The season starts now.
I mean, obviously that’s not strictly correct, since clearly it actually started the best part of a fortnight ago, but to all intents and purposes we might as well hit the reset button, both from a playing and from a transfers perspective.
This weekend represents the first match we simply have to win, after the blips against Liverpool and Leicester. I wouldn’t exactly have signed on the dotted line in advance for such results, but I also wouldn’t have been completely losing my kittens even if we’d lost both our opening two games.
After all, Leicester are – whatever you think of their chances this year – the defending champions who were just seeded in Pot 1 of the Champions League draw. And Liverpool have shown many a time their ability to be world beaters one minute and chokers the next; it just so happens that they had one of their worldie performances against us, at the very least in the finishing department.
That’s not to excuse the results, clearly we should aspire to more than a point from two games, and resting the likes of Koscielny, Giroud and Ozil may potentially have cost us up to five points. However, there would have been no guarantee of a win even with all three on the pitch – they all played that game in February 2014 when we were 4-0 down in double time.
Moreover, we have significantly tougher games in November, and packed in much closer together too, so a decision to play in one game now could cause an injury which would see them miss a vastly larger number of matches later in the season.
No, for all the players’ platitudes about “one game at a time,” I’ve always felt that it’s critical to look at the season in totality, rather than focussing solely on the next match. There are just as many points on offer in May as there are in August, and it doesn’t matter how well you do in the first few weeks, or even months, if you don’t plan for the full 38 games. You start to pick up injuries, players start to get fatigued, and you simply can’t drag yourselves over the line. Just ask Spurs.
It would be far better, and ‘better’ is of course relative here, to lose two games but keep three of our most important players fit for longer, than to win both these games but lose our key men to fatigue related injuries later on this year.
Then there’s our summer transfer activity. Obviously in an ideal world we’d have reached this point quite a bit before August 14th, but it does finally sound like the reported double dip into Arsene’s back pocket will coincide with this weekend’s visit to Watford.
The defensive delay I understand. We’ve already signed one decent centre back – certainly Holding has quietly impressed to date – and we didn’t need to be in the market for another until the combined injuries to Mertesacker and Gabriel. It might be a signing driven by urgency, but hopefully it’s one that will see one German replace another in our go forward squad.
On the other hand we’ve needed a striker all summer, so it’s somewhat difficult to understand why it’s taken us this long to table a realistic bid for a striker we might actually sign. Arsene’s comments in the pre-Watford press conference perhaps shed a little light on this, reflecting on how he expected the transfer market to be easier than ever yet the exact opposite was true.
No, the failure to sign a forward to date is bordering on criminal, but there are at least some shades of grey here. If Chelsea are struggling to sign the players they want with their budget, then what hope does a self-sustaining club have?
Moreover, if you plan out how to spend your budget at the start of the summer, and then you’re quoted an inflated price for one player which would prevent you signing your other targets, what are you supposed to do? Some clubs will sign mediocre alternatives, others will keep looking to find some value in a crazy market. I’m all for blowing £100m on a striker, but not at the expense of other signings. We need a striker, but we also needed Xhaka and Holding.
You do have to contemplate Jose Mourinho’s luck, finding yet another moneybags club to work for, who can indulge his budget busting tactics and sign multiple players at obscenely inflated prices. And that’s on the back of some pretty unsuccessful big money signings in preceding years too – Di Maria anyone?
So yes, our indecision on our signings has been frustrating to say the least, but we may find that waiting those extra few weeks to identify the right combination of players will be worth the wait.
And so we find ourselves facing Watford, and only one result will do – however ugly – before our players are farmed out all over the world again.
There’s something more than a little wrong when Olivier Giroud will not start a game for the club that pays his salary before going off to be run back into the ground by the same national team that got him so fatigued in the first place. I’m sure France are in desperate need of his qualities, to see them through a friendly and a qualifier against Belarus – a team ranked 70th in the world (nearly 20 places below the mighty Scotland!) who didn’t qualify for the newly expanded European Championships and who still field a certain Alex Hleb at the grand old age of 35.
What. A. Joke.
Anyway, any team with title aspirations should be able to beat the likes of Watford even without three of their best players, so there can be no excuses on Saturday. We have had two false starts already, and there simply cannot be a third.
Let’s hope the excitement generated in recent days by our off field activity can be matched by that of our on field exploits.