Sunday, January 13, 2013

Some Not-Really-So-Bold Predictions and Observations About Arsenal FC

1. No way they finish in the top 4 this season.

2. With respect to resigning Walcott, they're damned if they do, damned if they don't. If they don't resign him, the media and some supporters will complain that Arsenal continue to lose their best players to better-funded clubs (even though Theo is nowhere close to Arsenal's best player). If Arsenal do resign him, they'll be breaking their wage structure for a player who is as good now as he ever will be, and that's not good enough. If he left to join some other club among the top four or five, he would mostly ride the pines. I believe he knows it, and that's why he's willing to stay at Arsenal, so long as he gets paid.

3. Arsenal need a thorough restructuring to compete in future years, including:

     (a) up front, where the group of Giroud, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Podolski just aren't good enough. Of that four, only Oxlade-Chamberlain seems to have potential to impove. Point of comparison: The incomparable duo of Henry and Bergkamp.

     (b) in midfield, they must rebuild around Cazorla and Wilshire. The others need replacing. Arteta appears to have lost pace and agressiveness, and he's certainly out of his comfort level playing defensive midfield. Rosicky is past his prime. Abu Diaby is too often injured, and appears lackadaisical (if not simply slow) when not injured. Ramsey has a terrific work rate and heart, but he misses far too many passes and never scores. He is still young enough to improve, so he might be kept on the roster. Point of comparison: Viera, Pires, Lunbjerg, et al. 

     (c) in defense, I don't think so many changes are required. Vermaelen's game has fallen off this season (ironically, since he became team captain); he seems to be caught out of position more than in past seasons. But there's no reason to think he cannot regain his form. Koscielny and Mertesacker have both proven capable partners for Vermalen. Koscielny, who was the most improved player on the team last season, has seen his form drop this year, perhaps somewhat due to injury. Meanwhile, Mertesacker has improved this season; his positional play in particular has been excellent (which is crucial given his cumbersomeness). At the full-back position, Gibbs is sound when healthy, and Sagna is among the best right-backs in football (arguably, the only player on the current squad who might have cracked the best 11 of "The Invincibles," and even that's a close call with Lauren). Arsenal also have a promising young deputy for Sagna in Carl Jenkinson; but they lack any decent back-up for the frequently injured Gibbs. Point of comparison: Arsenal's famous back four of the 1980s and '90s.

    (d) In goal, Szczesny has his occasional miscues, but he's among the best stoppers in the Premiership, and his public pronouncements show that Arsenal is in his heart. I'm not so convinced by Manone as back-up. But the goalie position is not among Arsenal's weakest spots at this point. Point of comparison: David Seaman.

4. Finally, Arsene Wenger is a genius, who has revolutionized how footballers train and play in the UK. The English game is now more open and offensive than it ever was before Wenger arrived in London. But he has been slow to realize that other clubs have caught up with his advanced training and nutrition programs. He can no longer rely on a cadre of younger, lower-paid, but more fit and better trained, players to compete for titles. The question is whether Wenger's infamous stubborn streak will continue to prevent him from recognizing that what worked ten years ago will not work today. Winning silverware will require more than minor tinkering around the edges. Before the team can adapt and improve, the manager needs to prove that he can adapt to the new realities of football in the Premiership.

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