Back into the blogging fray, then out of action again. Back again, out again. Back again – and I’ll be out again, no doubt. Just like the players. Sympathy blogging.
Anyway, I’ve been wondering how to preview the forthcoming season. There are and no doubt will be plenty of excellent previews dotted around Blogland, so while I am going to assess the state of play, I’m going to come at it from a slightly different angle.
At the Wiganish end of last season, there were plenty of things to vex me, but three things in particular are worth revisiting: Injuries, poor defending and an occasional lack of drive/urgency.
So I’m going to look at those three things and see what, if anything, has changed.
Ha! Here we go! As last season ground to an end, we had the most absurd injury list. It was as long as Mr Tickle’s arm, but not remotely as capable of inducing laughter.
There’s no doubt that the injuries we suffered last term hit us very hard. Remember Arshavin ploughing his lone furrow up front? Well there was nobody else. Remember Mmm Mannone playing in goal? At the time there was nobody else (no additional jokes required). It really was atrocious. Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie, Gallas, Vermaelen, Djourou, Denilson, Walcott, Ramsey, Bendtner, Vela, Arshavin – I could go on, but need I bother?
“[The effect] was massive. At the beginning of March we were in touch and had the same chance as everyone to win. But when you go into the final games and you do not have your players it’s too difficult, it’s impossible. [We had] four, five, six key players not in the squad, not available. You need to be a magician then to win the Premier League if everybody else has their players.”
So it’s a little disheartening to say the least that this season looks set to start on an injured note. For our opening game we have Song, Djourou and Bendtner out, with Denilson and Diaby doubtful. Cesc and van Persie are short of fitness. None of these, I hope, are long-term (though Bendtner has suffered from his injury since before the World Cup).
So injuries? The jury is out. Wenger is right though – it was impossible for this squad to win the league with the injuries we had last year.
It will be impossible if it happens again.
This is like sitting on a shrink’s couch isn’t it?
Last season, we let in 41 league goals, nine more than the eventual champions. Why was this? I suppose it was a mixture of many things – poor goalkeeping, individual errors, collectively lax defending and, of course, injuries.
Again, Wenger has sought to address this in the summer. A quartet of central defenders have left the club – Campbell, Gallas, Silvestre and Senderos, and we’ve been linked all summer with a new goalkeeper.
Replacing these four players are Koscielny and Djourou, leaving us short in numbers by one. Wenger knows this and has said it all summer. But to date, nobody has arrived to plug the numbers, leaving us with just Vermaelen and Koscielny fit for the opener at Anfield, backed up by Nordtveit. It’s not ideal is it?
Between the sticks has been the farce of the summer though. It’s the one position that everyone has been fretting over in particular, with peals of anxiety ringing out across the net. Hardly unreasonable though is it? Both Almunia and Fabianski made far too many individual errors last season, both have a poor command of their box. It makes for a jittery defence.
Again, Wenger has acknowledged this, albeit guardedly. We’ve been linked all summer with Mark Schwarzer (firmly) and a bunch of others (more tenuously). But nothing yet has happened. I do wonder why – for a man who professed to wanting his summer business done and dusted before the World Cup, to leave this one bubbling until this late is mysterious.
As for Schwarzer himself, I think he’d be a big improvement. Fulham fans I know rate him very highly and there’s no doubt he’s far less skittish than the two we have now. So what if it’s a short-term deal? It’s all about fixing the now.
So the jury is still out for me on whether we will defend better this season. We will need to wait until the 31st August before judgement. But even if two more players come in, collectively we need to defend a lot better. This is particularly true from set pieces.
Lack of drive/urgency
And yes, Wigan game, I am thinking of you. But I’m not thinking only of you.
There’s nothing more galling than seeing a player lollop around, not bothering to stretch his every sinew for the cause. It’s the bare minimum expected. And last season at times we appeared to lack drive at certain times, especially when the ‘fighters’ like Fabregas were absent. I’m looking at you Diaby. But not only you.
Wenger has talked about this too, about the need for ‘fighters’. And his players have certainly talked the talk pre-season. Listen to what Sagna said only a few days ago:
“If you remember what happened last year against Wigan, we need to keep playing. Maybe we stopped playing because we thought the game was too easy, but that is football now. We let Celtic back in because we stopped playing. We need to talk more on the pitch and stay together.”
“I am 21 now and it is time for me to push on. I am looking forward to the next step. I have just had a very good pre-season, I am happy to be back playing football now and I want to show everybody what I can do this season.”
Nasri was stung by his World Cup omission, and appears to have got the bit between his teeth.
Both Chamakh and Koscielny seem to have the right kind of spirit – I’ve been impressed by both. And with Wilshere and Frimpong now in the first team fray, there’s more competition for places. That should sharpen things a bit as well.
So overall, I do detect a stomach for the fight and some steely determination.
Right, my time has run out. The Schwarzer rumours are hotting up, the season is round the corner. Excited yet?