The theme for many season previews this week has been how Arsenal need to strengthen in one or two areas to seriously challenge for the title.
Even Arsene wheeled the line out in his press conference yesterday as he has done, fittingly, once or twice before. Actually, no, make that thrice.
He’s not alone. Every manager seems to think they need a couple more players to complete their squad and it’s become a bit of a cliché.
So is it true of Arsenal at least?
Well, I’m far more upbeat on the cusp of this season compared to the last one and we definitely have a stronger squad after the summer’s transfer activity. This wasn’t a case of us doing business early, more of us just doing business at all.
Alexis Sanchez is obviously the standout new boy. Being far from an expert on La Liga, I had a gander at youtube to see some of his best bits and had to reload some of the clips because I thought they were playing back at x1.5 speed. No, he’s just that fast.
It was striking last weekend how much quicker and sharper we looked on the breakaway with Sanchez on the pitch. Quick and successful counter attacks became less of a feature of our game as Wenger adapted our style in the second half of his reign to fit different personnel. But it would be a real positive if we can recreate some of the threat which the Invincibles always possessed and that may be Sanchez’s biggest contribution.
I would expect him to become our lead front man in place of Giroud by the end of the season. It seems logical to me to have your best players in central positions and he will have far more influence as a number 9 than trying to cut in from either flank. He might lack a bit of height but he seems like a tough nut and should be able to handle the likes of Shawcross. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Thierry Henry-like conversion over the first half of the season as he adapts to the joys of English football.
Our other signings have been replacements rather than additions, but they still feel like they have put us in a better position. We’ve not seen Ospina in Arsenal colours yet but he impressed at the World Cup and should put more pressure on Szczesny than Flapianski. Debuchy may not be much younger than Sagna but he has stepped in to his shoes admirably for the French national team and there should be no reason he won’t do the same for us.
Calum Chambers appears to have replaced Vermaelen as a third choice centre back, though his versatility will be greater. Chambers has shown real poise in his first friendly appearances and looks a very exciting prospect, certainly a better bet than someone like Chris Smalling who we have always been linked with.
And lest we forget that also since the first morning of last season we bought a certain Mesut Özil. The guy is world class and even if he never appeared to devastate teams single-handedly last season, his influence was still impressive. I still think much of the improvement in Aaron Ramsey last year can be put down to having someone of Özil’s quality to train and play alongside. The arrival of Sanchez should inspire Özil to greater heights. Without wanting to denigrate Giroud, subconsciously Özil will have known Giroud would either not be on his wavelength or he wouldn’t convert the opportunities he created anyway. The same can’t be said of Sanchez and the could create some combination.
So are we really one or two players short? I would still put Chelsea and Manchester City’s squad as the stronger overall. Injuries have taken their toll on us in the past few seasons and even though the arrival of the fabled Shad Forsythe should ease that problem, it is inevitable we will need to draft in reserves.
This is where I hope the ruthlessness Wenger has shown so far this summer, demonstrated in securing his targets without dithering over prices and shipping out the likes of Jenkinson rather than letting him improve on his watch, can continue. Instead of worrying about potentially ‘killing’ a couple of his existing players by bringing in more competition, it would be nice to over-stock. We’ve reached that position in attacking midfielders and if we keep Joel Campbell and Podolski we’ve probably got their up front. At the back, though, we still feel vulnerable to the loss of a first-choice defender.
So maybe like all good clichés, there is a ring of truth to the idea of being ‘one or two’ away from a complete squad. Just like needing to take things one game at a time, perhaps we need to see how the rest of the transfer window pans out before truly believing the title can be ours.