Thanks to Southampton having the audacity, cheek and sheer nerve to progress all the way to a cup final that they knew was on the same weekend as their game with Arsenal, the Gunners, and ergo, all of us fans, now have a week without a game to watch.
I mean, really!
In all seriousness though, after the pasting that Bayern handed out last week, and the pasties that Sutton United handed out in the following fixture, a break from all the hassle that football seems to bring our way of late doesn’t sound like too bad an idea.
Then the news about Santi Cazorla missing the rest of the season through injury broke (and his second operation). On the face of it, it shouldn’t be that surprising to hear, seeing that he couldn’t even wear a shoe whilst on a night out only a couple of weeks ago. But the report says that he should be fit be fit for the start of next season, and that’s a good thing……………except it isn’t.
Last summer saw Arsenal in a pretty comfortable position to build upon.
They had finished second in the league, and for the first time in a decade were able to spend large sums of money on multiple players to bolster the squad, crucially without having to sell a star player beforehand to raise that said money. A centre-back was needed, and acquired. A midfielder who could, in theory, both pass and tackle was needed, and acquired. A back-up striker was needed, and acquired. On paper, Arsenal were as well equipped to tackle a season as they have been since moving into the Emirates Stadium.
But with Cazorla now unavailable until August, it raises the question of how he’ll fit into Arsenal’s plans moving forward. That in turn raises the question of what Arsenal’s plans should be during the summer, and of course, who will be drawing up those plans.
All of these questions are ones that have no easy answers, and this is a big problem.
First up, Cazorla himself.
He has been Arsenal’s best centre-midfielder ever since being forced to play there as cover for Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. He was so good, he made Francis Coquelin look competent.
But he’s a 32-year old who’s relied on a burst of acceleration to evade bigger players for a decade, and he’s coming off a serious Achilles injury. His best-case scenario is that he’s back to 90% of his old self by Christmas. Tops.
Can Arsenal afford to wait that long, and give him the playing time he needs to get back to that level? No.
Why can’t they wait?
Six reasons; Granit Xhaka, Mohammed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Francis Coquelin.
At some stage, Arsenal are going to have to pick two of those and build their midfield with that pair in mind. Constant chopping and changing will only hurt the team, just as how it’s hurt Arsenal this season.
Which two to pick?
All six of them have significant flaws in their game, so none of them warrant automatic selection.
Personally, I think Ramsey is the best player out of all of them, but his inability to stay fit for more than two months at a time is now more than just a foible. Wilshere has started 21 consecutive games for Bournemouth (Yay!) and has two assists all season (Oh) Two. And no goals. Welp.
Xhaka is a talent and a half, but picks up cards like Hugh Jackman at a Valentine’s party. The Ox looks like he could develop into a really good centre-midfielder, but we knew that after ‘that’ Milan game FIVE YEARS AGO. Elneny hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do apart from be a willing runner, and Coquelin……………….yeah. No.
This is all without throwing Santi’s name into that hat, or Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ for that matter. If this was all that Arsenal had to worry about, then it’d be ok.
But is isn’t.
- Who is the best goalkeeper that is employed by Arsenal as of this precise moment? Can you say for certain that the answer to this question will be the same in three months, even if they all stayed injury-free? The fact that you could argue that the answer to both of these is Wojciech Szczesny is not good, not because he hasn’t performed well for Roma, but because keeping him would require selling both Petr Cech and David Ospina, as neither will stay to be a number 2.
- I’m not saying Arsenal’s best back-up centreback isn’t any good, but the gap in talent between Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny is the same as the gap between Donald Trump’s approval rating and Donald Trump’s self-evaluation of the job he’s doing in The White House. Rob Holding is the future, but not yet. Also, a right-back who can actually defend when Bellerin isn’t available would be nice. If he could play left-back too, even nicer.
- I’m 811 words into a column detailing the issues that Arsenal face this summer, and not one of them was ‘Mesut’, ‘Özil’, ‘Alexis’, ‘Sanchez’ or ‘contract’. THIS IS NOT GOOD.
Wenger, in or out?
All of the above would be palatable to deal with if we knew that the manager that was in place had long-term plans in place. But as long as Arsene Wenger continues to mull over his own future, it is impossible to form a strategy to deal with any of these problems, let alone all of them.
If he does decide to stay on, then we’ll likely see an evolution of the same plan that he has implemented ever since buying Özil in 2013, a plan that, at least in the humble opinion of this lowly blogger, isn’t working.
If he leaves, then a new manager is going to have to figure out all of the above, and pretty quickly too.
No matter what happens between now and the summer, Arsenal will be one of the best ten jobs in football. Premium facilities, location, financial capability, everything that you would want a club to have in order to challenge for silverware is in place at Arsenal. But boy, it’s going to be a lot harder than it looks.