Greetings fellow Gooners! I hope that your respective summers helped you rejuvenate yourselves and recover from the madness that was last season. Since the last time I posted here, we leapfrogged the scum to finish as runners up in what can be described best as a close second to the comic Lasagna-gate. It was certainly a disappointment for us not to finish top of the league, but familiar failings and a resilient Leicester side proved to be an insurmountable challenge.
Second place in someway could be seen as progress although incremental at best. Once again, we fell behind because of a lack of steel in the spine of our team. The biggest issue plaguing our side was the lack of a world class alternative to Olivier Giroud. Giroud when fresh and fit, is a battering ram capable of scoring goals and setting up plenty too. However, our reliance on him to do that for an entire season proved to be our undoing yet again. Going into the summer transfer window, our needs looked like this :
I’m sure the bulletin board inside Arsenal’s top secret meeting room is better than this, but you get the idea. We needed to build a strong spine so that we could compete. The foremost requirement from the four positions above was that of a Center Forward. Since the departure of Robin Van Persie, Arsenal have yet to find another striker who can score 30 goals a season. While Giroud has been quite brilliant for us, his lack of mobility has hampered our ability to launch varied attacks. Teams facing Arsenal know that if Giroud plays, they will have to counter against long balls and hold up play where he is the focal point. If Theo were to play upfront, they would have to watch out for runs behind the lines. While the latter offered the mobility we desperately needed, his inconsistent form and tendency to disappear in games has cost us. With this premise, we set out to buy and sell in what was going to be THE summer. We would get rid of deadwood, and buy proven quality players through the spine of the side.
The beginning seemed very promising. In Granit Xhaka, we signed a physically imposing, ball playing destroyer in the middle of the park. At 23, He comes in having captained Borrusia Mönchengladbach, a leader on the pitch, and one with a bit of bite, not shy to fly into tackles. His passing range has brought back memories of a certain ponytailed blond Frenchman who was a catalyst in the double winning side of 1998.
Soon after the word spread that we were after Jamie Vardy. While that seemed bizarre, it showed that Arsenal weren’t messing around and were really out to finish their business early. However, little did Arsenal (and the rest of us) expect that Vardy would turn us down after an elaborate soap opera saga. Once that happened, it appeared as though Arsenal were without a plan B. They didn’t expect a 29 year old journeyman forward to turn them down and had by the looks of it planned the rest of the summer hinging on his signature. Then began the all too familiar lull during which Arsenal were linked with every Tom, Dick and Harry player under the sun. Some of the players used Arsenal to get better contracts at their current clubs. The lull was broken by the signing of youngster Rob Holding from Bolton. However, the situation worsened when during pre-season, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista succumbed to long term injuries ruling them out until the new year.
What started as a promising summer now had the looks of the nightmare that fans were all too familiar with. Given that the likes of Giroud and Koscielny had a long Euro tournament, Arsenal were looking at the prospect of starting the season without an established center half pairing, and without any striker! August has since come and gone and Arsenal have dropped 5 points thanks to a hammering at home from Liverpool and a draw against the champions of the season gone by, Leicester. However, just when we thought it was all going to be doom and gloom, Arsenal signed Skhodran Mustafi from Valencia for £35.0m, breaking the club’s transfer record fee for a defender and followed it up by snatching Lucas Perez from Deportivo La Coruna just when Everton thought they had signed their man. Thankfully it wasn’t a stressful deadline day like summers past where Arsenal fans would wait for potential signings to come in. Instead, on deadline day, Arsenal had some notable outgoings. Jack Wilshere was loaned out to Bournemouth, while Serge Gnabry was sold to Werder Bremen. Callum Chambers was sent out on loan as well, with Middlesborough being his destination of choice.
It certainly has been a bizarre summer. Arsenal for once, haven’t been shy to open their purse strings, spending £91.6m in total. They have also signed quality through the spine of the team, improving the squad in the areas we needed the most. However, the signings have been made very late in the window resulting in us losing 5 valuable points which may prove vital at the end of the season.
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That being said, when you look at the profile of the signings that we have made, it’s easy to see that we’ve added leaders, and players with a real hunger to achieve something. It was quite telling when Arsene commented about his transfer business this summer and how he was looking at a certain quality in players. He spoke about finding players from lesser known places when he signed Rob Holding. He wanted to buy players who have shown hunger and fight, a trait that only players with less glamourous backgrounds can provide. Clearly, he feels that the current squad is missing the appetite and desire to win and achieve things. They live in the comforts of an assured Champions League spot, and further are paid good wages. This lethargy needs to change! One look at Lucas and you can’t help but notice the similarity with Jamie Vardy. Both have had journeyman careers, blooming late and finding their feet after a lot of struggle. Both work tirelessly for their team’s cause, and also aren’t afraid to get stuck in.
We’ve certainly added well this summer, and our squad looks quite deep. Only time will tell if we have the necessary variety to succeed in what is going to be the biggest challenge we’ve faced in years. One thing is for sure. The squad will certainly be motivated and will have the players to instill hunger and desire in all the others for whom the niceties have gotten a bit too commonplace. Arsene has certainly been altering the DNA of this Arsenal team, albeit in a slow and steady fashion. Let’s hope that we can compete and have some success to celebrate at the end of the season. Until September end, this is Chennai Gooner signing off.
It’s good to have Arsenal back!