Howdy there and happy Friday to you. It’s the end of a working week for some and a holiday week for others, but we’re still waiting on a signing that might or might not happy and whom I’m pledging not to talk about until it does, even though I kind of already have in this opening paragraph, albeit indirectly.
So let’s move swiftly on, perhaps veering towards another supposed interested target in which the Arsenal Twitterverse has already set it’s sights on imploding because of, which is Schneiderlin to Man United. Firstly and foremostly, we don’t even know if Arsenal were truly interested in the player. If they were and have baulked at the price, then perhaps we should let sleeping dogs lie. Remember when Madrid tried bending Arsenal over backwards for a massive loan deal fee for Nuri Sahin, only for Arsenal to turn away and Liverpool to snap up? Sahin turned out to be one of those that didn’t quite work out and the upshot was a single year in the Prem before moving back to Germany. Sometimes things don’t work out and after back-to-back FA Cups and a team that is showing real signs of being competitive next season, I’m willing to place a foot firmly back in the ‘Arsene knows what he’s doing here folks’ camp. It’s only one foot though, mind.
This talk of Schnedierlin and how we’ve ‘missed out’ gets you to thinking though. What do we actually need to win the league? Is it a new ‘keeper, another centre half, another defensive midfielder, a striker and perhaps another winger? Or is that just Champ Man speak? Is that the budding gamer in you telling you that new players on the horizon is what we need? Whenever I start to get a little bit worried that we’re not as strong as other clubs who seem to be mobilising their squads quicker than we do, I only have to think back over the last two seasons to realise that sometimes winning the league is more about everything else other than transfers. The Spuds tried a bit of Football Manager style approach to the 2013/14 season and spent £100million on new players. Didn’t work out. The Scousers had a go last season too. Didn’t work out. So what do we need to win the Premier League?
Not a wealth of new signings. In fact I’ve said a few times that we need just one or two and we’re all set. But we do need to do things differently to last season to win the league and make good on the 13 point difference on Chelski.
We need to keep a greater number of players match-fit.
When Carl Jenkinson came into the Arsenal team two and a bit seasons ago, he managed a sustained period of games and so was given the opportunity to show that he’s a good footballer. Last season he proved that with game time he can improve. Last season Nacho Monreal found himself with a series of games – albeit some in central defence but it still did his confidence good – in which he was able to get the rhythm, feel and flow of the league and so the comments from some sections of the fan base about how he wasn’t good enough the season before, soon subsided and he will in all probability start the season as first choice number one. But Unless Gibbs is given more game time, unless he’s afforded an opportunity to get a run in the team, let’s not expect him to challenge Nacho for the starting jersey. That’s why I’m a fan of playing the best players for a specific type of game. If we’re playing a pacey wide man, like Raheem Sterling, for example, wouldn’t you feel more confident if a match-fit Gibbs could get as close to matching him on the left? I know I would.
It’s the same across the park. We need to make sure that in each position the manager needs to try different types of player and rotate his team based on not only their own attributes, but also on ensuring that we counter any of the oppositions strengths and in defence we target their weaknesses. Should we place Giroud up top against the likes of Terry and Cahill? Or should we try to neutralise them by playing a trio of pacey players who will make runs in behind?
Start the season better
It’s a fairly obvious statement to make, but we simply must be better in the opening couple of months. The excessive number of draws we had at the start of the season is what cost us last year. We laboured in games against Everton, Leicester, the Spuds and Hull and it stuttered our momentum. Never underestimate the value of momentum in football. It was the 2007/8 season in which we got so close to the title and that season success was a snowball effect in which we started brilliantly. In 2013/14 we had an initial blip at home to Villa, but shoddy refereeing was more to blame there than anything else, the result of our momentum after that game meant we led the league right up until March. If we can win at least six of our first eight games, I’d fancy that we stand a very good chance of building momentum, confidence and belief that we can challenge for the title.
Be better placed to deal with injuries
Again, it sounds obvious, but it is what helps teams win leagues if they stay fit. In 2007/8 we were derailed by the Eduardo leg break. In 2013/14 it was our reliance on a core of players and when one or two of those players broke down due to over use in February and March, we got in to a run of games in which we fell apart. You can’t legislate for all injuries, but you can mitigate some, by not overplaying players and therefore reducing their probability of injury. That, in turn, leads to more players playing more game time and so when called upon as I mention in my first point above, they will perform better for the team as a whole.
I think we’re excellently placed to achieve all of the above with success given our team. Think about your first team line up for that West Ham game. Got it? Now start to think about an alternative eleven that could play. Got that? Now think of some of the spares that you have left over. For me I have Ospina, Jenkinson (although I know he’ll go out on loan) Flamini, Rosicky, Podolski (again, most likely to leave but for now is still an Arsenal player), Gnabry – showed great promise before injury in 2013/14, Bielik (haven’t seen him play but the signs seem promising by all accounts), Campbell (again, hasn’t really done it yet but is still a full international) and Zelalem. Those names are the ‘third squad’ effectively. When you can boast the kind of talent we have to name two full squads and still have some decent players waiting for their chance, it tells me that your opportunity for success should be quite high. The challenge will be to keep the balance of the squad and keep all of the players fresh enough so they can play well when called upon.
Would I like us to sign a ball winning central defensive midfielder? Sure. Will I lose sleep over no signing in that position or up top? No way.