Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday July 14 2010
Like armchair officiating, armchair management is a very simple game. I`ve read countless perorations on the performance of Howard Webb in Sunday`s showpiece final (had it been a Swiss ref or a Brazilian referee, would any of us even be talking about the match official?) and it strikes me how difficult it must be for Webb, who tried his best not to allow a game played by 22 spoiled children to descend into farce. Yet instead of castigating de Jong for karate kicking someone in the chest, or the Spanish players for their whingeing and diving, or the Dutch players for their Stoke-a-like tactics, we whinge at the ref and place no responsibility on the idiotic children that made the game impossible to control. Watching England tumble out of yet another tournament when they play a better side brings about a similar penchant for chin stroking, beer fuelled armchair management. We`re all guilty of it to one degree and another; it`s what makes the game so interesting to so many and keeps sites such as this one humming with activity. With the World Cup now out of the way, focus can return to club football. Arsene and his trusty Blackberry should be back at London Colney by now, putting the players through their paces. This is the time of year when the broth boils and the cauldron bubbles with plans for the new season; it was this time last year that Wenger concocted the 4-3-3 formation and put the prototype to the test in the laboratory of pre season friendly. Not being a football coach, I`m not about to try and do Wenger`s job for him and suggest solutions for the new season. (Not on a no fee basis anyway!) However, being a football supporter I am about to sit here moon faced and tell him exactly what his problems are for season ahead! These are the conundrums he must fix for the season ahead in the humble opinion of yours truly.
Goalkeeper- If we`re to win the league title, we simply cannot afford to keep gambling on the eventuality that Almunia might go from good to great or that Fabianski will shake off the demons and start to demonstrate his true ability. Arsenal need to hit the ground running and we need a goalkeeper that inspires confidence. Particularly as older heads such as Gallas, Campbell and, ahem, Silvestre, will no longer be around. It seems as though we are looking to rectify in this area if reports suggesting our concrete interest in Schwarzer are to be believed. This signing would under whelm me enormously, experienced though he is; Schwarzer is a very average goalkeeper who has very little time left at the top level. I`ve heard a lot from Arsenal fans to suggest Szczesny is being groomed as a certainty for the number 1 shirt. Firstly, I am unsure as to how so many Arsenal fans are so convinced of his credentials. I consider myself to be somebody who "consumes" the club a great deal and I have seen him play 3 times- a reserve match, a League Cup match against West Brom at home and a game for Brentford at the Den last season. Don`t get me wrong, he looked very impressive on each occasion, but personally I think I`ll need more to go on before I proclaim him the next David Seaman. Arsenal need to convince in this position, if Szczesny really does have the minerals to be Arsenal`s number 1 in a couple of years, brilliant. But let`s not make do and mend until he possibly, maybe ready. Let`s convince in this position and if Szczesny is good enough, he`ll come through in his own time.
Injuries- As is my wont in the summer; I`ve undertaken a marathon viewing of past end of season review DVDs. Since June I`ve gone backwards from this season`s and have got as far as 2005-06. (Please don`t bother telling me what a tragic individual this makes me, I`m already acutely aware). The mitigating circumstances for not winning a trophy at the end of every single DVD has mentioned the word "injuries." We simply have to either; take our heads out of the sand and stop regarding this as some kind of mystifying coincidence caused by over exposure to black cats and voodoo, or else we accept that we are going to have a cavalcade of injuries every season and we reinforce the squad with the appropriate number of players. That means either reviewing the performance of the medical staff and putting a stop to idiotic measures such as allowing players to diagnose their own injuries (Cesc Fabregas playing on at St. Andrews when he could barely walk on the basis that, "I think it`ll be fine") or allowing players to choose their own course of treatment before they`ve even been examined by the club. (Were it not for the whole 'horse placenta` farce that van Persie spent three weeks pursuing to find it was a wild goose chase, his ankle would have been operated on three weeks earlier and our title challenge may have lasted a little longer). If that is not seen as an appropriate course of action, or any review comes out inconclusive, then we have to accept this and swell the numbers in our roster. This means not considering Alex Song to be simultaneously our first choice defensive midfielder and third choice centre half, not having to wheel out clearly unfit players for games against teams such as Barcelona. Signing Chamakh seems to be a step in the right direction in that respect, together with Bendtner and van Persie, we now have three players very capable of spearheading our three pronged attack, we have a catalogue of midfield playmakers. Let`s start the season equally well stocked further back on the pitch.
Defence- With three experienced campaigners having departed along with Philippe Senderos, Arsenal will sport a new look defence next season. That is by no means a bad thing, I think we`re better off letting all of the older players go at the same time and build a whole new defence rather than conducting a piecemeal operation. The departures of Silvestre, Gallas and Campbell put the spotlight on Thomas Vermaelen. The Verminator certainly impressed in his first season and I`m not at all inclined to disagree that he has the capabilities to be top dog in that backline. A year under the stewardship of Gallas and six months with Campbell will have done him no harm in that regard to add to his experience of captaining Ajax. But Vermaelen`s task will be made more difficult as he will likely have to help Koscielny and, hopefully, one other centre half bed in whilst he will also likely have to adjust to a new keeper behind him. I imagine that is part of the rationale behind Wenger trying to sign a 37 year old custodian with over a decade of Premiership experience behind him. We are also taking a gamble that Johan Djourou`s knees will stand up to a full season. But Wenger interestingly says he wants to sign more players in "the defensive area", which could leave him open to purchasing another defensive midfield destroyer. If we are to assume that Denilson and Song typically play this role in tandem, then we will possibly need another shielding type to cover injuries and provide competition. The most obvious impediment to our success last season was the all too regular concession of goals. This is not just an issue for the back four and the keeper, but for the whole team, the way teams such as Chelsea and United have cut us to ribbons and outnumbered us going forward will have to be rectified on the training ground as well as the transfer market. Whichever way Arsene slices the issue, it is clear our squad is very much top heavy and requires some, ahem, "bottom feeding."
The captain- Given the fact that Barca-need-a-loan-a to simply pay their staff, it looks unlikely that the c*nty Catalans have the readies to prize Cesc away for this summer at least. Unless of course they kidnap him in the middle of the night. Which wouldn`t surprise me at this stage. That Fabregas wants to return to Barcelona is an open secret, however, it is a dream that will probably not materialise until next summer I would venture. Arsene is going to have his work cut out, certainly in the public relations department. Every twitch of Cesc`s limbs will be scrutinised and analysed, every lost tackle and misplaced pass will be held up as bona fide evidence that Cesc`s heart is not in it. For Fabregas` part, he is and has been an incredibly savvy individual, his public pronouncements have not burned any bridges thus far and he is probably intelligent enough to know he might have to play another season here. Wenger`s job will be to ensure his captain is focussed and motivated and that no unwelcome issues bleed into the psyche of the rest of the squad. Knowing Cesc, I am sure he will be. But Wenger will also have to convince everyone else he is too- particular in his role as club captain.
Nursing bruised egos- van Persie comes back to us having lost a World Cup Final. Sagna, Diaby and Clichy have just presided over one of the most farcical campaigns in World Cup history. Though Nasri and Walcott can, in retrospect, be grateful not to have been part of their respective country`s World Cup squads, their pride will have been hurt by their omission. Almunia and Fabianski have been rather publicly admonished in the media and the signs are that we are looking to replace at least one of them. We all saw the effect that losing a World Cup play off had on Andrey Arshavin, Arsene will have to pick the aforementioned up psychologically and make sure their focus is correct. In some cases, I`m sure Wenger`s objective will be to use those various disappointments as fuel to motivate the players to new heights.
Aaron Ramsey- Rambo should ideally make his return from injury some time in the New Year. We have all seen the tribulations of Eduardo`s comeback, the niggling injuries followed by the apparent complete loss of confidence. Though Eduardo started last season very well, not being an automatic first choice appears to have cost him dearly as he has had little chance to mend his confidence. Ramsey, whilst a fine, fine young player, is not yet considered an absolute first choice, so will likely face the same psychological and physical challenges as Eduardo. Prior to his injury, Ramsey was showing signs of blossoming into the most gifted teenage footballer in Britain. Arsene will have his work cut out keeping his psychological well being in fine fettle, whilst the fitness coaches will be well versed in this kind of recovery process and will labour under no false impressions of how to doctor his recovery to fitness.
Arsene, it`s over to you.LD.
Date:Wednesday July 14 2010
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