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…