Season preview – Injuries/Defending/Drive

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.

Injuries

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?

Wenger said:

“[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.

Poor defending

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.”

Walcott too:

“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?

Giddy!

12 thoughts on “Season preview – Injuries/Defending/Drive

  1. Your post echoes the same knarling fears and doubts about our `keepers` and lack of numbers at the back as many, many Gooners.

    Sadly, for now it seems as if the polaroids Almunia & Flappy have of Wenger raping a pig are holding back any real movement on improving either area.

    Ho, hum…

  2. One of the reasons our defending was so often so poor last season, especially at set pieces, was that (Song aside) our current crop of midfielders just aren’t either willing or able to support their back five as much as they should. Compare and contrast the likes of Gilberto, Vieira, Petit and Edu with Den Nielsen and Diaby – they’re just not in the same league.

  3. If we get a proper goalkeeper and strengthen the centre of defense with a big ‘stopper’ and probably another defender for backup we would have a squad that is strong enough to be serious contenders for the PL. Without them I think a top 4 finish would be the target. So near, but so far… again.

    I can’t understand why AW has left it so late to resolve this, considering the need was so obvious so long ago.

  4. I’d echo Nick’s comment, and add that at times we are just a bit too gung ho for a goal.

    Everyone wants to join in the attack leaving us vulnerable to the counter.

  5. Fair point about the midfield offering more to the defence. 1998 was indeed the classic example, having lost 3-1 to Blackburn.

    The difference being we no longer have defensive midfielders the calibre of Vieira and Petit.

  6. since the new staduim was buildt we are selling many players and buying few. i think wenger time is up. its 5 years no trophy and world class players dont stay in a club that dont win. wenger says we have a lot of young players, but imagine in only 2 leagues more and we won nothing and big clubs come for walcott and wilshire, i cant blame them if they leave. for me this season is a really lack of respect for arsenal managment, letting go 6 players and buying only 2 (1 free)!! and what about the keepers, everytime a corner of dead ball comes in its a goal against us with fabianski and almunia. the big question is all the world knows that almunia anf fabainski are a didaster except arsenal manegment. unbeleivable. no last thought, PLAYERS COME AND GO, PRESIDENT AND STAFF COME AND GO, COACHES COME AND GO ONLY US FANS STAY FOREVER! COME ON ARSENAL

  7. Excellent, well articulated piece. I’m so excited that we will finally be back with the footy. No more transfer links (after 31-8) , no more Cesc stories, less of the whining negative fans.
    Just pure, sublime, football… bring it!

    p.s. I truly believe that the once the GK and CB deficiencies will be addressed (and they will be addressed) we’re gonna be the team to beat this season.

  8. Nice review man from east lower!

    The “not only you” moment springing to mind for me is Denilson strolling and lazily watching Rooney score the second goal against us. The man started 15 yards behind him…

    It seems unanimous that a GK and CB are the obvious positions which still require sorting.

    A shame this isn’t already handled so we can get back to discussing things such as Nasri’s form, Cesc’s return, Wilshire’s future, RVP & Chamakh partnernership, and winning the Premier League!

  9. The major problem is we have Liverpool & Blackburn away before 31st August so even if the goalkeeping / centrehalf issues are resolved we could already be playing catch up on the leaders by then.
    And to be fair …..Wenger’s had 2 years & 3 months (since Lehmann left) to sort out the goalkeeping situation but hasn’t so I’m afraid I can’t share the blind optimism that he will definitely sort it in the next 2 weeks !

  10. So there we go. 2 points dropped because of the lack of a proper goalkeeper. I have absolutely no doubt we would have won that game if it was still 0-0 after 10 minutes of 2nd half.
    How many more times must this happen before Wenger finally sorts this out ?
    Do we have to wait until Fat Sam gets his oafs to launch ball after ball at Almunia until he faint from fear ???
    Ridiculous. A scandalous dereliction of his duties by Wenger.

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