“This is a strong group of players and with some additions we can be even more successful.”
Arsène Wenger, 31st of May 2017
Well, I think it is not. I’m sorry but I don’t believe the current group can really challenge Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City to the Premier League title.
I won’t comment on this team being “even more successful”, after a disappointing fifth-place finish in the league and an eighteen-points gap with the leaders – not to mention the shameful battering from Bayern Munich in Europe.
I was over the moon when we beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final but it doesn’t take very much to be “even more successful” than the current crop of players, let’s be honest. I’m afraid it would take more than the two or three additions mentioned by the manager, to be considered as genuine contenders next season.
It’s going to be rather brutal but I’m going to briefly assess our players, one by one, and hopefully make it clear why I don’t fancy our chances, next season – unless we change.
Petr Cech: great but old.
David Ospina: gone. Shortly.
Emiliano Martinez: rookie.
Wojciech Szczesny: good enough to replace Buffon, not to play for the Arsenal. (Not even funny).
Mathieu Debuchy: why is this guy still around?
Kieran Gibbs: expired on 17th of May 2014.
Carl Jenkinson: world-class fan, not-so-special player.
Per Mertesacker: best swan-song ever, will retire at the end of next season and move upstairs.
Laurent Koscielny: his niggles are going to be the Achilles’ tendon of our season.
Shkodran Mustafi: the one for the present and the future.
Calum Chambers: no need to unpack, son. Stay close to your phone.
Rob Holding: the one for the future, and the present. Amazing talent.
Gabriel: Clumsy, at his best.
Nacho Monreal: reliable but likely to get more games at CB as he’s getting older.
Sead Kolasinac: more to follow, so far he’s only Hulk on a tank.
Hector Bellerin: great, it’s Fàbregas all over again…improve your final ball, while you decide.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: get a role, man. Pick one. No, central midfielder doesn’t suit you.
Santi Cazorla: best midfielder in the league but cannot count on him. Unbearably sad.
Aaron Ramsey: not as good as he thinks. Can’t be Frank Lampard if you are not Frank Lampard.
Mohamed Elneny: great squad player, no complaint, no nonsense, top attitude.
Granit Xhaka: skills and steel, the one we should build our midfield around.
Jack Wilshere: gone, not half as good as his teenage years suggested.
Francis Coquelin: mocked for no reason, he’s limited to winning the ball back but rocks at that.
Mesut Ozil: sign the deal and build our attack around this fantastic player, please.
Alex Iwobi: he’ll come good, eventually.
Theo Walcott: scores goals for fun, get criticised randomly.
Alexis Sanchez: just phenomenal. The spark in our staid setup. He’ll walk, though.
Lucas Perez: gone, undeservedly.
Olivier Giroud: super-sub who doesn’t want to be a super-sub but can’t be first-choice.
Danny Welbeck: imagine Thierry Henry with the first-touch of Igors Stepanovs. Got it?
More seriously, this team is composed of a depressing mix of average players, to whom the Club has been far too loyal, and individuals whose age and injury are becoming a serious problem.
We do have Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey – three key-members of the current team – regularly sidelined for weeks, or months. We have players like Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Gabriel, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, chronically incapable of showing any sign of consistency in their performances. They’re all living on the amazing potential they had in their teenage years but haven’t really developed, since.
The very core of the famous British Core has proved to be an astonishing flop, with Aaron Ramsey the only player who managed to step-up: like him or not (I don’t), he’s a player whose quality don’t go unnoticed and whose influence on games remain tangible.
Hector Bellerín is alarmingly stagnating, his delivery being more and more debatable, and Alex Iwobi is requested to recover from his post-breakthrough burnout.
The picture isn’t great, is it? Yet, we’re told that this group can be “even more successful”.
We also have some outstanding players, though: we do have Alexis Sánchez, who might be careless as hell with the ball at his feet but can win a game with a strike or a pass. We do have Mesut Özil, the most-criticized player in the Premier League yet the playmaker who created the most chances and delivered the most assists since he moved to England. Injuries and age apart, Laurent Koscielny and Petr Čech also are among the best in the league, in their roles, and so is Santi Cazorla. We also have Granit Xhaka, who’s not a box-to-box midfielder (got it now, Arsène?) but finally showed his true colours when played as a deep-lying midfielder.
The spine of a winning team is there; the basement is good to mount a serious challenge but, as long as we keep believing that Danny Welbeck can be a 30+ goals per season striker – and forget that his first touch is terrible and his finishing isn’t not at the standard required – we won’t go anywhere.
Arsène Wenger is not signing certain players not to “kill” some others’ careers, forgetting that only top-competition can prepare youngsters to the game.
As an example, look how two extremely gifted teenagers – named Cesc Fàbregas and Robin van Persie – grew up alongside Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Edu or Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and José Antonio Reyes, respectively. Do you think that fierce competition from senior figures harmed Fàbregas and van Persie careers?
Unless Arsène Wenger decides to do some serious re-looking to the current team, we’re not going to compete. It’s not about adding some players, it’s about re-shaping the whole team.
We cannot afford to wait for this or that player to fulfill his potential; we must have a team composed of established, performing footballers and keep a bunch of younger prospects – who could benefit from their more experienced colleagues and get one level above.
Likewise, we cannot afford to rely on players whose bodies don’t give guarantees – even if they’re Santi Cazorla or Laurent Koscielny. Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan still had Paolo Maldini in their team but also had valid alternatives, knowing that their captain and legend would only be available part-time. They went on winning the Champions League against Liverpool in 2006/2007, with Maldini only playing 27 times that season compared to Daniele Bonera (36) and Dario Simic (34).
At the Arsenal, the whole season fell apart when Santi Cazorla got injured. Can you spot the difference?
Self-complacency is holding us back. Illusions are holding us back.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.