I was lost for feelings when Arsenal announced the signing of highly rated Southampton youngster, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. This transfer had been in the news for a long time but not many were expecting it to go through at this stage.
The youngster, Walcottesque in his style and a superb talent without doubt, will take time to settle into the first team squad, so this must be one for the future. I am sure most fans will greet the signing with applause but there will be many among them who are at least a little perplexed. There is no denying the fact that the qualities of the player and his age/experience don’t match the current requirements of Arsenal FC.
I have a feeling AOC has been signed as a replacement for Nasri. That could mean Wenger is resigned to losing the Frenchman at the end of the season if not sooner. Of course, it is pure speculation but it’s hard to find any other explanation.
Replacing Nasri will not be easy. Even though inconsistent, the Frenchman is at a level that very few can reach. Given the present conditions in the market, those who can perform at the same level are valued at astronomical prices. Buying a talented youngster is the only reasonably fair value option and such a player would need time to develop.
This transfer does raise a big question – If Alex Chamberlain, then why not Juan Mata for a slightly higher price? I don’t know Wenger’s reasons but would dearly really love to know the answer to that poser. It’s hard to imagine both the players arriving at the club this summer but stranger things have happened.
There is always the possibility that Arsenal were not as interested in Mata as the media projected even though Wenger does like the player. Perhaps the experience with one Jose Antonio Reyes was a limiting factor. Personally speaking, I am not convinced too many Spanish players can succeed in the English league. That is not an indictment of Mata but just a general observation that might explain Wenger’s reticence in that particular deal.
Another interesting observation is the sudden increase in the number of quick and tricky players who can perform on either flank. With the acquisitions of Gervinho and Alex, along with the development of Miyaichi, Arsenal are on the way to having an exceptional array of lethal wingers. I say on the way because the two youngsters will need a year or two more before they can be considered first team regulars.
Does this signal another philosophical change as Wenger prepares for life without Cesc (and Nasri)? Over the next few years, one can visualize the likes of Wilshere, Song, and Ramsey dominating the midfield as two dynamic wingers tear the opposition defence apart. The freedom given to the attacking midfielder in the present system could be curtailed and the midfield would provide better support to the defence while controlling the tempo of the game from deeper positions.
It’s just a thought but it’s based on the need to change the style of play if Fabregas does go to Barcelona. The present role was created for Cesc and no one else can do justice to it. Anyway, all that is for the future and we will have plenty of time to discuss it in detail.
The Benfica game once again highlighted some of the concerns of the fans and there are more pressing matters for Wenger to deal with.
I thought the midfield was terrible in that game and was the source of most of the problems which worsened as other factors came into play. Ramsey has not impressed in any of the pre-season games and Rosicky just doesn’t offer enough these days. Song was able to keep the team ticking in the first half with exceptionally hard work but the players faltered when he was taken off in the second half.
In the first half, the Gunners struggled to bring the ball out from defence on a consistent basis. This led to precious few chances but at least the shape of the team was strong and they prevented Benfica from creating anything more than half-chances.
The goal was a work of art and many players were involved. It started with Vermaelen beating the man pressing him with a dummy. Then Rosicky came back to the halfway line to receive a pass. Little Mozart beat the man on him with a neat turn. By then Van Persie had dropped deep while Ramsey and Gervinho took up positions as central strikers. The Dutchman received the ball in space and was able to find Arshavin in the inside left channel just outside the opposition box.
Since Benfica were pressing higher up the pitch they had a shortage of players just in front of the defence. The central defenders were exposed and this gave the Russian some time on the ball. He waited for the run of Gibbs who was completely unmarked. The English youngster squared the ball back for Van Persie who had drifted to the edge of the six yard box, again completely unmarked.
In some ways this goal reflected some of the defensive problems that Arsenal face. Benfica’s pressing was good but not as well co-ordinated as it had been till that time. Once a couple of Gunners beat their man, it opened the hosts up and left the back four in an unenviable position.
After a number of changes Arsenal had similar problems in maintaining the right shape. A couple of players were pressing higher up the pitch. Then there was a hesitant line of three in the middle with acres of space behind them and in front of the defence. The ease with which Benfica were able to create wave after wave of attacks again exposed the systemic flaws.
When Arsenal did win the ball back, the players were rarely in the right shape to launch an attack. Possession was squandered without a threat and the opposition grew in confidence as the crowd made its presence felt. With a number of young players introduced over time, Arsenal were never going to come back in this one – which in itself is not a problem.
A good system covers up individual errors, positional or technical, some of which are bound to occur even with the best of players. But when the system fails these errors get magnified as each player, especially in defence, has to cover larger areas and perform more than his fair share of duties.
Vermaelen looked like a clown for the first goal, Squillaci for the second. As I have said on a number of occasions, anyone else in their position would inevitably meet the same fate.
I don’t want to be critical of a team that included Frimpong, Miyaichi, Lansbury and finally Miquel at the end. That’s not the point. But the broader problem exists and will continue to pester unless a coaching solution is found.
I will try to cover this in detail before the start of the season. For now at least, let’s welcome Alex to the club and focus on the possibility of other positive developments.