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Is Arsene Wenger Right to Remain Confident Despite Puzzling Summer for Arsenal?

Few clubs divide opinion like Arsenal. This summer has done little to unite opinion, and a consensus on where the club are heading seems unlikely to be reached. Arsene Wenger remains sure of his project — is he right to be?

Wenger and Adebayor didn't always see eye-to-eye, and the striker's departure might be a positive for Arsenal

Wenger and Adebayor didn't always see eye-to-eye, and the striker's departure might be a positive for Arsenal

Few clubs, and perhaps even fewer managers, provoke such conflicting opinions as Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. To some, the club plays beautiful football but its playing staff lack the resilience and mental strength to win the game’s big prizes.
To others, their brand of football is just a bit of experience and a dose of good fortune away from winning every trophy they compete for.
As for the manager, even Arsenal’s fans sometimes seem divided about the direction Wenger is leading the club. Some are unquestioning in their faith to his vision. Others are less impressed—frustrated by his apparent refusal to pursue expensive signings and outright angered by the misguided faith he appears to have in his young charges.
Deliciously, it often seems the 59-year-old’s comments only serve to provide ammunition for both sides of the argument. This summer has proved no different.
“This team has improved a lot as compared to last season. They played 21 games unbeaten from November until the end of the season. We reached the semi-final of the Champions League, FA Cup,” Wenger has been quick to point out.
“We have a squad which is very ambitious. We have the basic quality, they have international quality and are under 23, so their best time is now.”
Certainly Arsenal impressed during periods of last season, and got better after an abysmal start that saw some shocking defeats (most notably, and embarrassingly, at home to Hull City). But while they may have managed all the feats Wenger mentions, they also finished a full 18 points adrift of eventual champions Manchester United.
For a club that believes it is a full member of the “Big Four” that is simply not good enough.
Wenger may believe this season is the one for his team, but the summer sale of two high-profile assets has led many to question whether he is correct in that assertion. After all, it is one he has seemingly made for the better part of four, ultimately trophy-less, seasons.
With the sale of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, Arsenal have undoubtedly lost two important players and diminished the squad’s strength. But on the other hand, the club seem to have profited in at least three important ways.
Firstly, and most obviously, the have added £40 million of much needed finance to their bank balance. Whether Arsene Wenger chooses to reinvest all or any of that remains unclear, but one way or another those funds will help the club’s future.
Secondly, Wenger has sold two players who would otherwise have probably missed a key period of the season to play in the African Cup of Nations. With Emmanuel Eboue also likely to be offloaded, Wenger is ensuring that his team is minimally disrupted (Alex Song should be involved) by the competition, unlike two seasons ago.
Thirdly, Wenger has managed to offload two players who threatened the dressing room harmony. Adebayor’s poor attitude was becoming increasingly apparent, and left a sour taste in the mouth whenever he made his not-so-subtle comments to the media.
Toure might have seemed the archetypal loyal servant, but his recent comments about his “six-month” relationship with Manchester City indicate that was not necessarily the case.
Now, however, those issues will be Mark Hughes’s—a privilege for which he has also played handsomely.
Wenger might lose some sleep over the loss of Adebayor, who was capable of moments of magic when the occasion most demanded it. But the Togolese international was also lackadaisical and disinterested when his team desperately needed more.
With the Robin van Persie leading the line, Nicklas Bendtner in the squad, and a litany of attacking midfielders to provide from midfield, Adebayor had become expendable.
As for Toure, the Ivorian was a defender of limited ability whose athleticism often made him look significantly better than he deserved. Statistically poor last season, he was nevertheless an integral part of an Arsenal defence which conceded 37 goals in the league last season (Manchester United, by contrast, conceded just 24).
Clearly, the 28-year-old should prove eminently replaceable.
Whether Thomas Vermaelen, the £10 million summer signing, will prove that replacement remains to be seen. But the Belgian brings with him a decent reputation from his time with Ajax and as long as he settles well, should prove a competent performer.
Nevertheless, Wenger might well be scouting for an established Premiership central defender to provide further steel to a sometimes soft Arsenal defence. The club have been strongly linked to Fulham’s Brede Hangeland, and at the right price the 6’5” Norwegian would be a great capture.
If St. Etienne’s Blaise Matuidi is also brought in to address the club’s glaring deficiency at defensive midfield, perhaps alongside former talisman Patrick Vieira, then it would not be unreasonable to suggest the club have had a successful summer.
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BARCELONA, SPAIN – AUGUST 02: Xabi Alonso of Liverpool smiles during his warm up reacting to shouts from fans regarding his possible move to Real Madrid during the pre-season friendly match between Espanyol and Liverpool at the Nuevo Estadio de Cornella-El Prat on August 2, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain. Espanyol won the match 3-0. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
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LONDON – SEPTEMBER 15: Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor of Arsenal celebrate a goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on September 15, 2007 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
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WIGAN, ENGLAND – APRIL 11: Mikael Silvestre of Arsenal is congratulated by Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor after scoring the second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal at The JJB Stadium on April 11, 2009 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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14 comments Last one added about 3 hours ago — Leave a Comment
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      dennis berry about 18 hours ago
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      Despite the continual speculation about the big four, I think it is Liverpool who have come off the worst this summer.
      You have done a very good job in pointing out casues for optimism for Arsenal fans, I personally despise Wenger but he is, after all, a football genius and I don’t doubt that he believes he is doing well and if that’s what he thinks he is in a better position than us to judge.
      I am also tiring of the remarks about United being ‘weak’ now that Ronaldo has left.
      Yes, they have lost the best player in the world. But that is surprisingly insignificant when you consider that the other big three have hardly strengthened. It could even be a good thing – Berbatov and Rooney are set to shine now that they can both concentrate on playing striker roles instead of the wide/playmaker positions they had to fill to accomodate Ronaldo, as is Owen, who has looked better than he has for years in the preseason. Valencia has looked good on the right wing in the glimpses I have seen in pre-season.
      Liverpool, on the other hand…
      Well, yes they’ve signed the best right back in the Premierleague, but they seem to have a squad of want away players. Torres and Gerrard are the two most committed (and… well, simply the best) players they have, but Alonso seems desparate to leave and I’m not certain about Mascherano but there seems to be a lot of speculation about him, too. This could really hamper their performances if they are forced to stay.
      But enoguh of my ranting, this was a good article.
      Despite the continual speculation about the big four, I think it is Liverpool who have come off the worst this summer. You have done a very good job in pointing out casues for optimism for Arsenal fans, I personally despise Wenger but he is, after all, a football genius and I don’t doubt that he believes he is doing well and if that’s what he thinks he is in a better position than us to judge. I am also tiring of the remarks about United being ‘weak’ now that Ronaldo has left. Yes, they have lost the best player in the world. But that is surprisingly insignificant when you consider that the other big three have hardly strengthened. It could even be a good thing – Berbatov and Rooney are set to shine now that they can both concentrate on playing striker roles instead of the wide/playmaker positions they had to fill to accomodate Ronaldo, as is Owen, who has looked better than he has for years in the preseason. Valencia has looked good on the right wing in the glimpses I have seen in pre-season. Liverpool, on the other hand… Well, yes they’ve signed the best right back in the Premierleague, but they seem to have a squad of want away players. Torres and Gerrard are the two most committed (and… well, simply the best) players they have, but Alonso seems desparate to leave and I’m not certain about Mascherano but there seems to be a lot of speculation about him, too. This could really hamper their performances if they are forced to stay. But enoguh of my ranting, this was a good article. Edit Comment Cancel
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      Ismail Ayub about 17 hours ago
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      Well… Attacking Wise the squad looks AMAZING, nothing else I can really say… We don’t really need anyone but I can understand why KJH would be good…
      Defensively… Well, The goal we conceded to Atletico madrid shows why we need a DMF and another CB… No1 tracked Pacheco…
      Well… Attacking Wise the squad looks AMAZING, nothing else I can really say… We don’t really need anyone but I can understand why KJH would be good… Defensively… Well, The goal we conceded to Atletico madrid shows why we need a DMF and another CB… No1 tracked Pacheco… Edit Comment Cancel
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      Jack Morton about 15 hours ago
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      I think apart from clichy you need a whole new defence..vermaelen is meant to be good so he fills the hole toure left but i wudnt want senderos back in there with him..Wenger needs to dip into the money he got form the africans before its to late..again
      I think apart from clichy you need a whole new defence..vermaelen is meant to be good so he fills the hole toure left but i wudnt want senderos back in there with him..Wenger needs to dip into the money he got form the africans before its to late..again Edit Comment Cancel
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      steve CindyCrosby about 13 hours ago
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      Jesus H Freaking Christ!!. Not a day goes by without someone writing an article about Arsenal on this site. Geez people enough is enough. If people buy their merchandizes as much as they write about them, the club would have enough money to buy any player they want. I’m an Arsenal fan people and i want to see them do well, but the constant articles about who/what/when/how about Wenger and the team is reaching ridiculous levels. At end of every season, only one team is satisfied and the journey begins all over again. Just enjoy the journey and stop with the constant second-guessing.
      Jesus H Freaking Christ!!. Not a day goes by without someone writing an article about Arsenal on this site. Geez people enough is enough. If people buy their merchandizes as much as they write about them, the club would have enough money to buy any player they want. I’m an Arsenal fan people and i want to see them do well, but the constant articles about who/what/when/how about Wenger and the team is reaching ridiculous levels. At end of every season, only one team is satisfied and the journey begins all over again. Just enjoy the journey and stop with the constant second-guessing. Edit Comment Cancel
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            Brian Son about 11 hours ago
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            Isn’t that a good thing? At least the community cares enough to be active and willing to throw up their thoughts and opinions. I’d rather have this than a community that sits back and sleeps during the off-season.
            Isn’t that a good thing? At least the community cares enough to be active and willing to throw up their thoughts and opinions. I’d rather have this than a community that sits back and sleeps during the off-season. Edit Comment Cancel
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            Mac Mohan about 10 hours ago
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            Ha ha this is a pre-season euphoria.It will dry up soon.
            Ha ha this is a pre-season euphoria.It will dry up soon. Edit Comment Cancel
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            tumang bokaba about 8 hours ago
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            try writting one on people (ie. yoursel) being fed up with Arsenal articles and see how far you go on that.
            try writting one on people (ie. yoursel) being fed up with Arsenal articles and see how far you go on that. Edit Comment Cancel
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            Mustapha Phag about 6 hours ago
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            Steve Cindy Crosby why dont you read something else if you are not happy with Arsenal fans debating whats going on.
            There are some good knitting or dressmaking websites on the net, and as a self proclaimed admirer of yourself you should be able to knit a nice tight scarf to wrap around your neck
            Steve Cindy Crosby why dont you read something else if you are not happy with Arsenal fans debating whats going on. There are some good knitting or dressmaking websites on the net, and as a self proclaimed admirer of yourself you should be able to knit a nice tight scarf to wrap around your neck Edit Comment Cancel
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            Alex Dimond about 4 hours ago
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            Crikey steve, you must be a barrel of laughs when you discuss football with your mates!
            Crikey steve, you must be a barrel of laughs when you discuss football with your mates! Edit Comment Cancel
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      Joe G about 12 hours ago
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      According to several good sources (not The Sun), Wenger has plans to buy some defensive reinforcements before the season begins. It’s entirely likely that he’s just waited because he wanted to see where he needed reinforcements most after preseason friendlies. Arsenal are still linked with Hangeland, and now Matuidi and Vieira as well. It seems like a safe bet that Arsenal will shore up the defense in the summer, and perhaps again in January if they don’t do enough now.
      According to several good sources (not The Sun), Wenger has plans to buy some defensive reinforcements before the season begins. It’s entirely likely that he’s just waited because he wanted to see where he needed reinforcements most after preseason friendlies. Arsenal are still linked with Hangeland, and now Matuidi and Vieira as well. It seems like a safe bet that Arsenal will shore up the defense in the summer, and perhaps again in January if they don’t do enough now. Edit Comment Cancel
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            Alex Dimond about 4 hours ago
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            Matuidi is a great player, although I’m a bit worried he is slightly undersized for the Premier League. Nevertheless, I think signing him alongside Vieira would be a great long term move for the club.
            Matuidi is a great player, although I’m a bit worried he is slightly undersized for the Premier League. Nevertheless, I think signing him alongside Vieira would be a great long term move for the club. Edit Comment Cancel
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      Maire Ofeire about 4 hours ago
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      I liked this article Alex – good balanced review.
      And unlike most of the rubbish I’ve read especially in the crap that is the tabloids, you highlighted the fact that Adebayor and Toure were causing trouble in the dressing room. I can’t find the article now but apparently Wenger has admitted that the African contingent were causing too much upset in the dressing room so he broke them up. I actually don’t think Eboue is a trouble maker off the pitch so he is been sold for football reasons.
      I do think we will see another experienced CB come in because Wenger is still trying to offload Senderos. I expect to see Matuidi as well and wouldn’t at all be adverse to see Vieira coming back.
      I’m not too pushed about another forward coming in as I think we can get goals but we certainly need to shore up big time at the back.
      I liked this article Alex – good balanced review. And unlike most of the rubbish I’ve read especially in the crap that is the tabloids, you highlighted the fact that Adebayor and Toure were causing trouble in the dressing room. I can’t find the article now but apparently Wenger has admitted that the African contingent were causing too much upset in the dressing room so he broke them up. I actually don’t think Eboue is a trouble maker off the pitch so he is been sold for football reasons. I do think we will see another experienced CB come in because Wenger is still trying to offload Senderos. I expect to see Matuidi as well and wouldn’t at all be adverse to see Vieira coming back. I’m not too pushed about another forward coming in as I think we can get goals but we certainly need to shore up big time at the back. Edit Comment Cancel
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            Alex Dimond about 2 hours ago
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            Thanks Maire. Totally agree, I think Wenger is still waiting to see who he manages to offload before he makes his own purchases. Knowing him, he already has all his targets identified, it’s just a case of waiting to see what he is working with before he starts negotiations.
            Arsenal clearly need a DM and CB. Matuidi would be a great buy (always admired him whenever I’ve watched St. Etienne) although his height does concern me slightly. He is a bit of Lass Diarra Mk II, and we know how that ended for Wenger…
            Hangeland seems the obvious CB buy, mainly because of his height and Prem experience, but Wenger rarely seems to make the obvious move. I wonder if he’ll move for another European (Santacroce?) or even hijack City’s Lescott pursuit instead?
            Thanks Maire. Totally agree, I think Wenger is still waiting to see who he manages to offload before he makes his own purchases. Knowing him, he already has all his targets identified, it’s just a case of waiting to see what he is working with before he starts negotiations. Arsenal clearly need a DM and CB. Matuidi would be a great buy (always admired him whenever I’ve watched St. Etienne) although his height does concern me slightly. He is a bit of Lass Diarra Mk II, and we know how that ended for Wenger… Hangeland seems the obvious CB buy, mainly because of his height and Prem experience, but Wenger rarely seems to make the obvious move. I wonder if he’ll move for another European (Santacroce?) or even hijack City’s Lescott pursuit instead? Edit Comment Cancel
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                  Maire Ofeire about 2 hours ago
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                  I honestly though Matuidi would be signed by now, thought it was a done deal considering the link with Comolli.
                  I don’t think Arsenal would hijack Lescott’s move, one because we can’t compete money wise with City and secondly it seems that Everton don’t want to lose Lescott and its not really Wenger’s style to overly unsettle players.
                  I think this week could see a lot of movement at Arsenal because Wenger will want to get the squad altogether for the game against Valencia.
                  I honestly though Matuidi would be signed by now, thought it was a done deal considering the link with Comolli. I don’t think Arsenal would hijack Lescott’s move, one because we can’t compete money wise with City and secondly it seems that Everton don’t want to lose Lescott and its not really Wenger’s style to overly unsettle players. I think this week could see a lot of movement at Arsenal because Wenger will want to get the squad altogether for the game against Valencia. Edit Comment Cancel
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Written on August 02, 2009
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Few clubs, and perhaps even fewer managers, provoke such conflicting opinions as Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. To some, the club plays beautiful football but its playing staff lack the resilience and mental strength to win the game’s big prizes. To others, their brand of football is just a bit of experience and a dose of good fortune away from winning every trophy they compete for.

As for the manager, even Arsenal’s fans sometimes seem divided about the direction Wenger is leading the club. Some are unquestioning in their faith to his vision. Others are less impressed — frustrated by his apparent refusal to pursue expensive signings and outright angered by the misguided faith he appears to have in his young charges.

Deliciously, it often seems the 59-year-old’s comments only serve to provide ammunition for both sides of the argument. This summer has proved no different.

“This team has improved a lot as compared to last season. They played 21 games unbeaten from November until the end of the season. We reached the semi-final of the Champions League, FA Cup,” Wenger has been quick to point out. “We have a squad which is very ambitious. We have the basic quality, they have international quality and are under 23, so their best time is now.”

Certainly Arsenal impressed during periods of last season, and got better after an abysmal start that saw some shocking defeats (most notably, and embarrassingly, at home to Hull City). But while they may have managed all the feats Wenger mentions, they also finished a full 18 points adrift of eventual champions Manchester United.

For a club that believes it is a full member of the “Big Four” that is simply not good enough.

Wenger may believe this season is the one for his team, but the summer sale of two high-profile assets has led many to question whether he is correct in that assertion. After all, it is one he has seemingly made for the better part of four, ultimately trophy-less, seasons. 

With the sale of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, Arsenal have undoubtedly lost two important players and diminished the squad’s strength. But on the other hand, the club seem to have profited in at least three important ways.

Firstly, and most obviously, the have added £40 million of much needed finance to their bank balance. Whether Arsene Wenger chooses to reinvest all or any of that remains unclear, but one way or another those funds will help the club’s future.

Secondly, Wenger has sold two players who would otherwise have probably missed a key period of the season to play in the African Cup of Nations. With Emmanuel Eboue also likely to be offloaded, Wenger is ensuring that his team is minimally disrupted (Alex Song should be involved) by the competition, unlike two seasons ago.

Thirdly, Wenger has managed to offload two players who threatened the dressing room harmony. Adebayor’s poor attitude was becoming increasingly apparent, and left a sour taste in the mouth whenever he made his not-so-subtle comments to the media.

Toure might have seemed the archetypal loyal servant, but his recent comments about his “six-month” relationship with Manchester City indicate that was not necessarily the case.

Now, however, those issues will be Mark Hughes’s — a privilege for which he has also played handsomely.

Wenger might lose some sleep over the loss of Adebayor, who was capable of moments of magic when the occasion most demanded it. But the Togolese international was also lackadaisical and disinterested when his team desperately needed more.

With the Robin van Persie leading the line, Nicklas Bendtner in the squad, and a litany of attacking midfielders to provide from midfield, Adebayor had become expendable.

As for Toure, the Ivorian was a defender of limited ability whose athleticism often made him look significantly better than he deserved. Statistically poor last season, he was nevertheless an integral part of an Arsenal defence which conceded 37 goals in the league last season (Manchester United, by contrast, conceded just 24).

Clearly, the 28-year-old should prove eminently replaceable.

Whether Thomas Vermaelen, the £10 million summer signing, will prove that replacement remains to be seen. But the Belgian brings with him a decent reputation from his time with Ajax and as long as he settles well, should prove a competent performer.

Nevertheless, Wenger might well be scouting for an established Premiership central defender to provide further steel to a sometimes soft Arsenal defence. The club have been strongly linked to Fulham’s Brede Hangeland, and at the right price the 6’5” Norwegian would be a great capture.

If St. Etienne’s Blaise Matuidi is also brought in to address the club’s glaring deficiency at defensive midfield, perhaps alongside former talisman Patrick Vieira, then it would not be unreasonable to suggest the club have had a successful summer.

 

St. Etienne's Blaise Matuidi would be a good, if slightly surprising signing

St. Etienne's Blaise Matuidi would be a good, if slightly surprising signing

 

On the other hand, Arsene Wenger is notoriously reticent to make too many big signings. Such a stance — especially when high-profile players are sold so willingly — has disappointed many and only served to overshadow the good news of returning players this summer.

But the Frenchman is unrelenting in his stance:

“We have developed a style and culture of play that everybody accepts, so I feel confident and very strong. Our focus should not be who can help us from outside, but who can help us from inside.”

For example, the return to full fitness of both Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo will feel like two new signings for the Gunners. The Czech midfielder has fantastic technical ability, and as long as his return continues in the same promising vein it has throughout preseason, he should be able to slot in as a perfect replacement for the injured Samir Nasri.

Eduardo, meanwhile, is one of the most naturally clinical finishers in the game today. If the Croatian can get a decent run of games, he has the ability to more than replace Adebayor’s goalscoring contribution. Even in the Emirates Cup, the 26-year-old has shown great composure in front of goal.

However, the biggest cause for optimism for the North London club could just be the first full campaign of their expensive January signing, Andrei Arshavin. Having tracked the Russian for many months, the club finally got their man in an eleventh hour deal.

The 28-year-old showed fleeting glimpses of his ability in the second half of last season (including a memorable four goals at Anfield against Liverpool) and fans will no doubt be excited to see what the mercurial midfielder can conjure up this season.

Available for the club’s European campaign as well (last season he was cup-tied), the diminutive Russian international will have a massive role to play in the club’s season.

“He now knows how English football works,” Wenger said after Arshavin lead Arsenal to a 2-1 victory against Atletico Madrid in the Emirates Cup. ‘He knows as well he is part of the team from the start, and the team know how important and how big an impact he can have on the results.

“Arshavin has what you cannot give to a player — he understands when there is an opportunity in the final third, and is certainly dangerous.”

With the likes of Arshavin, Fabregas, Rosicky and Walcott supporting Van Persie and Eduardo, Arsenal should once more prove a formidable attacking threat.

With youngsters like Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and the returning Armand Traore (who have all been impressive in preseason) also keen to be involved on a regular basis, the first-team squad could find itself competently reinforced from within.

It might not necessarily all be doom and gloom for Arsenal, then, even if the cause for optimism is based on a lot of “shoulds”, “woulds”, and “ifs.”

Yes, the squad might have been weakened during the summer — but so have the majority of the other Big Four sides. Depending on which side of the Wenger debate they fall, fans at the Emirates might well be feeling more confident about their summer activity than fans at either Anfield (especially if they lose Xabi Alonso) or Manchester United.

The Gunners may have lost some quality to their squad, but they have made improvements in team cohesion. Their rivals appear to have dropped back in both departments.

Nevertheless, it must be remembered that Arsenal are coming from a long way adrift of their rivals after last season’s campaign. And with tough games facing the club from the first whistle, Wenger knows that snap judgements of him and his young charges will be immediate.

“We have Man United, Everton and Man City away in the first four games,” he said. “The team is conscious of a difficult start, but very determined to do well.”

With so much speculation surrounding the club, and even fans divided by what has gone on during the summer break, only the start of the season in two weeks will begin to reveal any real answers about the club’s true health.

 

This article also appeared on Fox Sports.

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August 3, 2009 - Posted by | Sport, World Football | ,

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