That’s it folks, deadline day has passed and Arsene Wenger has stayed true to his word and is standing pat with the team he has. I already know that this is a minority opinion among Arsenal fans but I am ok with this squad the way it currently stacks up and in fact, I’d go a step further and say that Wenger’s had this planned all along.
First off, the criticism from all quarters is that Arsenal failed to replace two key players this season: Adebayor and Toure. On paper this seems a valid criticism since both players left in the summer but I think that the paper view is distorted. Look at the difference between the Adebayor who was offside 40 times last season and the Adebayor who’s current form has him scoring three goals in three games. If you ask me, apart from that one brilliant Champions League goal, Adebayor was lost to us early last year. That means that Arsenal’s purchase of Arshavin was actually in order to cover for the lack of goals from Adebayor. Moreover, when Adebayor was at his best he worked hard and was a disruptive force with his creativity and runs up front. Arshavin is not as direct a replacement since he’s not a big target man but what he lacks in the center forward department he clearly make up for in his unpredictability and his pure goalscoring ability. So while the two players are vastly different, it seems to me that Wenger brought Arshavin in to make up for Adebayor’s absence and in the 6 months that followed he played Bendtner as much as possible to groom him for Adebayor’s job as target man.
Similarly with Toure, Arsene knew that Toure wanted to leave when the latter turned in his transfer request in January. Somehow, Wenger convinced Toure to stay until the end of the season and then immediately set about finding his replacement. Sure, it’s only 3 games into this season but so far Vermaelen looks to be more of an upgrade than a straight replacement for Toure.
Moreover, Wenger had to have taken a look at the fixures list and seen that the single most crucial part of the season coincided with the Africa Cup of Nations. With Adebayor, Toure and Song as key starters who would be gone in January, when they were most needed, then in that case bringing in Arshavin and Vermaelen looks even more important.
All this is to say that the press’ constant hand-wringing over Arsenal “failing to replace Adebayor and Toure” is disingenuous at best. As far as I’m concerned Arsene Wenger did better than replace those two positions.
That leaves just the one spot that Arsenal fans have been worried over since Patrick Vieira took his big shoes to Juventus 5 years ago; holding midfield.
I’ve had more than a few regular readers disappear from the blog over my position on this, which is strange because I think I’m pretty mainstream. Basically, I would have welcomed a player like Felipe Melo with the same open arms and wild eyed opTIMism that I’ve adopted for the rest of the squad this season. A guy like that would really push Song and Denilson for their starting spot and add real quality to this team. I think Wenger did try to sign him, in the same way that he tried to sign Alonso last year; by putting in what he felt was a solid bid and no more. The problem is that after Felipe Melo there weren’t a whole lot of options for Wenger. Notice I didn’t say “for us” but rather “for Wenger.” Like it or love it, this is his squad and he has very strict rules about what kinds of players he’ll bring in and what price he’s willing to pay for them. So while you and I can point to Veloso or Cana or hell 50 defensive midfielders, Wenger has no doubt passed the rule over them and for some reason found them wanting. He’s not a stupid man, he obviously has the money, and he admitted that holding mid and center back were places he was looking to fill, so something else stopped him from taking one of the many players that a lot of us would have embraced.
We’re going to have to leave it at that. There’s an avoirdupois assload of things that could happen from here until the end of the season, some of which could be repercussions from his reluctance to fill that spot, but that’s all speculation and second guessing. What we know for a fact is that he did not fill the spot. Alex Song and Denilson are the lone two out-and-out holding mids on this team now. When Song goes to the aforementioned ACN, Wenger’s going to have to shuffle, Denilson and Cesc, or Denilson and Nasri, or Denilson and Diaby, etc. Since we’re only playing three midfield players we have (as I like to say) A LOT of options but one option we don’t have is some new guy coming in. This is a done deal folks, Alex Song is our Lorik Cana.
One last position that causes a lot of consternation is the center back position but again Wenger feels like he has options there already. We’ve kept Senderos and once Djourou gets fit we have another player we can put in there. Song and Silvestre (in that order) are both, erm, centery-backery kind of players and can fill out the team sheet if needed. Again, obviously, I would have been happy to see a signing here but as with the holding midfield spot Wenger had a look and decided that there were no goldilocks signings to be had. Hangeland, for example, looked like shite against Chelsea and at £14m (or whatever Fulham ”didn’t” want to sell the player for) was never going to be a good signing as a back up to Vermaelen. Subotic, the other oft linked player, was quoted at £20m which is a princely sum for a player of his modest abilities.
So what do we have? Well, we have a solid team from front to back, we also have a new look formation that I think exploits our talents better than the stodgy 4-5-1 that we used last season , and we have a team that has subtracted two unhappy elements and added in two guys who are ready to be rebels for the cause. As my regular reader knows, I’m fucking excited for this season. With our experience, our youthful vigor, our desire to prove ourselves, and Wenger’s preparation I think we are one of the strongest teams in the EPL and will be pushing Chelsea for title honors on many fronts this year.
That is, if we can avoid more retroactive punishments from UEFA.
See you tomorrow, when I report that Wayne Rooney has received a lifetime ban for massive cuntitude.