Surely a lot has been written and will continue to be written about Arsenal’s ability to compete for real silverware this season. Beating the Boltons, Blackpools, and Bragas of the world convincingly at home is not going to alarm Chelsea or Man U nor should it. Until they prove themselves worthy against the big boys, there will rightfully be plenty of questions about the bunch. Chief among them the lack of depth up the spine of the club (a serious injury to Cesc, Song, or Vermaelen cripples this group) and the lack of mental and physical toughness to sustain a title campaign through May. There can be no doubt however about the quality of the performances since Cesc found his legs. While there will hopefully be many tense games in the Gunners’ future, it has been fun as a fan to just enjoy the soccer produced at the Emirates in the last two matches. My thoughts on the first month of Arsenal’s season:
- The defense is coming together nicely. Despite being the direct cause of two goals, Koscielny has acquitted himself well. He is good with the ball, can challenge well in the air, has enough speed to deal with the majority of strikers, and has an eye for pushing the attack. He will struggle against the more physical forwards so it is nice to have Squillaci as an option if the squad needs more of a bruiser. I’d like to see Vermaelen take more risks and move forward a few times a game with Song providing cover. Especially when the offense is stagnant, the Verminator’s marauding ability and killer left foot add something to the attack that no one else can provide. This year’s combination of Vermaelen, Koscielny, Squillaci, and hopefully Djourou is worlds better than last year’s group of Vermaelen, Gallas, Campbell, and Sylvestre.
- I’m extremely nervous about what happens to the squad the first time Almunia fucks up. Everyone has been saying the right thing about how much confidence they have in El Gato Blanco but will that all go out the window the first time they see him flailing around trying to punch a corner? It’s the biggest question mark for the side and the most likely thing that would prevent the team from making a title run.
- Arshavin is still in a funk. Andrey never seemed to get untracked last year after captaining a Russian side that lost a World Cup playoff to Slovenia and being played way out of position for several games. Compared to his teammates, his work rate leaves a lot to be desired. He too often goes for the spectacular play instead of the solid one and his carelessness leads to too many giveaways. If van Persie and Walcott were fit, he would be on the bench. Luckily for him, he plays for Arsenal and there will never be more than three fit strikers/wingers.
- The young kids need to continue to play. After looking out of place against Liverpool to start the season, Wilshere has looked impressive in three home starts. Vela has scored three times in about 40 minutes of action. Gibbs looked good in his only start. This trio should continue to get key minutes (especially at home in the PL, in the CL group stage regardless of location, and in both domestic cups) if they continue to turn in impressive performances like these over players like Denilson, Rosicky, and Eboue (who are known and limited entities).
- It was nice for Wenger to be able to turn to Chamakh instead of Bendtner when van Persie picked up his inevitable injury. I hope Nicky likes the Carling Cup because that’s where he’ll be featured the most this season.
- Much has been made about the reliance on physical play to defend Arsenal. Whether or not you think Arsenal are whining too much about the physical play (and it seems like most fans do), I think we can all agree that tackles like Paul Robinson’s last week on Diaby are total bullshit. With the horrific images of recent injuries to Diaby, Eduardo, and Ramsey ingrained in their minds as a result of similar tackles, I feel Arsenal fans are justified in asking for more protection from the referees. Wenger has clearly stated that he enjoys the physicality of the English game but that there’s a line between hard-nosed and dirty. He also knows that it is up to Arsenal to show that they are not afraid of this type of play and that they are confident enough in the superiority of their style. It is comforting to have a few guys with a mean streak on this squad (Squillaci, Nasri, and maybe Song) that are capable of retaliating if the need arises. With the game well in hand at the time of the gruesome Robinson challenge, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Squillaci choke a bitch.
- Nasri is perfect as a 4th or 5th option. He’s not good enough to be The Guy but he’s great as a role player. The knee injury Nasri sustained would’ve kept RVP out for four months as he scoured the continent for horse placenta but Sammy was back in a few weeks.
- That Fabregas guy is pretty good. Wenger should hang on to him.
The first big test of the season comes in two weeks at Stamford Bridge. The win at Blackburn was nice and the team will be challenged again this weekend at Sunderland but these are small exams when compared to what will be coming on October 3rd. The team needs no reminder of how they were completely outclassed by Chelsea twice last season by a combined 5-0. They had no answer for the physicality of Drogba and could’ve played another 180 minutes without scoring. Will this group show that they have the mettle to compete against the big boys or is this the same Arsenal team that looks beautiful in pounding the scrubs but puny when it matters?