The Convincibles – Why this season is make-or-break for Arsenal
Every season is make-or-break for Arsenal.
At least that's what you'd think if you paid any attention to any of the millions of things that delivered opinion to the 21st Century Gooner: Boobtube, Arsetube, Twit-tube, Intertube… Hell – I reckon there are even carrier pigeons out there with “MAKE-OR-BREAK SEASON FOR ARSENAL!” scrolls attached to their scaly little sky-rat diabys.
At the beginning of each new season, there is a collective urge – after patting ourselves on the back for last season's Bronze medal – to pile pressure on the Manager, and whatever players remain at the club. The dizzying height of our recent (who'm I kidding!) glory days was as addictive as that blue meth in “Breaking Bad” – we liked being at the top of the food chain. It suited our self-image, and gave us the right to puff up and gloat and insult all those other scumbag clubs out there.
But The Seven Year Itch is upon us. And after losing our Captain and key players for two years on the trot, there is a sense that one more year of settling for Champions League qualification just won't crack it. Arsene Wenger himself, while squashing rumours of a new contract, stated as much. (Without actually stating it, as is his wont).
If the unbeaten 2003/4 Arsenal team was the “Invincibles” – then I believe that the current squad should be known as the “Convincibles”… Everyone, from the Manager downwards, has their work cut out for them, a point to prove, demons to face. We're up against opposition that is improving each year: nipping at our heels. Already this year, we have seen newly-promoted and perennial bottom-feeders give the Big Boys a run for their money. Last season saw the top 8 places being hotly contested. I reckon that this year may be even more intense…
We have a talented squad with reasonable depth and plenty of hunger. But each individual has a private war to wage, and if each is successful, then they might just be able to convince us that as a collective they have what it takes to deliver the goods (silverware) this year.
Andrey Arshavin: when he's engaged, he's a force to be reckoned with. On loan last season, and during Euro2012, he proved that he can still have an impact. He wasn't shipped out this transfer window: reports are that he wanted to stay at Arsenal.
The “Meerkat” has to fight the tendency to be lazy and unfocussed. He needs to convince us that the Ruthless Assassin who netted four goals against Liverpool in 2009 can replace the Chubby Funster who was booed when he came on as a sub against Man Utd earlier this year. This season will probably be his last chance.
Mikel Arteta: Was remarkable for Arsenal last season. I believe there's a stat out there somewhere that we didn't lose a game with him playing. I would be surprised if there isn't…
This season, The Fantastic Mr. Plastic is being expected to revert to the pivote role he played in his first couple of seasons at Everton. Thus far, he seems to have adapted pretty well – perhaps it suits a player in his twilight years. But the position demands a certain amount of physicality, and though his plastic jaw seems to mend pretty quickly, ankle ligament injuries tend to linger…
Santi Cazorla: Our diminutive matador seems to have the measure of the English bulls. But the EPL is notoriously fast and furious, and the night, as they say, is just a puppy. It takes stamina. (People say it's a marathon, not a sprint. I reckon it's more of a sprinted marathon…)
As the main playmaker (at least until Jack's back) he will need to be patient while those vital extra-sensory link-ups with the strikers are forming. And if he's moved out wide when JW10 returns, he'll have to find a way to slot in there. He comes with a great pedigree – comparisons to Fabregas are piling up, along with expectation.
Marouane Chamakh: In his defence, hasn't had much of a chance to prove/improve of late. Spent most of last year in the shadow of Das Golden Boot. But his licked lamb displays and 'holding striker' performances haven't won him many fans – and his confidence has evaporated away in a puff of hookah smoke.
Though I don't expect him to get much game-time, if Podolski and/or Giroud are injured, we may have to rely on him for goals. A scary thought.
Andre Santos: A gay with an undeservedly poor defensive record – our cuddly Brazilian is going to have to fight for his place against a buoyant Kieran Gibbs. Santos' attacking flair is obvious, but he will also have to provide solid defensive support for Gervinho and Podolski, and show the kind of discipline that was lacking last season.
Abou Diaby: The main hurdle for Diaby is to remain fit. And, if he can remain fit – he has to keep a cool head. No senseless and costly sending-offs. This is probably his last chance to justify Wenger's faith in, and admiration for him.
Johan Djourou: our 4th choice center back will have to be patient. It's a shitty job – being called on to deliver as a last resort. I'm sure for any player at this level, it must hurt to slide down the Ladder of Preference, hitting every rung on the way down. It's a double-edged sword: you don't get to play and regain your confidence – you're thrown in the deep end, usually in some dire circumstance.
I do believe Djourou is talented, and on his better days can easily compete with the other three. But the odds are stacked against him, and it will be strength of character that gets him through.
Lukas Fabianski: He has a hard job ahead of him displacing Szczesny for the top spot. And Mannone put in some decentish performances in his first two starts this season. A keeper needs to exude confidence, which Wojciech has in buckets. Fabianski lost his spot through a few careless performances, and unfortunately it is notoriously difficult for a goalie to reclaim his position once he's lost it.
If the defence improves under Bould, as it seems to have, it also makes the keeper look better. So “Flappyhandski” has his work cut out for him. Hopefully he'll get some good performances under his belt in the Cup ties.
Gervinho: 'Nice lampshade. No bulb.' (My) perception of him that I hope he nips in the bud real fast. Since AFCON, his performances on the pitch have been all foreplay, no orgasm. People rave about his quick feet and his take-on-ability. But far too often those quick feet run out of pitch, along with the ball. And his final touch, whether a shot or a cross, leaves a lot to be desired.
With some competition from Podolski, he's going to have to earn his way into the starting line-up, and the only way to do that is to deliver some convincing end-product. I hope he does, because he started out so well, and we need goals from as many places as we can get.
Kieran Gibbs: Another of those players who has a fitness hurdle to overcome. Gibbs has taken the gap temporarily vacated by our Chunky Speedster, and put in some solid performances. He doesn't seem short of confidence or commitment, and he can get a ball into the box when he wants to. And a decent shot at goal.
Let's not forget Gibbo's Spur-pipping, CL-guaranteeing block in the dying moments of last season, after coming off the bench. It's always good when a defensive player can be an impact player too.
Olivier Giroud: You'd have to be living under a rock to NOT know the pressure on our dreamy new striker. I talk more about it here, so I won't go into it again. Needless to say, I think we'd all be better off if we could have our collective memories erased of van Whatsisname.
Obviously “Once bitten, twice shy…” What team in the world would want TWO Chamakhs?
Laurent Koscielny: He was a revelation last season. He was like a French Jack Russell (un Jacques Rousseau?) in defence: focused, tenacious and cocky. His consistency earned himself a place in Les Bleus, but unfortunately he lost it in Les Red and Whites…
He may be a rung up from Djourou, but he seems to be a rung below the BFG. (At least at time of writing!) The battle for those two CB spots is a tight one, which is great for the club (and the supporters). But musical chairs for players at this level must be draining. Hopefully Koz can keep his dogged determination levels topped up.
Vito Mannone: I'd say our chinny #3 has redeemed himself somewhat for his panicky introduction to first team action last season. He's had two clean sheets in his last two games – and made some first class saves. But he seems to treat a high ball or lofted cross as if it were a hand grenade. (Not a very useful quality to have as a keeper).
I think our defence in the first three games has also protected him more, and to be fair to Szczesny, I think he would probably have kept clean sheets too. So Mannone will have to use this little taste of success to keep him hungry. He'll probably see more action this year in the Cup ties, if Flappy remains out of commission.
Per Mertesacker: Our stilty German has a reputation for being slow. Now I'm not sure if it's true: giraffes look slow, but they can walk faster than I can run. I do know that strikers can get around him quite easily, but his positional play and ball sense are superb. He makes a number of crucial interceptions each game, and every now and then he does a 'stabby santos' in the box – pokes out a 5-foot leg and saves the day. Which is good.
He just has to stay fit and focused. He's got Koz and Djourou more than ready to take his place if he slips up. (Which our Herr Klumsy been known to do…)
Lukas Podolski: His loyalty cannot be questioned. How many players would go down with their relegated club? Not many. He did with Cologne. But he's with us now, and seems really committed and eager, which I think is a very good thing. The one major criticism I hear of Podolski is his lack of long-term consistency. He may be explosive and effective in a tournament (Euro12 he was ok…) – but over the length of a league campaign, apparently his form wavers somewhat.
There a LOT of football to be played this season. Poldi is going to have to keep his eye on the ball. There's competition from Gervinho, Walcott and Chamakh, and possibly even Rosicky and Ramsey if they're played out wide. And who knows what formation Wenger will use when Wilshere is back?
Aaron Ramsey: He just has to kill a lot more celebrities this season. Simple as that. And then I'll forgive him for his pirouetting and slowing down the game. Yes, he's young. And yes, he's still recovering from an horrific injury. And yes, I'll wait a little longer. But Wilshere and Rosicky and Cazorla won't.
Ball's in your court, Rambo.
Tomas Rosicky: Consistency is key. That, and staying fit. There's new and brilliant competition in the form of Cazorla – where there was a bit of a void last campaign, so shining will be that much harder. But the Little (Bit Older) Maestro was a firecracker on the pitch last season – outperforming the younger players on every level. Hope he still has it in him to be hungry…
Bacary Sagna: We all know he's top of the class: there's little, if anything to fault him on. Except that niggling quote about Song – the prelude to an exit? I hope not. Wenger doesn't seem to think so: he thinks Bac's words were 'twisted', although of course that's not how it came out!
Going to have to make sure his ankles are well-protected – Sagna's a physical player in a physical league, so they're in the line of fire a LOT.
Sebastien Squillaci: Hooboy! Where do I begin? He belongs more in an “Invisibles” squad, alongside The likes of Park. It's been so long, and when it was, it was excruciating. That said, his trophy cabinet may be one of the best in the squad. But he is 32. And no one else seems to want him. So we're stuck with him. It's up to him to surprise us.
If he makes an appearance, that is.
Wojciech Szczesny: He had an awful Euro12, where his eager beaverness lost him a lot of followers. Confidence is a good thing. Over-confidence? Not so much. I have no doubt he'll prove to be a legend, if he can mature a little. He's driven and committed to Arsenal – wants to play here 'til he's 40. He's still young, but his 'impetuous youth' reputation must be squashed by focus and discipline, and some positional improvement.
Thomas Vermaelen: I think TV5 will be a good Captain for the club. He's a smart and talented 'take-no-prisoners' defender in the traditional Arsenal mould. He is prone to adventurous forays that have left the defence vulnerable – if he can curb the urge, or at least temper it, I think he'll have a great season.
The Bould impact is yet to be fully realized, but the way the pieces are stacking together thus far is promising. Clean sheets are just as important as goals. You can't lose if the opponents don't score. People forget that.
Theo Walcott: Consistently inconsistent, and noticeably fleeter in foot than in brain – apart from the contract renewal issues, that may or may not be influencing his selection – Theo is facing some serious competition in the shape of an Ox. (A misnomer if ever there was one!)
Speed is only useful in certain circumstances. What Theo needs to work on is his control and his decision making. I imagine that reality happens much slower for hummingbirds – perhaps it is the same for Walcott. If that is the case, he can afford to take a little more time on the ball, and produce the goods. When he's 'on', he's superb. When he's 'off', well, he'll stay off. He's got to fight for his right to play, and to justify his salary demands.
Craig Eastmond: Unfortunately, as a Gunner in exile, I haven't been able to follow his rise to first team status, so I'd be kidding myself (and you) if I attempted a précis assessment of his strengths and faults.
I'd imagine his challenge would be to prove himself in a saturated midfield. He has time on his side, and the fact that Wenger sees fit to include him in this squad is obviously a recognition of his potential and ability.
That's it for the official squad. (Some time soon I'll try and update this post with key U-21 players. For now, this'll have to do.)
It's up to the Class of 2012/13 to convince us that the club's philosophy can produce results.
Viva Les Convincibles!