Monday, 10 October 2011

Arsenal Season Preview 2011/12

It's more than a little late for a season preview at this stage, but I have been unable to attempt one so far as things have been so unstable at Arsenal. At first I was waiting to see what players would come and go before the transfer window closed, and then there were so many changes I had to wait to see how the new players settled in. The sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left a big hole in the Arsenal team, and I needed to see how they could be replaced.

I was happy enough with the signings of Mikael Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Yossi Benayoun and Gervinho, but I wasn't sure about some of the others. I knew very little about Park Ju Young, Andre Santos, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson, but I hoped they would turn out to be good buys. The Arsenal squad had certainly changed more than any other summer that I could remember.

The departure of Cesc was certainly a huge blow, and losing Nasri as well only compounded the problem for Arsenal. Last season had finished on a very sour note after the Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City, but I hoped the players could raise their game for the new season. The first three league games proved to be disastrous with only one point gained, and an 8-2 defeat to Manchester United.

After those games most of the new players arrived, and with them some new hope arrived as well. At least Arsenal had managed to overcome Udinese and qualify for the group stages of the Champions League, and their group was tough but it gave them a chance of progressing. Arsenal needed to go through the month of October unbeaten in the Premier League to gain some momentum, but unfortunately the same old problems reared their ugly heads.

The inability to react to disappointments seems inbred in the current Arsenal squad, no matter what players are chosen to play. The teams ability to defend as a team has almost disappeared, and they look vulnerable every time the opposition attack. The only way they can progress is to string a run of unbeaten games together, but they seem incapable of it at the moment.

Arsenal had the best away record in the Premier League last season, but their home form let them down in their challenge for the title. This season they have only managed one point from four away games so far, and conceded 14 goals in the process. There was a time when teams were afraid to attack Arsenal, because they knew they would be taken apart if they lost the ball.

The opposition no longer fear Arsenal and added to the lack of confidence in the Arsenal players things have taken a real turn for the worse. Arsene Wenger has been a fantastic manager for Arsenal for the last 15 years, but he knows he has to turn things around before it's too late. He has to instill some confidence into his players, and give them the belief to play good football again.

There have been very few occasions so far this season when Arsenal have looked like the team I have loved to support under Wenger. The second half away to Udinese was a really good performance from the team, but other than that they have looked very ordinary. Arsenal fans are not used to their team being ordinary, and it has led to numerous calls for changes in the board and the management.

Looking forward to the rest of the season is not an easy task with the team playing playing with virtually no belief. When Cesc and Nasri were sold it was vital that Jack Wilshere continued on from where he left off last season, but his injury has been a terrible blow to the team. At first he was thought to be out for a matter of weeks, but in true Arsenal fashion that has now stretched to a total of six months.

Thomas Vermaelen missed almost all of last season injured and I was looking forward to seeing him back in action. He started off looking like his old self, but then he picked up an injury and the defence has been a shambles at times without him. He is due to return soon after the international break ends which will hopefully be a huge boost for the team.

Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna are Arsenal's best and most relilable defenders, but now Sagna has broken his leg. He won't return for at least three months, and it's yet another huge blow to the team. This Arsenal team seems to take blow after blow at the moment, and they're a little punch drunk.

Arsenal are top of the injury league table yet again this season, and they are also at the top of the dodgy decisions table too. It's often said that when things are going wrong you can't get a break, and that's certainly true for Arsenal at the moment. Their luck has to change at some time though, and when it does they need to take advantage of it.

The Arsenal defence will have a makeshift look to it until the turn of the year at least, and young Carl Jenkinson will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders too. He was signed from Charlton Athletic in the summer with very few games under his belt, and he now looks like he will be thrown into the deep end far too soon. If he swims it could be the break Arsenal need, but if he sinks there are very few options left to Wenger at right back.

Arsenal have to stay competitive until the transfer window opens in January, and then they have to buy some real quality players. Of the five players bought on deadline day only Arteta and Mertesacker will be regular starters for the team, and Arsenal needed to strengthen the best starting eleven more. The team wasn't good enough at the end of last season, and it has gone backwards in terms of personnel since then.

It's unbelievable to think that Arsenal cannot win the league only seven games into a new season, but that's the stark reality of the situation. To be honest their aim has to be fourth place and a Champions League place for next season, but it will be a real fight until the very end to finish in the top four. I think both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur can be overtaken, as their teams have weaknesses that will be exposed at times.

Arsenal have to take the FA Cup seriously this season, and set their stall out to win it. Too often in recent seasons Arsenal have sacrificed their FA Cup campaign, as they tried to win the Premier League and/or the Champions League. The FA Cup is a major trophy all on it's own, and it's acquisition would at least stop the rot in terms of the soon-to-be seven year trophy drought.

The current Arsenal squad are simply not good enough to win the Champions League either, and I dread to think how they might fare against Barcelona if they drew each other. I think they might just make it to the last 16, and possibly even the last eight but over concentration on the Champions League has been a hindrance to their domestic ambitions in the past.

If Arsenal can add enough quality in January there is every chance of them winning the FA Cup, but that's never an easy thing to do. The best players are rarely available in January, and Arsenal do not need any more bargain basement buys. They need players who will step into the first team, and immediately improve the quality.

Over the last few seasons Arsene Wenger has said he should be judged on the teams overall performance for the season. This season could be a make or break one for him if that is the case, but I still have faith in his ability to turn things around. It's not blind faith though, and if the team fail miserably on all fronts he may well have to pay the ultimate price.

It's been a long time since Arsenal's title chances were written off after only seven games, and that's the first big blow for Wenger this season. He can't afford too many more and at the moment it looks like there could be a whole lot more. It's not a good time to be an Arsenal fan, but they are still in a much better position than the vast majority of English teams.

Arsenal still have some very good players on their books, but the team is struggling to replace the creativity Cesc brought to the team. The other players all need to take up their share of the responsibility, but at the moment that just isn't happening.

The loss of so many players through sales and injuries should open the door for some other players to shine, but for me only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has taken up the baton so far. I would like to see more of him, but I understand the need to ease him slowly into the team.

Personally I think he's old enough if he's good enough, and so far he certainly looks good enough. If he doesn't get a chance when he is playing so well and the team aren't, then when can he expect to play?

The Carling Cup was prioritised more than usual last season, but it ended in desperate disappointment. This season Wenger has reverted to playing more fringe players than he dis last season, and it's not a bad thing. It gives game time to players who will probably be called upon very soon if Arsenal's injury crisis continues.

My hope for the season is that Arsenal manage to finish fourth, and somehow or other manage to win the FA Cup too. It won't be an easy task, but it's not completely beyond the team either. I'm just hoping they find the missing confidence to start playing properly very soon, and get all of the fans behind the team again.

That's it for today.

Here's  a look at Chamberlain's first goal for Arsenal.

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See You Tomorrow.

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