In trying to make excuses for his side’s disastrous defending of late, Wenger has admitted that August was pretty much a write-off for the club:
“On the day [at Blackburn] I believe we were a little unlucky and certainly a bit naive as well – we have to concede that. We have played five games, but we started our season basically two weeks ago.”
That last sentence floored me. He is saying that until we signed those five players on deadline day, we hadn’t really started yet – that his squad wasn’t complete until those last minute
panic buys acquisitions. So for him, Swansea at home was our first game of the season because we kicked off in August with the self imposed handicap of an incomplete squad.
This begs the obvious question: Why did we leave it so late to strengthen?
Consider Man Utd’s summer for a moment. They did all their shopping in June, signing the three players Ferguson wanted. Young, De Gea and Jones then had a full pre-season with their new teammates and when the season kicked off on August 13th they were acclimatised, in tune with the manager’s tactics and style of play and ready to hit the ground running. Six weeks later they sit top of the Premier League with a 100% record.
What were Arsenal doing during the summer? Well, we dithered in June. And July. And for most of August. In fact we didn’t sign the players we needed until August 31st, by which time we’d played three league games and narrowly squeaked through the Champions League qualifiers.
Where is the logic in that? Why didn’t we go out in June like Man Utd and get the players Wenger wanted so we too could get off to a flyer? Well, in response to being quizzed about the lateness of our signings, Ivan Gazidis provided the answer that I first suspected in this article two months ago:
“We have kept some powder dry and I think we have done that deliberately. We as a Club are operating in a self-sustaining way and are concerned about value. It may frustrate everybody but we have to be.”
Gazidis calls it “keeping some powder dry” but I call it “being a tight-arse”. They wanted Gary Cahill from the outset but waited until August 26th to make a very low opening bid, hoping Bolton would cave as they were desperate to sell. When Bolton called their bluff and Arsenal refused to go any higher, we turned to our second choice Per Mertesacker.
That is no way conduct your business. Playing a game of brinksmanship with Bolton over a couple of million when you have just banked £55m in player sales smacks of penny-pinching. It sums up our incompetent summer and explains our poor start. If the season is two weeks old and Wenger still doesn’t know which centre half will partner Vermaelen or who is coming in to replace Clichy and Fabregas, what chance does he have?
Now from the tone of this article it’s probably unclear who I blame for the fiasco that was Summer 2011. Wenger? Gazidis? The board? Or a combination of all three? The truth is I don’t know and nor does anybody outside the marble halls. I’ve read plenty of rumours and maybe directing my ire at Wenger all summer was unfair because it may well be the board who were dictating our penny-pinching, flawed transfer strategy. Either way, the incompetency of our summer has contributed greatly to our worst start in living memory.
However, I believe there is hope on the horizon. The players we’ve bought in have a good pedigree and they will need time to settle into the club, adjust to the Premier League and get their head around Wenger’s style of play.
Santos is playing like he's still in the Turkish league. He will take time to adjust
Take Gervinho for example. When he ran at the Blackburn defence just before halftime and chose to take on an extra man instead of passing to the unmarked van Persie six yards out, he didn’t understand that the Arsenal way is based on an unselfish passing game. He sure as hell understands that now after the verbal lashing van Persie gave him and I bet if he is in a similar position tomorrow he’ll pass.
Santos and Mertesacker are others who will take time to bed in. Did you see Santos strolling about playing Yakubu onside for both his goals last week? He needs to learn that the Premiership is fast. That clubs move the ball from back to front quickly and you have to be on your toes at all times.
We mustn’t be too harsh on these guys too soon. How long did it take Pires to adapt? How many goals did Bergkamp score in his first six games? (None in case you didn’t know). It’s no coincidence that the new arrival who has slotted in straight away and looks good is Arteta, who has played in the Premiership for six years.
We also miss the injured Wilshere and Vermaelen, two of our best three players in my opinion (along with van Persie). Look at the team below sent out to play Blackburn. I’ve highlighted in red those who have been at the club less than four weeks and those who are deputising for injured players:
You can see the problem area is the defence. They certainly played like they’d never met each other before and Koscielny is not fit to lace the boots of Vermaelen (see my analysis on our defensive shocker at Blackburn). We are, though, pretty settled in the attacking areas which explains how we scored three at Blackburn and even two at Old Trafford – no mean feat.
Now I’m not saying our defence will soon start playing like a well-drilled George Graham back four. There are still problems at the club regarding defensive coaching and it has been that way for a while. But I do think we will improve significantly, certainly to the point where scoring three goals at Blackburn will get us three points. We must give it time though.
The annoying thing is the time for them to practice, adapt and get to know each other is now, in the middle of a season where the pressure is immense and every missed tackle and bad position is analysed and picked up on. This should have been done in pre-season, but unfortunately that is a legacy of our poorly handled summer.
If by the time we have ironed out these problems and confidence is restored a top four place is out of reach, the finger should be pointed squarely at whoever called the shots in the last transfer window.
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