This season promises to be a pivotal one in the reign of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. Wenger has been one of the most influential managers in Arsenal’s history but for the first time last year there were rumblings of discontent from the fans.
In the build up to the new Premier League season the Arsenal manager has again been bullish about his side’s prospects. Speaking in the Guardian today Wenger said: “I have the project here that I started four years ago and I wanted to reach the end of it… The team we have now gets there, and by that I mean it wins the Championship. At 22 or 23 I think a team is mature enough to deliver and it is a massively important year for our club. I am conscious of that.”
Bold stuff from the Gunners boss, but following a summer where centre half Thomas Vermaelen has been the only acquisition of note do Arsenal have the depth and steel within the squad to put it up to the league’s big guns?
Arsenal fans will point to a number of factors that will improve their chances this year. The young players that Wenger has so steadfastly stood by have more experience under their belts and the likes of Alex Song, Nicklas Bentnder and Denilson all improved to varying degrees.
Bentnder has the ability to frustrate like few others but his goal tally last season was quite impressive and I think there is more to come from him this season. The displays of Jack Wilshere in pre-season will also have Gooners excited about the prospect of a new home grown talent to cheer.
After lengthy spells on the sidelines the experience and class of Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky will also strengthen Arsenal’s attacking options. Eduardo is a true goalscorer and he will play an important role this season, as will Rosicky if he can overcome his relentless propensity to break down with mysterious injuries.
A fully fit and fresh Andrey Arshavin will also be a terrifying prospect for Premiership defences. His impact last term after his arrival was very promising and there is no reason to think he cannot improve further and become Arsenal’s prime attacking threat.
Despite the positive signs I feel many of the question marks that hung over Arsenal at the season’s end have not been answered. The sales of Toure and Adebayor represent great business and I do not see a problem with releasing them but that belief is based on the quality of player that replaces them.
There is still time left in the transfer window but Arsenal fans were here last season and Wenger chose not to add to his squad, a decision that hurt the Emirates club as they slumped to early defeats effectively ruling them out of the title race before Christmas. A slow start this season will be fatal as Arsenal travel to Everton, Manchester United and Celtic in the opening five games of the season.
Injuries are part of the game and every club goes through a difficult period during the season but there seems to be an underlying frailty to Arsenal’s squad. One needs only to look at Arsenal’s injury list for the opening trip to Goodison Park to understand this, Diaby, Fabianski, Djourou, Walcott, Rosicky and Nasri all look set to miss out through injury. You have to wonder how Wenger can put so much faith in players like Djourou and Diaby when they spend so much time on the treatment table?
The lack of a midfield acquisition must also be concerning, Arsenal were heavily linked to Felipe Melo but missed out when the player joined Juventus. Arsenal fans must be sick of hearing it but repetition does not make the problem less obvious. After being brushed aside by Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final and physically dominated by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi one would have thought a midfield enforcer would be priority number one.
The sale of Kolo Toure is a symbolic one as he is the last real link to the Invincibles team of 2004, in that side the likes of Campbell, Vieira, Henry and Lauren were well able to match teams physically if they needed to, this Arsenal team does not to have that same strength and its absence will surely damage their chances over a long season.
There are obviously some financial constraints on Wenger but the mixed messages coming from the Emirates makes it hard to gauge where Wenger’s stubbornness and Arsenal’s heavy financial burdens meet. Wenger still has time to add to his squad but if he does not do so I will go on record to say it will be another trophyless season at the Emirates. I take no pleasure in making that statement but all the indicators seems to point to another season of frustration.