Tuesday, August 20, 2013

EPL: Re-installing Arsenal

After a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the season’s opening day, speculative glare has fallen upon Arsenal and their unsuccessful efforts to improve their squad.  Despite controlling the ball for long periods against the Clarets, the Gunners seemed strangely faceless – perhaps a side effect of Gervinho’s departure two weeks ago.

Over the past number of years, Arsenal have reinforced sparingly and with haphazard success.  Purchases like Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker have proven generally effective and Santi Cazorla is a star, but other players in whom manager Arsene Wenger has placed much faith (and not inconsiderable investment) have yet to fully work out.

While rivals such as Chelsea and Spurs appearing flush with vibrant talent and opportunity, it would take only the most ardent optimist to suggest the same of the Arsenal.  It’s not only the club’s player list that needs refreshing; perhaps the club requires a reboot. 

Or, more appropriately, a complete re-install.  The hardware has been upgraded at great cost, the processor still seems to have some life and the software is capable of getting the job done, but the system is not running smoothly or easily.  In computer parlance, this is usually a symptom of tiny corruptions in key parts of the operating system; rather than repair these one by one, it’s easier and cheaper to wipe the slate and hope you’ve kept the backup discs. 

For the lads at the Emirates, this doesn’t mean selling their best players or throwing money at others – though this is usually the way such things happen and Wenger has priors.  Perhaps the best way to rejuvenate a stale squad might simply be to give them a greater sense of identity. 

While Arsenal have  an marginally impressive spread of talent – Cazorla is one of the Premiership’s more creative types, while all of Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen are all first-choice for respective international sides of exceptional quality – the overall façade presented by the playing group is not one of a club itching to shape their own destiny, but of a team having it thrust upon them.  While Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs and Ramsey are very nice pieces, even the most one-eyed Gooner should admit that they are hardly the types of players to stamp their authority on a team.  The same could be said of Bacary Sagna, Wojciech Szczesny and Arteta.   Jack Wilshere has the potential to be such a iconic player, but will he turn into that guy consistently, or be overwhelmed by the surrounding tepid waters?

To borrow a much-used phrase, the whole has somehow become less than the sum of its parts.

After Manchester United lost the 2011-12 Premiership on goal difference, former manager Sir Alex Ferguson promised himself that the club would never lose out in such circumstances again.  The defensive mindset of the prior three years was cast to the netherworld and United made one single purchase to spearhead to a goal difference of 43 and a return to the league’s pinnacle.  The mindset came first, and it’s on-field embodiment arrived shortly thereafter.

The same can happen at the Emirates.  However, will Arsene Wenger, Ivan Gazidis or even Stan Kroenke recognize the opportunity?

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