After our performance in the FA Cup final defeat of Chelsea, optimism levels for next season, rose substantially, amongst many of our supporters. Justifiably, some would say. However, whilst I was delighted with the way we ended last season, I am not yet convinced that Arsene has miraculously rediscovered what it takes to lead us back to the pinnacle of English football.
I have seen supporters lauding Arsene for successfully changing our formation but the first question that comes to mind, is why did it take him so long to make the change? It is easy to coin the ‘it’s better late than never’ phrase and granted the change of formation played a significant part in our FA Cup success. The reality is though, that it came too late to arrest our descent into fifth place.
One of my frequent criticisms of Arsene is that he is not proactive in terms of reacting to in game situations. Anyone who watched us play regularly last season will testify that it was evident that changes needed to be made in terms of how the team was being set up tactically, in order to get the best out of players such as Granit Xhaka for instance.
Like most things these days, Arsene usually gets there eventually; it just takes him longer than the rest of us. Another example of this in my opinion is the delayed inclusion of Rob Holding on a regular basis. Some supporters will argue that his performances towards the end of the season, proved Arsene’s decision to hold him back, to be correct.
However, with the exception of the opening day defeat at home to Liverpool, Rob looked confident and composed in his early season performances. Whilst he made mistakes, like all young players do, he was able to quickly recover from them. Often playing his way out of trouble in a manner that we have rarely seen from the likes of Gabriel, if at all.
It is clear that Holding is an exciting prospect but I wish the supporters who have titled him the new ‘Tony Adams’, believe me, there has been a few, would give it a rest. Why Arsenal supporters are obsessed with labelling young players or new signings, as the new anyone is beyond me. As a fan base, why can’t we let him develop without any added pressure and allow him to be Rob Holding?
Finishing eighteen points behind Chelsea, in fifth last season, should not be acceptable for anyone associated with the club. An opinion that I retain, despite our FA Cup success and one that even the most hardened supporters of Arsene, should agree with, but most likely, won’t. The sizeable points gap between Chelsea and us just serves to further demonstrate the difference having a proactive manager can make.
Antonio Conte’s decision to switch to three at the back was the catalyst for Chelsea’s title success. Who knows what could have happened, had Arsene not waited until the latter stages of the campaign? At least he has acted early in this summer’s transfer market. The additions of Sead Kolasinac and record signing Alexander Lacazette, will improve us, on paper at least, in two positions that many supporters had long identified, as being in need of strengthening. Particularly a centre forward.
At times last season, I questioned whether Nacho Monreal was finished at the highest level. His performances were well below the high level that he had consistently delivered in previous seasons. However, I also suggested that this was perhaps down to him receiving very little protection or assistance from Alex Iwobi. A player, who was overplayed as much as Rob Holding was underplayed, by Arsene.
In a similar manner to the rest of the players, Nacho’s form improved significantly after we changed our formation. With him becoming arguably the most impressive performer of our central defenders, when playing as part of a back three. A role that may become his permanent one, following Kolasinac’s arrival. The Bosnian appears, unusually, physically imposing for a full back, which should help him adjust to the demands of English football.
The signing of Lacazette, is one that divides opinion amongst supporters. What doesn’t these days? Some believe him to be world class, whilst others see him as a second rate, overpriced flat track bully from a poor French league. Whilst I consider it premature to call him world class, that is an overused term; his goal scoring pedigree cannot be questioned. With him scoring against both Monaco and PSG and netting seven goals in European competition last season.
Some will point to Bafetimbi Gomis, formerly of Swansea, scoring twenty league goals in Ligue 1 last season, as evidence of a lack of quality with the French top division. Others have suggested that Monaco progressing to the semi final of the Champions League, last season, demonstrates a higher standard in Ligue 1, than its given credit for. Although I do not think the strength of the top side in any league, is necessarily a good indicator of the overall standard.
Admittedly, in some of the games that I have seen Lacazette play, his first touch and work rate, were not always, overly impressive. Still, all players have off days and I am more than prepared to give Alexandre the benefit of the doubt because of the attributes that he does bring. Which is pace, movement and clinical finishing. I have every confidence that he will deliver goals for us and when you see clubs paying £50m for a full back; his transfer fee could prove to be a bargain in the end.
With new players joining the club, inevitably some will be leaving it. Although the process of allowing those considered being surplus to requirements or deadwood, to leave, has not yet begun. After not being given a fair crack of the whip by Arsene, it would appear Lucas Perez is one player certain to depart. I would expect Kieran Gibbs, Matthieu Debuchy, Carl Jenkinson and Joel Campbell to join him for a start. Sadly, Wojciech Szczesny is likely to be heading for the exit door too.
Ability wise, I believe Szczesny is the best goalkeeper we have. He combines the shot stopping of Ospina with the height and presence of Petr Cech. His attitude problems have been well documented but after two impressive years in Italy, without any behaviour issues, I would be prepared to give him an opportunity in pre-season to prove that he has matured on and off the pitch. Unfortunately, despite getting a lot right this summer, I don’t think Arsene sees it the same way.
The addition of Jens Lehmann to the clubs coaching staff is another positive move on Arsene’s part this summer, provided he has not mellowed into a yes man in recent years. He could not have, could he? Let’s hope Arsene continues to get it right before the start of the new campaign. It would be nice to start a season with optimism instead of the feeling of frustration from recent years…