There have been two 0-0 draws played out so far in this glistening, still wobbly-legged, new Premier League season. Both have featured Arsenal. That’s right, Arsenal – the dandyish, free-scoring, always-trying-to-walk-it-in, ne plus ultra of attacking teams – have failed to score. Which, in fairness, they also failed to do in the first two games of last season, having also shed two key players.
But what makes this arid start feel that much stranger is that we haven’t shipped any goals at the other end. The opposition onion bag remains unrippled, but our sheets are clean like they’ve been washed in God’s own launderette. No goals. At all. These are confusing times for an Arsenal fan, particularly one used to the kind of chaos at the back usually associated with a bomb scare in an opera house.
Pehaps that’s it for us and goals now. Maybe we’re entering a new era of footballing asceticism in N5, during which goals of any kind will be regarded as a luxury to be indulged only by the weak-minded. Meanwhile, our team of dancing peacocks will follow the lead of the pioneering Spanish squad, passing in ever tighter triangles until a distant time in the future when the game will be played by entirely hairless teleporting monks, making it significantly harder to identify who’s offside during the second phase of play.
Or, and I’m just spitballing here, maybe this new look Arsenal side still hasn’t quite clicked yet. Today largely saw more of the same chewy fare that was served up against Sunderland. Cazorla was the spark again, and will have some purple souvenirs on his ankles to remember his first visit to Mordor. I don’t doubt the assists and goals will come for him, and I equally remain worried what we’ll do if we find ourselves without his services for any lengthy period of time.
Other positives: Big Per and the Skipper did enough to deal with those high balls that did arrive into the box, providing a vital shield for most fans’ presumed pre-match fall guy Vito ManNOOOOOOne. (Who actually did well in the circumstances.) Jenkinson also looked more the part defensively, although his unwillingness, or inability, to provide an attacking threat down the right is unbalancing the team.
More frustrating were Diaby and Gervinho. Both of whom were largely fine in the first two-thirds of the pitch, but fluffed their lines when it came to the final one. For Gervinho it was the familiar drive to the byline/run the ball straight out of play gambit, while Diaby opted for his equally maddening Dwellington Boots routine, opting to lay off or dawdle rather than shoot… Barring the one time he did try to shoot, and it was like seeing Bambi attempt to tightrope walk over a volcano.
Poldi and Giroud both showed promise but will need more time. The Frenchman in particular – whose classy interview you must have read by now – looks like the kind of player who when the goals start flowing will swiftly become a fan favourite. He’s brave, smart on the ball, and not afraid to have a lash – as that late, driven, lob showed. Yeah, he probably should’ve passed to the onrushing Rambo, but imagine if that *had* been the winner. He who dares, Ollie. He who dares.
As to how long it’ll take for this side to gel, well, that’s anyone’s guess. But I suspect that with more tough fixtures on the way – Liverpool (a), Man City (a) and Chelsea (h), all in September – it may be longer than some of us like. The hard truth is that although you can’t win the Premier League in the first few months, you can go pretty far to not winning it. So I suppose it comes down to expectations. I don’t expect us to challenge for the title this season, and now I type that I realise I don’t even feel bad saying it.
Even with some further additions in the remaining few days of the window, this squad will be too raw to take on the Manchester behemoths or Chelsea’s expensively retooled roster. What I do expect is for us to be a different Arsenal. Better in some ways, perhaps less effective in others, but a dangerous and enjoyable side to watch. I’m sure Arsene will deliver that.
Quite what he does with what’s left of the window, and the presumably substantial funds still available to him, is also anyone’s guess. We’re currently £9.35m in profit on trading this summer, without even considering the £26m sale of Queensland Road, or whatever had been set aside to spend in the first place, which even at a conservative estimate you’d expect to be £20m. And there are even additional funds to be generated by the buggering off of Arshavin, Bendtner et al.
Of course the clamour will be, as it has been for over a year now, for a defensive midfielder. But as Julian at Gingers For Limpar argues persuasively here, the whole idea of what a defensive midfielder does is misguided. Go on, give it a read, it’s the best dissection of the Arsenal squad around. Afterwards, ask yourself what good a ‘pure DM’ would have done us today – a game in which we had 67% of the ball.
That said, the reason I’ve long lusted, footballistically speaking, over a player like Yann M’Vila (who I accept we almost certainly aren’t going to sign) is not because he cleans out attackers with great big blockbusting tackles. What I like about him is that he’s positionally disciplined and passes with Quartz precision, enabling the team to transition fast from back to front.
I’d like us to buy that sort of metronomic midfielder because if anything happens to Arteta, who can play that ‘ball hoarder’ role, then we’re going to be in all sorts of the brown Stoke-smelling stuff. I’d like to think Arsene has some sort of agenda-setting transfer ‘spectacular’ up his sleeve, but in all likelihood it’ll probably be a utility defender and a solid-ish midfielder in, some embarrassing ne’er do wells out.
So be it. The performances will improve, and with them the goals will come. But it’s going to require patience from fans and management, and potentially some recalibration of expectations from the more wild-eyed of our supporters. With four fronts to fight on it’s vital the squad is deep, and for me that means at least two more bodies of equal talent to the ones signed so far. Five days still to go, then we should have a better sense of how this new look Arsenal is shaping up.
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