Will Arsenal be a force the coming Barclays Premier League season?
As the Cesc Fabregas transfer saga enters August, Arsenal kicked-off the traditional Emirates Cup on Saturday with a wasteful 1-1 draw with Italian giants AC Milan on a sunny Emirates stadium turf. The Emirates Cup for the past few years has proved to be a tough pre-season commitment for the Gunners as Arsene Wenger gets his first real chance to assess the club’s new signings and established stars after the summer hibernation.
The North London club’s world cup stars are still to report at London Colney from their respective extended holidays but the Emirates faithful turned up in fine numbers on Saturday to welcome new arrivals Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny at N5. Both the new signings from French football were given starting berths by the wily old Arsene Wenger and to be fair the two players looked good on their home debuts against experienced campaigners in the form of AC Milan. The northern Italians are also in a transition state with new coach Masimiliano Allegri at the helm but both sides dished out an entertaining affair following the two-day tournament’s opener between Celtic and Olympique Lyonnais.
One has to admit that the Cesc Fabregas situation has dragged on far too long with even Arsene Wenger coming out and publicly admitting that the Gunners are in no position to negotiate with Barcelona and it is upto the Arsenal captain to ‘clear the air’ over the issue. Let’s hope, as Arsenal fans, that Fabregas do remain in the coming season and then the attention turns to Arsenal’s chances in the coming season that kicks off in two weeks’ time. The Gunners will again be a force on the attacking front and undoubtedly teams would fear facing Arsene Wenger’s men. Mr. Wenger has made the club’s defensive game his priority and he certainly looks to improve on the 41 goals conceded last season keeping the attacking mindset firmly intact. The arrival of Laurent Koscielny from Lorient FC is a step towards the right direction but as always with Arsene Wenger’s signings there is an air of uncertainty as to how these players would adjust to the grueling physical side of the Barclays Premier League.
William Gallas, Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre have all departed and in fairness it is upto the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna and Johan Djorou to take the burden of maintaining Arsenal’s defensive shape this season and one would not be surprised if another defender arrives at North London just before the transfer window closes on August 31. This also could be the season of fresh faces in Arsenal line up as they make the next level up from the reserves. Nineteen year old Norwegian defender Havard Nordtveit and eighteen year old midfield prospect Jack Wilshere could be given extended first team appearances for the upcoming season.
Established stars like Robin Van Persie, Andrei Arshavin, Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott, Thomas Rosicky, Niclas Bendtner and ofcourse Cesc Fabregas would form the base on which the club can improve on last season’s finish. Moroccan international Marouane Chamakh is a great prospect if one has to go by his pre season performances. The former Bordeaux man looks certainly a player in the mould of the famous Arsenal psyche. On Saturday he moved well down the middle, adjusted to various positions and certainly matched with Andrei Arshavin to torment the Milan back four. The Arsenal fans certainly looked to have been impressed by Chamakh’s display and ofcourse his expert finish after thirty six minutes has also the makings of a future Arsenal hero.
Arsene Wenger still trusts his young faces and even after five trophy less seasons the legendary French manager goes by his instincts of putting the best young players of the planet to the ultimate test of facing the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool and still challenge for the title come the end of the season. That is why it is so important to keep Cesc Fabregas at the club. The Catalan and Spanish international has seen it all at this club from the age of 15 and he is the right and the captain that can guide youngsters such as Wilshere, Nordtveit, Carlos Vela, Jay-Emmanuel Thomas, Kieran Gibbs and Emmanuel Frimpong to stardom.
The real weakness that this club would face when they kick start the season against Liverpool at Anfield on August 15 is the goalkeeper. All the four goalkeepers, to be fair, are not of real international class. Manuel Almunia would again be the first choice if Arsene Wenger fails to bring in a reinforcement before August 31. Almunia was certainly at fault for many of the important goals that the Gunners conceded last season and the back ups Lukasz Fabianski, Vito Mannone and Wojciech Szczesny are certainly not at the levels of Petr Cech or Pepe Reina. Lots of goalkeepers are being linked to a move to the Emirates stadium with Mark Schwarzer leading the pack but as always the Arsenal manager is keeping his cards very close to his chest.
Overall Arsenal’s pre-season has gone to plans with big wins over lowly outfits Barnet, Sturm Graz and SC Neusiedl and the Gunners would blame their pre-season rustiness for the 1-1 draw against Milan that could easily have gone the home side’s way. Whatever may be the starting line up at Anfield two weeks from now or whoever departs or arrives before the transfer window closes, Arsenal fans would again get a taste of the Gunners’ attacking flair and young enthusiasm right throughout the season. The million dollar question is can this young team sustain the pressure of the Barclays Premier League season till May! Wait and watch as the Premier League kicksoff on ESPN and Star Sports right throughout Asia on August 14 at White Hart Lane.