Arsenal 2012/13 – A New Direction

I write this on the back of a sensational news story that Arsenal have sold their captain to arch rivals Manchester United. Adding to this, it is widely reported that Song will be sold to Barcelona. Obviously this sounds like doom and gloom (again) but here’s why a pessimist like me is optimistic this time.

 

Post Vieira to Post Van Persie

This was period of wishful and ideological thinking of Wenger’s part to replace veterans with youngsters. Vieira was replaced aptly by Fabregas. Gilberto by Flamini which was a good replacement except he left early and Song was never the Gilberto we needed. Henry was replaced by Adebayor / Edurado (we know how that went) who was kind of later partnered or replaced by Van Persie. Ljungberg went to Helb then Nasri and finally Theo (which is kind of a 50-50). Pires turned Reyes then snaked to Arshavin and Gervinho.

This was the guy we bought to replace TH14

This was the guy we bought to replace TH14

In each of the last seasons, Wenger would make a semi named signing coupled with a few youngsters. This actually continued in last season when the Ox came on for a high price coupled with Gervinho (who was the semi named signing). The enforced sale of Fabregas and Nasri changed Wenger completely.

Here is the list of signings after selling our twin youngsters:

Park Chu-Young 27 Untried. Untested. Considered dud.
Andre Santos 29 Scored a couple of key goals. Looked more assured compared to Clichy / Gibbs.
Mikel Arteta 30 Most important midfielder in 2011/12. Won only 1 EPL match without him.
Per Mertesacker 26 Calming influence at the back. Succumbed to bizarre injury vs. Sunderland.
Yossi Benayoun (loan) 31 Played extremely well in the ending parts of the season after Arshavin was loaned out.
Lukas Podolski 27 No actual games played. Promising preseason.
Olivier Giroud 26 No actual games played. Promising preseason.
Santi Carzola 28 No actual games played. Promising preseason.

It is clear that Wenger is no longer interested in building for the future. The sale of his prized assets finally shattered his dream of youthful players sticking together for a few years before winning things. The average age of players signed since is 28. AW is extremely cautious of a player’s age when signing and this did not happen by accident.

The loss of Fab & Nasri finally changed AW's mind.

The loss of Fab & Nasri finally changed AW’s mind.

The mentality has changed and Wenger wants results now. No more waiting. He got burnt by his faith in youths.

Before this, we were consistently bringing players between the ages of 19 to 24 to cover huge positions. Fabregas, Wilshere, Song, Theo, Clichy, you name it – all bore testament to that.

 

Robin Van Persie

Adios RVP

Adios RVP. Must have been under stress with all that grey hair.

This is what I feel about the Van Persie sale. BBC has clearly stated that Robin wanted to reopen contract talks but AW told him that he (RVP) was no longer in his plans. Whether BBC is to be believed is up to you.

It is understood Van Persie was encouraged by the arrivals of Germany forward Lukas Podolski, France striker Olivier Giroud and Spain midfielder Cazorla – to the point where he was open to the idea of staying with or without a new contract. But Wenger pulled him aside shortly before Sunday’s friendly victory over Cologne, told him he would be sold if a deal could be reached and informed the Dutchman he was no longer part of his plans. – BBC

Robin played his cards wrongly. He should have kept silent throughout and have multiple options available to him without fan backlash. His statement created an almost impossible barrier to breach between most fans and himself. At that point he had to move, his supposed u-turn in BBC’s report above was not feasible. Fans would never hold him in respect again.

I personally believe Robin’s favored move was to City and not United. City have shown the pedigree to come back from the dead to win their first title. And their side, to be frank, oozes with class in every position. On top of that, they have kept the squad together and are growing better in understanding. Speaking objectively, United (even with RVP) won’t come close to matching that.

On RVP’s part, he would have thought that Arsenal fans were used to seeing their players sold to City anyways (Toure, Adebayor, Clichy, Nasri). Unfortunately for him, City were never really interested and only United made a serious bid and persuit.

The next two weeks will be crucial to what I have to say here. If money from Robin’s and possibly Song’s sale is put to good use – getting 22.5 million for a 29 year old striker is possibly the best sale Wenger has ever done.

Henry was also 29 when he moved to Barca for 16 million. Vieira, also 29, moved to Juventus for 13.7 million. Even if you factor in billionaire inflation – 22.5 million for a RVP is a coup for Wenger.

Robin is no where close to the class of Henry or Vieira not because of his supposed ‘betrayal’ but because RVP was never a person to change the game. He is a top notch world class goal poacher, possibly Arsenal’s first real poacher since Anelka, but he wasn’t the type that could bring creativity and change the game the way Henry and Vieira were able to. The last player who could do that for Arsenal was Fabregas and I believe Arsenal are more damaged by losing Fabregas than Van Persie.

I expect Robin to have a good 1-1.5 seasons left under his belt. His injury record isn’t pretty and when you continue to be prone in your prime (post 26 years on average) it does not bode well for your body when you hit your 30s.

I may be wrong and RVP could be a scientifically baffling really late bloomer with 3 superb seasons left in him but still – how much more can he add to United? Rooney and RVP will be possibly the deadliest known combination in the EPL but this leaves United unbalanced. It has been clear this season that their weakness was a soft center of which their only answer has been Kagawa. United were only 7 goals behind City and are well stocked in the striking department. Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck are already solid striking options. You would have expected United to splash big on their weakness.

There is only one reason to this move by United. They needed a big name. Going into a new season signing no one notable besides Kagawa would be a pyschological loss to City. However, you do need to question if 22m was still worth it. Only time will tell.

As a player who has given Arsenal a good season and a person I found close in leadership material to Vieira – I wish Robin well. He may have left the club on bitter terms and have joined a rival. However, Robin is after all, just a man who deserves a thank you and farewell.

 

Reinvest the 22.5 Million (or More)

Song leaving is positive but must be replaced.

Song leaving is positive but must be replaced.

Song looks be sold to Barca. Frankly, I don’t care. Song is more of a CM than a DM and we need any midfielder that has proper defensive senses. Song has very little of that and has cost us on too many occasions. Barca wants the attacking side of Song and that bodes well for them. We don’t need that, we have plenty of players stocked in that attacking part of the midfield. Only Arteta has shown solid concentration and great defensive work. We need cover for that. All that money from Robin and possible Song sale must go to a solid defensive midfielder or a center mid with strong defensive abilities.

Arsene will also do well to sign a striker as a psychological boost but I feel Podolski and Giroud will provide more than sufficient cover. Obviously, these 2 are untested in EPL conditions so we can’t really tell as yet but the big reason behind this optimism is that we have finally replaced Fabregas.

Cazorla - Arsenal finally replaces Fabregas.

Cazorla – Arsenal finally replaces Fabregas.

Santi Cazorla is likely to be the answer that Arsenal has been waiting for in two years. Arsenal has never been about having top class goal poachers. We have been a club of solid attacking midfielders who could work well together and create multiple chances for any team mate to put the ball in. This gave Arsenal the fluidity and unpredictability that began to fade when all that ‘youth project’ bullshit was focused on.

Arsenal has never had a ‘deadly two’. Our top players were always midfielders or wingers doubling as forwards. Even Henry was not an out and out striker. He consistently built up from the left wing before finishing it off. Obviously, he was assisted by Bergkamp, Pires, Ljungberg, Reyes, etc. Poacher who?

 

Settle In, Knuckle Down, Deliver

We played 4-3-3 to satisfy Fabregas and we moulded a team around Fabregas only to lose him to his biological parents. Maybe it’s time to go back to the good ol’ 4-4-2 or, if you may, a 4-4-1-1 that was the hallmark of our trophy laden years. It was sad that we stubbornly tried to stick to 4-4-3 where frankly not many of our players could pull that off.

Podolski is likely to play 'in the hole'.

Podolski is likely to play ‘in the hole’.

Whichever the tactical decision, we have to play to our strengths and thankfully we can finally build a team because we are no longer bringing 19 year olds to play with 29 year olds. This will likely be the line up for next season:

GK: Szczesny 22
RB: Sagna 29
CB: Koscielny 27
CB: Vermaelen 27
LB: Santos 29
RW: Walcott 23
CM: Cazorla 28
CM: Arteta 30
LW: Gervinho 25
CF: Podolski 27
CF: Giroud 26

The core can be clearly seen here. Vermaelen ought to be rewarded with captaincy and is already flanked with players very close to his age. This means all of them are entering or already are in the peak period of their playing careers. I would love to see either Arteta or Sagna given the vice captain’s role.

They will be similarly motivated and you won’t have a couple of youngsters going – ‘ah maybe next season’. And then the older folks going ‘ok, I can’t wait any more’.

 

Conclusion

2012/2013 will not be the season that it all clicks together but will be finally the moment we have built an actual team. A team that will logically stay together and fight for each other. This is a major step forward. Even in the season past, we continued our bandaid ways until the last minute signings that finally showed Wenger’s abandonment of the youth project.

Arsenal fans will be misguided to believe next season is ‘our year’. Next season, is a solid indicator of a new Arsenal. One that is built on a new direction. The 6-7 year youth project failed, so this is a fresh start over. We have had our lost decade if you may.

I personally believe finishing 3rd will be a minimum requirement. Then, keep the team together, reinforce and go for top in the next season. If Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud find their feet quickly, 2nd may be up for grabs.

This will be a good test against a resurgent Chelsea side. Man City is a clear choice for top spot. United on the other hand could be formidable if Kagawa shines and RVP adjusts to United and maintains his form.

There are many ifs and buts and as they say – the ball is round. An Arsenal fan who has weathered season past will not find this summer disappointing, rather this summer has been a lot more positive than the dreary ones that have left me pessimistic about the club.

This time, I look forward with optimism.



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