Friday 13 August 2010

Playing for fourth - in August

448 words. Estimated reading time: 1 minute 40 seconds
After a quiet summer, Sunday’s match with Liverpool already has the whiff of a playoff for the final Champion’s League spot.

The lack of reinforcements during the close season, particularly in central defence where there has been three out and one in, is concerning but sadly not surprising. We appear to have reached a stage that every manager comes to eventually – things have gone too far, for too long, for there to be any turning back without it representing an admission of error.

As pre-seasons and transfer windows come and go without significant improvement, the more I accept that the problems with the squad will never be addressed adequately by Wenger. Back in May I argued Wenger should be retained for this season, confident that he was ready to spend in the summer and make the team better. My hopes were raised a degree by his quick acceptance that the defensive performance last year was the root of our failings. But not enough has been done to overcome that and we appear to be an even weaker position now, two days before we kick off our campaign, than when the last one ended in a whimper.

Koscielny remains an unknown quantity but looks like someone who will take a season to adjust to this level of football. Admittedly, I thought the same about Vermaelen last year but he had been playing for years in the Champions League and internationally. Koscielny has had one season in the French top flight and extra bodies should have been brought in.

In goal the problem is even more acute. Almunia ended the season in the shadows, Fabianksi didn’t impress in his place and Wenger has now said we don’t have a first choice keeper. Truly bizarre, and not acceptable at a club of our stature.

These are just some of the problems we face. They are not little issues, or even ones that you would need to see every minute of Arsenal to understand. They are glaringly obvious flaws that a new manager would address immediately and, hopefully, conclusively.

I want to be wrong. I want Wenger to prove me a pessimist and for this squad to be as good as he claims it can be. But for everything amazing Wenger has done for us and the English game, he now doesn’t seem able to address that most basic of tasks – making 11 players into a team.

I will end this rather bleak season preview with the words of Cesc Fabregas from an interview in the Sun after he confirmed he was staying for this season. And ask whether the doubt underpinning his thinking is any different to yours.

“…it is fair to say that he (Wenger) really believes Arsenal will make a strong challenge for the title this year. I really hope he’s right.”

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