The prep work has been done, the grass cut and the new season is now underway for the Barclay’s Premier League and like most opening day matches, we saw nerves, cramps, disjointed play and moments of brilliance. All the big teams over the course of the two day kick off, looked well off their well oiled best. Manchester United and Liverpool F.C. struggled to a marginal and mediocre victory while the champions Chelsea saw their Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois become the first player to be sent off for the new season. But so far no result has been more shocking that Arsenal’s loss to West Ham United at home. After being touted as potential champions for the new campaign, especially with the acquisition of experienced top class goal keeper in Petr Cech, does everything change for this supposedly new look Arsenal?
The first thing that must be understood is that what was seen on the opening day, was almost typical of this Arsenal team that has been together for the better part of three years. In the 2013-2014 season they somehow managed to dominate a game against Aston Villa but end up on the losing side due to sloppy mistakes at the back. Last season we saw them endure a horrible first half of the season this time around, managing to somehow foster this new hope of a stronger team from the latter stages of the season, coming into the one. On the 9th of August we saw Arsenal’s summer signing, the one that should have made all the difference, somehow bottle it, right at the beginning. It almost made a fitting beginning of a too familiar story for Arsenal fans, as they rage and remonstrate at their team and manager. While rage is understandable, it is almost always coupled with overreactions which will see critics completely rubbish any title chances The Gunners had to excluding them from the top four all together. What must be remembered is that Arsenal, unfortunately have read the script to this story many times before, so we should all understand what the ending will be like, which won’t be to liking of many.
Despite the groans from fans and pundits alike, Arsenal have looked good, fit and dominant so far this season, at least as it relates to their ability to move and hold the ball, which is to be expected. The first few defensive blunders have had questions raised over the defensive stability over a partnership that has been one of the best in the league and the keeper some hailed as the turning point and the signing of the season. In the Crystal Palace game we saw the best of Arsenal in the first twenty minutes; they had fast, flowing and threatening ball movement and possession, and even had a goal to show for it. Yet predictably Arsenal contrived to somehow let Palace into the game. Against Liverpool, Arsenal held and moved the ball well yet due to defensive naivety, allowed Liverpool to consistently threaten their goal, with Petr Cech proving his worth essentially rescuing a point for The Gunners. The question that now remains is, how do Arsenal proceed?
Predictably, the answer would be transfers and the usual areas are going to pop up: a centre forward and a defensive midfielder. The centre forward position has indeed looked in need of an improvement in so far, but considering Olivier Giroud’s fantastic goal scoring record for 2015 last season, there is no genuine reason to expect him to perform any differently once the season is in full swing. Ultimately, the team being largely unchanged, they are likely to struggle against tactics they faced last season, if they present themselves this season. This hints to lack of evolution and the necessity of adding elite quality to the squad if available.
While the mention of the addition of a defensive midfielder is still on the mind of fans, with Arsenal being a possession team and with teams being more than happy to sit deep and allow us possession, when the clever flicks and one-two’s fail, Arsenal struggle. Wenger identified a fix to that problem by playing Santiago Cazorla in the deep midfield position. However a lingering dilemma of wanting to rely more on Aaron Ramsey’s mixture of industry and talent may cause the removal of a player capable of dictating play and opening up space for the team centrally. Additionally, the return of Jack Wilshere to the Arsenal team provides another selection headache for the manager Arsene Wenger. A notable part of what made Arsenal’s second half of last season so outstanding, was the role Cazorla played as the deeper playmaker in midfield making the team sharper and transitions quicker, easier and deadlier. With Ramsey in that role Arsenal sacrifices magic for industry, which could hold the team back from ascending beyond their current level and the issue with Wilshere is that he has the talent to offer industry, while consistently controlling a game but Wenger risks disrupting what seems to be a settled and balanced midfield if he would wish to add Wilshere and subtract Cazorla; leaving the 2 British men stuck with the frustrating option of settling for a wide role.
While Arsenal’s almost predictable stutter start does not bode well for their title charge, it far from spells doom and gloom but in fact the opposite. Fans, however simply want more than third or fourth, they demand that the team step up to the levels they envision their team at. Arsenal certainly does not lack the basis to do this, as they’ve always been a good team with a quality manager, but being just a good team simply won’t cut it to achieve their objective. A good Arsenal team lost against West Ham on the first match day of the season, an elite Arsenal team would have overcome the blunders, and that is the expectation of this notably unchanged Arsenal team. The team simply has to evolve or get left in the dust. Is the quality and attitude there? It certainly is. Are the fans and general spectators close to seeing it? That question remains unanswered. But the season is long and they will have multiple chances to set right all that has gone wrong so far.