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July 12, 2011

Arsenal – Cautious Optimism?

Is Arsene Wenger right to be so optimistic about the season ahead?  Speaking at a press conference in Malaysia, where Arsenal are due to play the Malaysian national side as part of their pre-season preparations, Wenger seemed relaxed and confident that come 13th August he will have a squad capable of competing at the highest level in the Premier League.  The recent stories about Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri would have you believe that Arsenal are a club in crisis.  Top players about to leave, lack of big name signings to plug the gaping holes within the squad, fans demoralised.

But is this really the case?  I think it depends on who you speak to.  One Arsenal fan I spoke to compared his relationship with the club to a loveless marriage which he just can’t leave.  A bit extreme maybe, but I think all football fans have felt this way about their club at some point down the years.  Others are reserving judgment until the end of the transfer window, still clinging to the belief that Wenger knows best.

Speaking in regard to Fabregas’ proposed move to Barcelona, Wenger said he would “fight until the last second” to keep his captain at the club.  He is similarly bullish when it comes to Nasri’s future “Samir’s situation is clear for me.  He stays. We are in a position where we can say ‘No’ and we will, in the case of Samir.”  Wenger went as far to say that Arsenal can no longer be considered a “Big Club” if they are seen to be selling their top players. 

If Arsenal can keep hold of their two superstars and continue to add to the squad, I think there are grounds for cautious optimism.  Yesterday’s confirmation that Gervinho has signed for around £10m from Lille seems like a great addition.  Last year Gervinho scored 15 goals in a double winning season in France, and at 24 years old is a great prospect. 

It was clear to all and sundry towards the end of last season that what Arsenal lacked was a certain toughness that is needed to compete at the top end of the Premier League.  Against physically stronger teams (Stoke, I’m looking at you) they would too often capitulate, not able to compete with the aerial bombardment thrown at them.

This is trait that the other top teams in the division have worked to overcome.  United have Vidic, Chelsea have John Terry – it’s this kind of no nonsense, throw their body on the line for the cause kind of player that Arsenal are so clearly lacking.  It’s not that the current squad weren’t trying to combat the physicality, looking at the stats for the 2010-11 season Arsenal had a total of 6 red cards (second highest in the league) and 68 yellow cards (joint fifth highest).  They just weren’t very good at it. 

It’s nothing new to say that they have missed the likes of Vieira, Petit, Adams, Keown and Parlour.  Can you imagine a team with those players losing at the Britannia stadium each season?  No, neither can I.

There has been talk of moves for Chris Samba or Gary Cahill.  Both are highly talented defenders and know what is needed to compete with the more physical teams in the league.  If I were Wenger, I’d sign them both.   It’s clear that there is already a huge amount of talent within the squad – Robin Van Persie (arguably one of the best strikers on the planet when fit), Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere to name a few.  Adding this much needed steel to the talent the club already has should make them a much more difficult outfit to beat next season.

The manager knows he is on borrowed time, and it’s unlikely that the Arsenal board will tolerate a seventh successive season without a trophy.  If Wenger gets his way and both Nasri and Fabregas do stay at the Emirates, he may have the last laugh yet…

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  1. I agree that – even if he has only one year left on his current contract – selling Nasri to another top 4 club would be a signal of… well, the opposite of intent. I’d rather him play out his last season rather than strengten our opponents now and face a summer of trying to replace an already settled player who will probably come back and destroy us!

    If we ended up winning something this year, it would probably prompt him to sign on and stay. If not, then we know he’s only in it for the money and can go elsewhere on a free. Preferably abroad though – would like to think the Madrids of this world would take him in that case.

    OR could he sign a new contract in January and then be sold in the summer, so we get to make some cash on the deal?! You scratch my back Sami! Fingers crossed though that he plays his all if he stays here and signs on for a long time… he is much loved by us Gooners but now has lots to prove on the pitch IF he stays.

    Wenger does seem confident and I love it. Would also go for both Cahill and Samba, especially as AW is talking about using Vermaelen as left back now and again. Gulp. I think we need 4 solid CBs anyway, not sure Djourou would make that four at the moment, as much as I like him. Koscielny is a better player IMO.

    Mata would be a great signing and I am hoping Gervinho adds that bit of X Factor we need up front 🙂

    Good read!

  2. TO

    It is a difficult situation with Nasri.  If you’re sitting on the Arsenal board, the idea of losing him for nothing next summer must seem ridiculous from a financial point of view.  But looking at it from a football angle, selling him to another premier league team could cost the club far more long term.

    Arsenal are at a dangerous crossroads, but I think if anyone could steer them through then it’s Wenger (for now).

  3. CG

    I thought it might be good to cash in on Nasri. If you can get £20m odd now, could be better than losing on a free next season. But now i think they should hold on to him. They don’t need the money but what they do need is to build a team that will be around for a few seasons. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the sides that play together regularly are the ones that achieve the success. As much as people want to lay into Arsenal for last season, the fact is they made baby steps once again. They’re an improving young side and the fans and the players need to be patient. The last thing you want is to lose your best players every couple of seasons. I think they would have won something by now if the likes of Hleb and Flamini had stuck it out.

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