“The past four days have been extremely trying for me, and all Arsenal fans I would assume, following our opening day defeat at home to Liverpool. Sunday’s 4-3 reverse meant that we have only won one of our last six games on the opening weekend of the Premier League, which was that last-gasp 2-1 home win over Crystal Palace. Our players’ extended involvement in the Euros meant a prolonged break for the likes of Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, and Laurent Koscielny. Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez, also involved in the latter stages of the Euros and Copa America, were still risked from the start.
Some fans felt that Giroud, Ozil and Koscielny should have played or at least featured, given that the likes of Bacary Sagna and N’golo Kante played the full 90 over the weekend as well. To be fair, we were not the only club not to risk players coming back from their holidays. Slaven Bilic only brought Dimitri Payet from the bench against Chelsea, and Jose Fonte was on the bench as well when Southampton took on Watford. There may not be any relation, but Hugo Lloris and Ramsey both suffered hamstring injuries having been rushed back into the action.
There has been a lot of angst directed towards manager Arsene Wenger with regards to the state of the squad and his inactivity in the transfer market, and a lot that went wrong on Sunday could be tied down to this. It has been 22 days since Wenger confirmed that Per Mertesacker will miss at least five months of action with a knee injury, and 8 days since it was reported that Gabriel will be out for “six to eight weeks”. Our hesitation in the market meant that we partnered 20-year old summer signing Rob Holding with Calum Chambers against Liverpool, a situation that I felt was unfair not only to us supporters but for the duo in particular, especially given how things turned out.
We faced a team with a relatively new manager in Jurgen Klopp, who has recruited heavily this summer, with seven new signings made so far. Arsenal meanwhile chose to persist with Arsene Wenger, who having been in charge for 20 years, looks in many ways like a dinosaur in modern day football. Having had months to prepare for the new season, we still begun the campaign in search of a centre forward and a centre half, perhaps pointing to a worrying lack of preparation.
Liverpool on the other hand looked sharp and exciting, and were the embodiment of the pace and intensity that is synonymous with the Premier League. More than that, they represented the wave of change sweeping through the league, a wave on which everyone but the Gunners is riding. United for instance, with Jose Mourinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, has them looking like a “showbiz club again” as Peter Drury put it. – Title contenders. Man City- Pep Guardiola, Nolito, Ilkay Gundogan, and John Stones – Title contenders. Chelsea- Antonio Conte, N’golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi – Title contenders. We find ourselves an island in a sea of change, transition, and ultimately, upward progress. Progress that goes on while we stagnate or at least that’s the perception isn’t it?
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Last season, with Chelsea, United and City out of the title race pretty early, many thought “Never have Arsenal had a better shot at taking the title.” One transfer window later and people now think “Never has Arsenal’s top four credentials been under greater threat.”
New signings are a sign of intent, of ambition, a show of might and above anything else they inspire confidence from the players and the fans. Rumoured transfer targets continue to slip away from our grasp, while the club’s top management are really not giving off the right signals at the moment. Wenger’s pre-match press conference featured some chatter about there being “two transfer markets, one for English clubs and the other for the rest of Europe”, and that English clubs are paying “huge fees for average players”, which is a fair assessment of the market today.
Unfortunately we are an English club with money that is in need of signings, and that is the reality. Wenger’s approach to the transfer window would have worked in 2005, but certainly not in 2016. With Shkodran Mustafi for example, we reportedly have not gone beyond an enquiry as to the player’s transfer fee. Consequently of course rumours have surfaced linking the German international with a move to Liverpool. Chelsea meanwhile are also reported to be in the market for Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli, and while this is only speculation, it would be very Wenger-esque for Arsenal to be linked with both players and end up with none.
Ultimately, we still have the look and feel of a club three weeks away from the start of an engrossing league campaign. The situation will improve somewhat with Giroud, Koscielny and Ozil yet to return, but with an away trip to the champions coming up on Saturday, I won’t be holding my breath.”