By Joel Middlehurst
If you’re Sead Kolasinac or Alexandre Lacazette, you could be forgiven for thinking “what a crazy game that was!”. Do these new additions study their future surroundings before signing up, as we do? Going over and over the styles and patterns of play? Discussing and debating the characteristics and strengths of their suitors? Maybe they do. The “glass half empty part” of my character finds it easier to believe they focus more on status and remuneration. But if I’m wrong (I hope I am), then they won’t have been surprised by this past weekends “oh so Arsenal” whirlwind of a curtain raiser.
Arsenal 2017/2018 look every inch a team straight out of Arsene Wenger’s second half of his reign in North London. To make matters simple, sometimes excellent going forward, often dreadful at the back.
Harsh? Maybe. But undeniable fragilities exist throughout Wengers later years in charge.
Opening games at the Emirates these days are met with as much anxiety as excitement, Last season’s opener was a 4-3 defeat to Liverpool. Last night the score line was reversed, but the lopsided nature of a bonkers game was very familiar.
In their defense, the new additions acquitted themselves very well. Both look like players able to make a large imprint on the starting XI this season. Kolasinac in particular, looks able to supply attributes the Gunners have been without for a long time. Brutish physicality, coupled with surprising speed and a good touch. Hopefully we can witness his primal style stomping down the left-hand side rather than at CB, as we did this weekend. But I think Arsenal may have a real fan favorite in Kolasinac and an absolute steal on a Bosman, even more so in a world where Kyle Walker costs £50 million!
Lacazette looks like a real penalty box technician, able to do all things well and a few things excellently. Critically, finishing is his area of excellence. He doesn’t chase the ball all over the front third. He stays up top, mostly central. Moving, watching, waiting for the moment that he can receive the ball in a position where he’s able to release a shot on goal. He looks intelligent and efficient, and a goal in 90 seconds instantly removes an obstacle that can grow in size in a striker’s opening forays in this league.
Unfortunately, Arsenal without the ball, still look like they can concede goals to almost anyone. This weekends absentees are significant players, especially at CB. No doubt that will be considered, but the frailties look similar whoever has played in Arsenals unprotected defense for years.
Of course, there are still several weeks of potential transfer incomings to agonize over. Although Wenger always seems to have more faith than most in his “internal solutions”, I think he would be genuinely misguided to wake up on September 1 without a new CM. Preferably one with strong defensive tendencies. I think it’s wishful thinking for Arsenal fans to want 2 more signings, but a new, elite CB would be as exciting as it would be surprising. Strengthening these two positions in the first XI would give the Gunners a spine. Something they’ve been accused of not having for over a decade. There have been players on the market that fit this remit perfectly (Bakayoko, Matic, Bonucci), and many remain available (N’Zonzi, Van Dijk, Krychowiak, Manolas). These aren’t players moving out of Arsenals scope. They’re not moving to Real Madrid or Barca or Bayern Munich. They are within their reach, and in some cases moving to their direct rivals.
As good a squad options as Elneny and Coquelin are, a third top level CM would push Xhaka and Ramsey and allow rotation and cover with no quality drop off. If you must sacrifice one of either Elneny or Coquelin, so be it. The same can be said at CB. Koscielny, Mustafi, plus one more elite CB, allows Monreal/ Mertesacker to be experienced backup, and Rob Holding to pick and choose the best games for his development. As it was, Rob Holding was thrown in with 2 left backs this past weekend and made the errors a 20 year old is expected to make. He should be played WITH the best Arsenal have, not thrown in AS the best Arsenal have.
All in all, Arsenal look like the same beast as in the last few seasons unless they address the personnel issues in the next fortnight or so. The attack looks dangerous and varied. Sanchez will enjoy playing with Lacazette. Ozil is Ozil. Sometimes wonderful, but games pass him by too often. Iwobi and Welbeck add depth. Are there 2 better impact players off the bench than Giroud and Ramsey? Especially when chasing goals.
Cech is solid. Koscielny is one of the Premier League’s best. Xhaka is growing in stature, and instigates most of Arsenals attacks. The first-choice front 3 is up there with the best in the league.
But a new pair through the middle is what will make this side different from previous years. Add physicality and defensive nous and maybe Kolasinac and Lacazette will not become as used to Arsenal’s opening night performance as the rest of us have.
Ivan Gazidis promised change at the Emirates this summer. Let’s see on September 1st if he was serious.