Ah, the transfer window. It’s a time when all clubs in Europe are rumored to be linked with dozens of players and supporters feel they’ve already won the league if their club can make that big money signing. It’s been a time of year recently where Arsenal have not been too incredibly active, leaving supporters wondering why Arsene Wenger didn’t open the checkbook. The Gunners have been reluctant in recent years to add too much to the squad because, as the boss says, they only look to bring in “super quality.”
Well, that has all changed this summer. In total, the Gunners made 29 moves (in and out) between June 1st and August 31st. The Gunners suffered through another trophyless year in 2010-11 (their sixth straight). Quite frankly, it was time for some of those “super quality” changes.
On the morning of February 27th last year it seemed Arsenal had a legitimate shot at four trophies; the Gunners ended up fourth in the Premier League and without silverware. Injuries, lack of depth and defense woes haunted Arsenal from March through May. After this summer’s dealings, are Arsenal ready to contend for silverware now, or are the Gunners still the fourth best team in England?
Are the Goalkeeping Problems Sorted?
Goalkeepers: Manuel Almunia, Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone
If I’m comparing my emotions regarding the goalkeeping situation to this time last year, I have to feel like it’s a serious improvement. The strange part about that is Arsenal hasn’t added a goalkeeper during that time. Rather, it’s been the emergence of Szczesny that allows me to look at this position as a potential strength.
Szczesny has proven over the last few months of last season and the beginning of this campaign that he has the make-up to be a top goalkeeper in the Premier League. He’s certainly confident and has shown he is not prone to mental errors (let’s call him the anti-Almunia).
Fabianski also improved over the course of last season, no longer always playing the role of “Flappy-hand-ski.” If he can continue his improvement, Arsenal will have two capable keepers in the squad, pushing each other for playing time and to improve.
With Szczesny in goal and Fabianski as his back-up, the most important fact is that the likelyhood of ever seeing Almunia in goal again for Arsenal is very slim.
Goalkeeping Grade: B -
If Szczesny stay consistent, this grade can improve. Fabianski is a capable back-up. I expect at some point Mannone will go out on loan again this year.
Will Defending be the Downfall?
Defenders: Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Andre Santos, Sebastien Squillaci, Johan Djourou, Carl Jenksinson, Kieran Gibbs, and Ignasi Miquel
There will be few people who won’t agree that defensive issues were the undoing of the Gunners last term. The backline was crying out for reinforcement. With first-choice left-back Gael Clichy off to Manchester City, and the center of defense already having issues, signing new defenders was a must over the summer.
Kieran Gibbs, though talented, has not been able to prove that he can stay in the lineup for any extended period of time. Gibbs is too injury prone to be relied on as the first-choice left-back. Santos provides durability and experience in defense.
Santos is a large improvement over Gael Clichy going forward. Clichy scored just two goals in his Arsenal career, while Santos averaged one goal every five games for Fenerbahce (10 goals in 52 games).
Though Santos is known for his attacking style, he is still solid at the back. Let’s be honest. He can’t possibly have as many mental lapses as Clichy. Or for that matter, play as many players onside when the rest of the line has moved up. Therefore, this is an overall upgrade to me. I always liked Clichy, but it was time for him to move on. Santos provides an experienced alternative.
With the signing of Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny is likely to move to the bench, as Mertesacker should partner Vermaelen when both are available for selection. The German’s size will compliment the athleticism of Vermaelen. Mertesacker will finally be the answer to the long standing Arsenal problem of giving up goals from headers on set pieces.
Arsenal still have to take a look at their defensive tactics. Adding quality players was step one. But if Arsenal continues to play their defensive line as high as they do, they will still be beaten over the top for scoring chances. When you keep your line that high, one mistake can lead to a 1-0 loss.
Defensive Grade: B
The defending will be much improved over last year, provided that the new first choice back four of Sagna-Vermaelen-Mertesacker-Santos can stay healthy. Koscielny will still be vital, as he will be the main coverage for Vermaelen and Mertesacker.
Midfielders: Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, Andrey Arshavin, Emmanuel Frimpong, Craig Eastmond, Yossi Benayoun and Francus Coquelin
Looking at the midfield this season, obviously there are glaring omissions: Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. I won’t go into a tirade about Samir Nasri leaving for money or a depressing story of how I will miss Cesc Fabregas. That’s been done enough. We need to move on.
The question is: did Arsene Wenger do enough to replace those players? In the case of Fabregas, if I’m honest, there really was no player the boss could have brought him to replace him. Fabregas is that good. Nasri on the other hand is very much replaceable. During his Arsenal stint, he was really only in excellent form for about six months.
Arteta is a playmaker whose skills should fit nicely into the Arsenal system. Some questioned his ability, citing his lack of assists as a playmaking midfielder, but you have to remember he played at Everton. He was passing the ball to Jermaine Beckford.
I envision a midfield of Song, Wilshere and Arteta when all are available for selection. In my mind, Arteta will remain deeper in midfield and distribute from there and Wilshere will be the one pushing forward the most. This will take advantage of the strong points of both players. Arteta’s signing will allow Wilshere to become the offensive midfielder he is destined to be. Wilshere will step out of Fabregas’ shadow and become the face of Arsenal.
Midfield Grade: B –
I worry that Wilshere will be out of the lineup for an extended period of time with his Achilles injury (remember Vermaelen?). Ramsey will more than likely replace Wilshere in the line-up while he recovers. Ramsey needs to step up, as he has been basically non-existent so far this season. This is the year Ramsey needs to show why Arsene Wenger brought him in. The other question is whether or not Arteta will create enough scoring chances to make up for the loss of Fabregas. I have my doubts about that, but he will still be a key contributor.
Forwards: Park Chu-Young, Robin Van Persie, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh, and Ryo Myiaichi
Scoring goals has never been the problem under Wenger, and it shouldn’t be this campaign. New captain Van Persie has scored two goals in his first four games this season, picking up his fantastic scoring record from last season. Walcott has also been scoring so far this year, with three goals. Walcott has also been able to actually survive an entire month without picking up an injury.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s purchase is based on the vast potential of the young wing player. He joins Myiaichi as teenage wing players who need to gain experience before they will be major contributors to the side. The question I do have with Oxlade-Chamberlain, is why are Arsenal buying “the new Theo Walcott” when Walcott himself has not yet become what is expected of him?
Then again, who am I to question Arsene Wenger, he did buy Cesc Fabregas at age 16.
In the case of Park, if you were to rely on the fans initial reaction to his signing, you’d be disappointed. I chalk that up to most people never seeing Park play and that anytime a player is signed for less than £10 million anymore, fans believe quality is lacking (Robin Van Persie was less than £3 million people).
I have to remind everyone that there have been many players Arsene Wenger has brought in with names that they had not heard of that became great assets to Arsenal. Though he is hated now, Emmanuel Adebayor comes to mind. He didn’t cost much when he came from France, and be honest, you didn’t know who he was.
Well what he became was a 30 goal scorer and a major profit for Arsenal upon his sale.
If you do know Park’s name, you may remember his free kick goal in last summer’s World Cup against Nigeria. He is adept at free kicks, which is a skill desperately needed at Arsenal (can you remember the last time an Arsenal player scored from a free kick?).
Forward Grade: A –
If the midfield can play up to its potential, the forwards in the squad will have no problem scoring.
Can Arsenal Compete?
With the window closing, we now know what Arsenal’s squad will look like, at least until January. If everyone is available for selection, I imagine the Gunners lineup will be:
Szczesny; Santos, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Sagna; Song, Wilshere, Arteta; Gervinho, Van Persie, Park
I feel a lot better about this lineup than the one that took the field against Manchester United. The squad now has some depth, and the major issues with it were at least addressed by Mr. Wenger (defender, creative midfielder and left-back). This squad can challenge for a trophy, and will certainly by in the running to secure another year of Champion’s League football. A week ago, I don’t think I would have said that.
Can Arsenal compete? Yes. However, I reluctantly have to admit that despite the great acquisitions made on deadline day, Arsenal still may be the fourth best team in England.
Follow Jimmy Gossard on Twitter @JimmyGossard