An Arsenal perspective on pre-season games and squad building

Szczesny Foreground

What can Arsenal take from their 7-0 thrashing of the best Indonesia had to offer?

Sunday’s 7-0 trouncing of the Indonesia Dream Team was a delightful inception to the 2013 season. Playing with a fluidity and purpose that has been desired for years, a rampant second half display saw the team put 6 goals past a hapless assemblage of expectedly modest footballers.

The result, as a barometer of pre-season performance, once the dust settled, has started to cause a certain degree of concern amongst Arsenal fans. Usually, not a great deal attaches to these pre-term fixtures.

They are intended to do no more than give available players – those not involved in close season international competitions – game time workouts and provide an opportunity to gauge the ability of fringe players especially to determine who ultimately receives a “squad number”. But with Arsenal, these considerations are notoriously different.

Unsupported myth – it must be said – accounts for this situation and seems to point to different end products. Players sometimes outperform themselves at this stage, staking competitive rights to regular inclusion and undermining even the most elaborate plans for squad additions to vulnerable positions.

These cameo performances often create difficulties for management especially as to whether certain positions need to be reinforced. Various factors become quickly evident and pose recurring dilemmas to team management.

The effectiveness – and difficulties – around new acquisitions come to the fore, with the financial implications representing compelling deterring factors to making huge financial expense of buying new players. These quandaries are not always easy to resolve. Sometimes there is the opportunity to resolve them before the close of the transfer window even, as has occurred before, on deadline day.

On occasions, there is panic buying in that the wrong players are acquired, sometimes for the wrong – and generally more expensive – value. On other occasions, suitable targets are missed. The result is that the team carries on, shorn of quality reinforcements, studiously considered, and the team limps on to finish, laden with prospects of what could have been had the right players been recruited.

So putting these in context, does this Arsenal team really need the kind of reinforcement that has been so extensively discussed? Where? Who is available?

Distilling the key issues in these discussions comes down to these suggested recruitments – 1 Goalkeeper; 1 Central Defender; 1 Defensive Midfielder and 2 strikers.

Ordinarily, this represents a formidable and extensive “wish list” but there are a number of reasons why this will not happen. First, no football club of the standing of Arsenal now can afford to sign top quality players of that quantity and those positions.

Funds are limited so the expectations must be tailored accordingly. Second, there are serious availability issues about some of the targets mentioned either because of envisioned difficulties in extricating them from existing club commitments or, plainly, Arsenal not being in a position to meet those desired targets expectations.

Specifically, the following situations are important to note. A goalkeeper has been suggested to improve the position and offer both Szczesny and Fabianski stiffer competition following the departure of Manone to Sunderland. Many think the youngster Damien Martinez will be promoted and this is considered wise especially with it looking as though the much-mentioned target, Julio Cesar will move to Napoli from QPR.

In central defence, these duties have been shared between Vermaelen, Koscielny and Mertesacker with the last two forming the main pairing in the latter part of the season.

Vermaelen has picked up an early season injury curtailing his availability, which may force the issue in this respect. It seems that apart from considering the promotion of Miguel – about whom, it appears, there is still some anticipated development – there is no internal answer to this situation. Therefore, there may be increased activity to secure a centre back. This may revive the previously mentioned interest in Swansea’s Ashley Williams.

The defensive midfield berth has been argued in the affirmative by every armchair critic/supporter of Arsenal. It seems clear that Arsene Wenger prefers a ball playing, more mobile player in front of the two centre backs than a traditional defensive midfielder.

Having enjoyed Patrick Viera – and since his departure – Arsenal have had serious difficulties replacing him. Indeed since Gilberto left, no one has adequately filed that role. Current preference appears to favour a strong, box-to-box type central midfielder and this fuelled the supposed interest in Marouane Felliani.

Add him to a midfield comprising Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky, Ramsey and it is easy to see why the manager probably feels he is already some way to assembling the EPL’s best midfield. Then there is the Cesc Fabregas riddle. Say no more about that.

It is in the attack that some of the most salacious transfer rumours. Initially starting close season “gossip” with interest in Stevan Jovetic, the discussions switched to Gonzalo Higuain and Wayne Rooney. The latest “prime target” is Luis Suarez, for whom, it must be said it is alleged, an incredible Arsenal record bid of £35m has been made!

These are, in the rumour mills, heady times for Arsenal. To be mentioned in the same sentence as these possible commercial commitments has had Arsenal supporters viewing developments from hitherto dizzy heights.

The addition of any of these players to the striking force of Podolski, Giroud aided by Cazorla and Walcott will significantly boost Arsenal’s prospects of silverware. The French Under 21 International Yaya Sanogo, a young player with huge prospects, has been added and compliments the resources in this area.

Finally, the question must be asked whether it is time to look at the bank of Arsenal’s Academy. Players like Thomas Eisfield, Serge Gnabry, Chuba Akpom, Nicholas Yennaris and Kristoffer Olsson are all knocking on the door with eye-catching performances. The presence of these players represents a big consideration on the manager’s views about further external introductions and expense.

In the end, common sense must prevail. Arsene Wenger has always operated with two clearly discernible acquisition philosophies. The first is investment in youth for which he – and Arsenal – has become legendary.

The second is that any additions must improve the team. In logical parlance, this would mean that such a player must be capable of displacing the current occupant of any position for which he has been acquired. If this is not the case, purchases become, in effect, pointless.

This team does not require a lot of adjustment to make it great again.

The manager must be left to do this job with the knowledge, ability and confidence that he has been known for in the last 17 years.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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