It is easy to simply dismiss winning the Barclay’s Asia Trophy, Emirates Cup and Community Shield as insignificant successes achieved in meaningless pre-season tournaments and friendlies, after all, the silverware holds no prestige, however, there are positives amongst the performances and results that have raised my optimism levels for the coming season, Wenger finally beating Mourinho at the fourteenth attempt is just one of them.
For those who haven’t read any of my previous posts, I’ll take this opportunity to clarify that I do not consider it to be an act of treason for Arsenal supporters to question Wenger’s decisions and despite those who hold beliefs to the contrary, history has proved that Arsene does not always know and for every Vieira or Henry signed, there has also been a Stefan Malz or Kaba Diawara.
During the first half of last season I frequently had my support for the club questioned for daring to criticise Arsene’s failure to buy an additional centre back or a defensive midfielder during last summer’s transfer window, along with his early season preference of playing Chambers at right back ahead of Bellerin during Debuchy’s absence, problems that were eventually addressed by the January acquisition of Gabriel, Coquelin’s surprise emergence (be it through default or design), and Bellerin becoming a regular in the side.
Over the years I have criticised Wenger’s inability, or perhaps lack of desire, to adapt tactically depending on who the opposition is and his inability to recognise the importance of having a top class goalkeeper, not forgetting my current concern regarding the lack of sufficient defensive midfield competition for Coquelin, who has much of our hopes of achieving success this season resting on his relatively inexperienced shoulders when you consider the detrimental effect it would have on the Monreal, Mertesacker and the balance of our side, were he to face any lengthy absence with him superbly shielding their obvious lack of pace during the second half of last season, it is no coincidence that both their form and the teams improved significantly following his inclusion.
However, even as a supporter who has openly questioned many of Wenger’s decisions in recent seasons whilst retaining the belief that barring unheralded good fortune with injuries and suspensions, we are still a most likely a couple of players short of being able to land the league title this season, I am pleased to acknowledge the significant improvement shown by the team and Arsene’s judgement in the second half of last season, selecting the inform Walcott ahead of Giroud for the FA Cup final for example, displayed a much welcomed ruthlessness towards team selection and having watched our performances in pre-season, I believe there are reasons for Arsenal supporters to be optimistic about the new season.
The signing of Petr Cech is potentially one that will not be bettered by any club this season and although I have always admired his ability during his Chelsea days, having him in our side appeared to bring an immediate assuredness to our back line and gave our supporters an unfamiliar sense of confidence that wasn’t collectively felt in the stands with either Szczesny or Ospina between the posts so it was no surprise to read that Koscielny and Mertesacker have both publicly discussed the positive impression that he’s already had on the clubs defenders in his fledgling Arsenal career.
With the exception of the injured Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez, who was given an extended leave following his successful Copa America exploits with the Chilean national team, Arsene had a near fully fit squad available for selection during the pre-season schedule, suggesting that the employment of fitness coach Shad Forsythe is finally starting pay off and although Wilshere has now suffered his annual injury blow, if we can somehow keep the core of our squad fit then I can see no reason for us not to be able to compete with any domestic rival.
The biggest concerns I have, relate to the availability of Koscielny and Coquelin and having already discussed the potential implications were the latter to be ruled out, I’m eager to stress that I share similar concerns should Koscielny suffer a long term injury as I believe he has developed into one of the finest centre backs in the division, with his pace being the key element of his successful partnership with Mertesacker and whilst we now have Gabriel as cover, he is still relatively untried in English football having made only a handful of appearances for the club to date and only time will tell whether he is of sufficient quality to break into the side on a more regular basis.
Much of course will be expected of Alexis Sanchez in his second season after an impressive debut season and whilst it will be difficult to improve upon his performances and goal scoring last season, he is approaching what many experts believe to the peak years of an outfield players career and it would seem natural that the more games he plays alongside the likes of Cazorla and Ozil, the better their understanding will be and I for one, can’t wait to see him in action again.
With Walcott and Chamberlain, a player I have high expectations of, both fully fit and Ozil finally starting to deliver the level of performances that a player of his ability is capable of, along with the increased competition for places in the starting eleven, the intriguing battle between Bellerin and Debuchy for the right back berth for example, the whole squad now knows that they will need to be at the top of their game this season if they want to play regularly which has not always been the case in the past and this can surely only serve to contribute towards us achieving success this season.
Finally, recent signing Jeff Reine-Adelaide who, despite impressive performances from Alex Iwobi and a hat trick from Chuba Akpom, was stand out performer from the youngsters that were included in our pre season preparations and for a seventeen year old he displayed exceptional vision, technique and spacial awareness during the game against Wolfsburg so it wouldn’t be no surprise to me, should he make a first team breakthrough from the bench at some stage this season as he has the potential to be a big talent in the future.
Sit back, it’s time to enjoy the ride….