Well, that loss to Galatasaray was predictable. Arsenal are controlling the match, Walcott scores a goal from a patented cross-cum-shot, and I start to get comfortable. Then I notice that Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder are warming up on the sidelines and I immediately think, “oh boy, Drogba’s going to come on and win this for them.” And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Granted, there was more to the story than that but that’s the gist.
The more to it is that Arsenal have looked a bit strange throughout this pre-season. The tiki-taka that we are used to has been replaced by players dribbling into culs de sac or dribbling straight at the opposition defenders to little or no effect. Napoli simply double-teamed the Arsenal midfield whenever they had the ball and took possession from us and Gala just let them dribble into the defenders and took the ball away there.
Oxlade Chamberlain has been particularly guilty of this throughout the pre-season and yesterday in particular made a hash of nearly every possession. At least that’s how it seemed. He drew a couple fouls but other than that he was largely ineffectual.
Perhaps it was the fatigue that Wenger pinned the blame on after the game. I’m sure that played a part. But I’m also sure that the team is trying something a little different this season with a number of players (TheOx, Theo, Ramsey) dribbling more than I’ve ever seen before.
Walcott scored Arsenal’s only goal and I think we can all agree that he didn’t mean it. He meant the cross, but when Mertesacker hesitated and let the dummy through, the keeper was caught out and the ball tamely bumbled into goal.
Meanwhile, Drogba continued his dominance of both the referees and the Arsenal center backs. Getting a penalty for a blatant dive and scoring a good goal when a clearly tired Mertesacker put in a performance from as the cart-horse turneth.
Walcott scored a lucky goal but forwards need some luck and overall the man is getting better every season since he’s been at Arsenal. So much better that if the Gunners were to fail in their bid for Suarez I wouldn’t at all be surprised to hear Arsene Wenger say that securing Walcott’s signature last winter was the most important piece of transfer business that the club could do this year.
Just because I know that some of you won’t believe me that Walcott is getting better. Here’s the chart of his shots per season (all competitions, including internationals) and shots on goal per season:
Note the trend upwards (more shots = more good, right?).
Here’s the chart for his games per goal or assist ratio:
Note the trend downward (that’s also good).
In all, Theo scored a career high 22 goals and got 16 assists last season. He got 51% of his shots on target and converted a career high 38% of his shots on goal. His overall career trend right now is up.
That’s not to say that Arsenal don’t need players. I think the fatigue in this tournament which Wenger said “was a real surprise” is indicative of the team’s lack of real depth in several key positions. And it’s a bit worrying because Arsenal built their 4th place run on solid defense and we seem to have reverted to a form from a few years back. Though, I pinky-promise not to get too upset over a loss and a draw in pre-season play.
Still, even if Walcott’s on the verge of coming good and Wilshere’s healthy and Rambo is ready to draw first blood, we need players, right? For example, right back. It would be a massive gamble to go into the season with just Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Sagna, Jenkinson, Gibbs and Monreal. I like Sagna as a center back, I think he shows all the qualities that we want from a central defender: he’s physically powerful, he’s a great tackler, he’s got loads of pace, and he’s Arsenal’s most dominant aerial defender. So I have no problem with Sagna competing with the others for the starting center back role. But what I don’t want to see happen is him holding down two positions (right back and center back) because if he gets hurt then we lose cover for not just one position but two.
If you ask nearly anyone in the whole world in Arsenal need to make a few signings they will read you the list: defender, keeper, defensive mid, forward, and maybe creative mid.
But that’s just the thing, the buzz around whether Arsenal will make some signings or not has reached the point of hysteria. After the game, some reporter asked Didier Drogba about what he thought of Arsenal ahead of the Premier League season: ”I think they are a good team. Every season that have a good team and good players. Every season is different so I cannot judge them on just this one game.”
Not getting the headline answer he wanted, the reporter pressed with “do you think Arsenal need to strengthen to get up there with Chelsea?” and Drogba quickly responded with “I don’t know. I’m not the manager of Arsenal so my opinion doesn’t matter on that.”
Once reporters are interviewing Drogba for his opinion on Arsenal’s transfer dealings I think we can confidently state that they have run out of people to interview for this topic. For an encore, I suggest that TalkSport has Wayne Brady interview a jar of Nutella for it’s opinion on Arsenal’s squad strength.
But even the rustiest of in Arsene we rusters has to admit that Wenger knows that Arsenal need to strengthen the squad and that Wenger is willing to splash the cash. You know for a fact that he bid £40,000,001 for Luis Suarez. £40m bids on one player is not chump change. That’s a bid that very few teams could or would ever lodge for a player. Meanwhile, Suarez may be despicable but he is widely seen as one of the few players in world football who could improve Arsenal and Suarez may prefer Real Madrid but he would gladly come to us because we are a major step up from Liverpool.
Nope, I think that Arsenal are going to get Suarez one way or another. I think that because we know for a fact that there is a £40m clause in the Suarez contract — though Liverpool are not revealing what that clause is. I have heard it rumored that the clause, however, can only be activated by a “Champions League” team. Arsenal have not yet, technically, qualified for the Champions League. Thus, if Arsenal qualify for the Champions League (on the 28th of August!), then it will activate the clause in Suarez’ contract, Arsenal will get their man and Liverpool’s nightmare scenario will come true: they will sell their best player to a key 4th place rival, and late in the transfer window to boot.
Or they won’t qualify and Arsenal will have to bid £50m for him. But I still believe Wenger and Arsenal are going to spend a big load of money before September.