ‘The Great and the Good‘, we are destined to finish a distant fourth which is a curious way of looking at how the table finished last time around. Quite what Liverpool have done to merit such belief that they will improve beyond recognition from last time around is unknown but to be honest, that the team are being written off is useful for alieviating the media pressure. It does not stop the weight of expectation from supporters and that is something of a novelty for this squad.
There are reasons for optimism and some dark clouds that hang overhead in respect of the playing staff. Individually, they are without doubt a talented bunch and as a team, they are streets ahead of everyone else in terms of collective technique. The mental strength they need to win the title was amply demonstrated last season and those lessons need to be learned. If they are, then they have a solid foundation upon which to build.
For a successful title challenge to emerge this season, there are several crucial aspects that need to fall into place. The first is putting an end to the seemingly limitless number of injuries suffered. The omens are not good as this week has shown. ‘Wear and tear’ is taking a heavy toll and the first ball of the domestic season has not been kicked in anger yet. That said, the next month should see all those out now bar Eduardo return and there are several key individuals to come into the side. However, should more injuries strike in the early stages of the campaign and an uneasy pattern will start to emerge.
Considering the knowledge within the club, this situation is strange and cannot all be down to luck; the frequency of absences is simply too high. The reality is that Arsene and his staff probably know the cause and are working to address it but a solution has to be found quickly, especially as the opening three months of the season contain a heavily laden fixture list with club and international matches coming, on average, every three days.
Of equal importance is ensuring that all of the team defend, starting with the front pairing. Too many soft goals were conceded last term, lapses in concentration brutally punished. Toure and Gallas are in the top ten of central defenders plying their trade in the Premier League yet they lacked application of those skills. The former was a shadow of his former self on returning from Ghana in the winter. Whether he was playing with injuries or if it was psychological is unknown. Whatever happened, those ‘cobwebs’ have to be swept from his mind. Gallas meanwhile is under scrutiny for his captaincy. Until St Andrews, there was no question about this; he needs to regain those levels as well as marshalling his colleagues to reintroduce the meanness that has always accompanied a title win.
Much is made of their lack of height but neither are short. They have to utilise their skills in reading the game to win battles against bigger men; the truly great centre-backs are able to do this successfully, compensating for their physical deficiencies in such situations. Perhaps part of the problem was that they felt there was no competition for their spots in the starting line-up and this led to some complacency. Now there is a challenge. Song performed well considering it was his introduction to the Premier League as a centre back; Djourou looks as though he will be able to cope with that position also. This might help the first choice pairing to focus if they know Arsene has options.
Concentration manifests itself most identifiably in clean sheets but it is also a crucial aspect of winning ‘ugly’. The team did that in Arnhem but now must transfer that to the domestic arenas. At times, they will have to win by not playing well. It is something that Emmanuel Adebayor talks of post-Twente. That will be helped if chances are taken in matches seemingly heading for a draw. These scenarios might be helped with a fit Robin van Persie or goals from the midfield. Cesc rectified that deficiency somewhat last season; others did not. Nasri and Walcott have to realise they are not just providers, taking a leaf from Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg who balanced those two areas of their games well.
In terms of players, the squad has two identified areas of weakness. Identified by the manager, not just the supporters – central defence and midfield. The former can be solved internally. The latter, I do not think can be filled by existing players. For once the accusation of inexperience is correct. Some believe Denilson can do the job, I do not think this season he is ready for the whole campaign. Diaby is once more apparently on a cycle of injuries whilst Song and Djourou may fill the gap, the suspicion is that Arsene is bringing in a more defensively-minded midfielder. Fluidity of positional play is a strong point of the current squad but even with this, there has to be someone who protects the back four, allowing Cesc to flourish in playmaking.
Comparisons to last season’s starting squad do not fall as unfavourably as some would believe. If Arsene addresses the hole left by Gilberto and Flamini, then this season’s line-up is stronger than at this stage in 2007 simply because they have a year’s more experience; they have the knowledge of what failure feels like. Hleb has been replaced by Nasri, time will tell if he is as effective. If he scores then the likelihood is that he will be. It would be nice if Sagna, Clichy, Toure and Gallas chipped in with a dozen goals between them this season; last time around they managed seven, Gallas leading the way with four.
It is the other forwards though who must also share the burden. Bendtner managed 5 in 27 appearances (albeit 20 as sub); Walcott 4 in 25 (14 as sub). Double those tallies and the reliance upon Adebayor diminishes. Last season was almost freakish in losing the number of forwards to injury. RvP has returned and needs to stay fit. If he does that, he can be a key member as his 7 goals in 15 appearances proves.
With everything though, fitness is the key factor. Without it, a title win will be extremely difficult, a realistic challenge hard enough in those circumstances. The squad can do it; last season they lost just 7 out of their 58 games, a tally only bettered in 2003/04. Winning 36 of the 58 was only bettered in 2001/02 and 2003/04. The basis is there, it just has to be built on. Can they win the title? Yes. Will they? Possibly, if the pieces fall into place but that element of luck applies to all of the top four.
Posted on August 15, 2008, in Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Soccer, Transfer Gossip and tagged Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Season Preview, Soccer, Transfer Rumours. Bookmark the permalink. 70 Comments.