Arsenal's mid-term report card: Where do they stand based on early season predictions?
Now that we have arrived at the January transfer window, it would be a good time to take a look, not just at how well Arsenal have performed, but also how well my early season predictions have played out. I thought it may be kind of neat to pluck out relevant quotes from my previous columns (in italics) and judge Arsenal’s form against it.
“If you put together all the additions and subtractions, at least the ones on the current first team roster, there would be no dispute that the quality has gone up. Of course, arguments would break out as soon as one asked the question, ‘By how much?’”
How have Arsenal’s summer signings fared?
I can’t say enough about Alexis Sanchez. He is the poor man’s version of Luis Suarez, minus the fangs. Watching Suarez, what came across was an intense desire to possess the ball and create magic with it. If the opponents had the ball, Suarez would chase them down all game long. When it came to shooting, he appreciated the mantra “put it in the frame”. You see exactly the same qualities in Alexis. If every Gunner were as dogged on defence, maybe we wouldn’t need that midfield presence. Naaah!
Calum Chambers was a revelation in his versatility – central defence, right wing and lately as a holding midfielder. If he was exposed by Monteiro in the Swansea game, I place the blame on Wenger for not realigning to provide cover. You are always going to run into a player who is quicker or craftier and it is the manager who must stop the bleeding.
Mathieu Debuchy has been excellent, albeit falling to the Gunner fragility curse. He even did well in his stints in central defence. He is definitely equal to Bacary Sagna.
David Ospina – the invisible man. I finally got a glimpse of him in the FA Cup against Hull City. His qualities are panning out – excellent shot stopper, as seen in the World Cup. Perhaps he is coming into his own just in time, given Wojciech Szczesny’s recent blunders on and off the field.
Danny Wellbeck – “Wellbeck is another talented player, but doesn’t come with that much needed chance conversion stat to have Gunners fans dancing in the street”. This is exactly how Welbeck has turned out – excellent runs, but his shots are most often off target. To quote Maxwell Smart: “Missed it by that much”. If only he could look at the first Galatasaray game, where all his shots were on target.
On Arsenal’s defence and attack
“Watching the Gunners lining up in a “zone” defence on set pieces, it really looks like anyone or his grandmother would be a good bet to score”.
Do I really need to say anything on this one? Well, maybe one thing – the first head we should be screaming for is not Wenger’s, but Steve Bould’s.
“If the transfer market closed as I write this, I think the realistic expectation for the Gunners would be fifth spot (Manchester United replacing us in the top 4 mix), another 2nd round or maybe quarter-final appearance in the Champions League and potentially a minor trinket like the Community Shield or the League Cup.”
This was my prediction before the summer transfer window closed. Manchester United are in a solid third place, though I was wrong about Liverpool – I attribute that to the prolonged loss of Daniel Sturridge. The Gunners are in sixth spot.
“The main complaint about Arsenal’s frontline isn’t about the quality of the players, rather it is about having someone who can put the ball in the back of the net with boring regularity”.
Alexis has come close to putting that to rest, but he really needs some support from the others. We saw Theo Walcott go wide from two yards out against Hull; Campbell did get it in the frame, but that was while failing to beat the keeper one-on-one; Olivier Giroud showed promise since his return, till he lost his cool and disappeared again with a red.
“We have Diaby”; “We have Chambers”
This was Wenger’s infamous cry when asked about the failure to acquire a midfield enforcer – past and most recent. ‘Nuff said.
“Wilshere letting the ball get a bit ahead of him and then lunging to stave off a challenge, sometimes lucky enough to get a whistle, but always risking unnecessary injury”.
If anyone saw the game in which Jack Wilshere picked up the injury that is still keeping him out, read the above and weep.
Where can the Gunners finish this season?
“If the Gunners can somehow get to the end of the year in sixth spot and plug the midfield and defence in the transfer window, they will make it to a Champions League spot. If the gap is less than 10 points, they could go as high as second. They should sneak into the second round of the Champions League, behind Dortmund in their group. With January acquisitions, they could make it as far as the semi-finals. How is that for a bold prediction?”
This was my prediction immediately after the summer transfer window closed. Let us take this one in the reverse order. We did sneak into the second round of the Champions League, right behind Dortmund. Even without January acquisitions, we might get past Monaco. With even one of the two big holes (central defence, midfield enforcer) filled, that would be almost certain.
Even with our current frailties, we have given clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich a run for their money, only losing due to defensive giveaways at home. If we really plugged both holes, who says we couldn’t win one more round?
We are in sixth spot in the EPL. However, the gap is more than 10 points to the top two. To be more specific, we are 13 points behind the top two and oh, by the way, we are 15 points clear of the relegation zone! The big question remaining is “Can we make it to a Champions League spot?” Alas, the answer is a clear “No” without plugging both defensive holes, a confident “Yes” if we do and a somewhat murky “Maybe” if we only plug one.
United will spend to pick up the help they need to bolster their defense. That leaves the last spot up for grabs, pitting us against Spurs, a Sturridge-resurrected Liverpool and a potentially resilient Southampton or West Ham. The biggest fly in our ointment is a certain Harry Kane, who has suddenly provided our North London rivals with a back bone, while we are still searching for ours.