Is the hype around Arsenal justified?


Two days back, I got an invite for a sporting event that read that former Arsenal players Ray Parlour and Sol Campbell were in Mumbai to unveil the new Arsenal jersey. Yes, sadly for we Indians, the new jersey were unveiled by people who left the club long time back. But then again, ten years back, we never imagined that these players would come here.

More than their purpose of visit, I was keen to read what these former stars had to say on the current Arsenal team. I wasn’t surprised when both said that Arsenal are genuine title contenders. Phew, guess, that might be the umpteenth time that we’re hearing someone say that. Ever since closing the season with a 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa in the FA Cup final, I’ve reading numerous stories of how  2016 could be the year of Arsenal.

Well, fine words of encouragement but I wonder how will that really happen? What has Arsenal done in this off-season to make us believe that it will happen?

For eons, experts and fans have been saying how Arsenal need a world class poacher, a sturdy defensive mid fielder, and a classy defender to complete their squad. So, has Arsenal signed any of them?

The only signing so far during the summer transfer window has been that of Petr Cech. Alright, great signing indeed, especially one that has Jose Mourinho still seething. But was Cech really the need of the hour considering we had David Ospina impressing in his very first season. Cech’s arrival had threatened to cut short Ospina’s future with the Gunners. Thankfully, better sense prevailed with Arsene Wenger deciding to send struggling Wojcech Scszney on loan to Roma. Though, that by no means assures us that Ospina would be happy to be number two to Petr Cech, a Chelsea legend, but one who mostly warmed the benches last .season after losing his place to Thibaut Courtois.

Now ever since Arsenal signed Petr Cech, a whole lot of players/experts have commented how the goal keeper can transform Arsenal into champions. Sure with his experience, Cech will play an influential role, but did Arsenal fail to win the English Premiership and Champions League because they didn’t have a good goal keeper?

Ever since he replaced Scszney as Arsenal’s no.1 goal stopper, Opsina played in 18 EPL games, conceding 11 goals, keeping 8 clean sheets, saving nearly 2 goals per game. He played just 3 Champions League games, conceding 4 goals, (3 in one game against AS Monaco, though he’s hardly to be blamed for that Round of 16 disaster).  Over all, he’s done pretty well in his first season at the club. Honestly, it was Ospina’s solidity that helped Arsenal cling on to the third spot. Sadly, despite a good show, he will warm the bench again at the start of the season.

It was clearly apparent, not just last season, but many seasons before that Arsenal need a top striker, a defensive midfielder and a quality defender. So, what has Wenger done so far? The Arsenal boss has done what he does best, NOTHING.

As often, we read reports of Wenger eyeing this player, but as always, it’s merely a pretence only to lose him out to another club. Geoffrey Kondogbia, Arturo Vidal, Sami Khedira, Rahim Sterling, Jackson Martinez, Morgan Schneiderlin,. These players were all but destined to join Arsenal, only to see them join Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Man City, Atletico Madrid, and Manchester United, respectively. Most of these players were keen to join the Gunners, but as always, Wenger refused to shell out the extra buck.  Add to it William Carvalho, who unfortunately got injured at the under-23 tournament, and so the interest in the Portuguese ended.

Meanwhile, Gonzalo Higuain, who few years back was set to join the Gunners, surprisingly chose Napoli, because they offered him  a better deal. Now, if Wenger couldn’t afford the $35 million then, how should we believe that he was now willing to pay $43 mn for the same man?

The rumour mills now have Karim Benzema and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being wooed by Arsene Wenger. Real Madrid are unlikely to sell Benzema unless they get a top replacement and the right price for the Frenchman. While Borussia Dortmund are in no mood to sell their striker for anything less than $40 million. Well, if this wasn’t enough, now we read that if Wenger fails to land any of these men, then he’ll go for a ‘MYSTERY’ striker. Wow! end of story.

Wenger needs to sign three more players, but even with Petr Cech, it is more a case of Cech preferring to stay in London, than Wenger pulling off a coup. Let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Cech’s family concerns, the Chelsea legend would have been sold to PSG for a bounty. So, Arsene Wenger has literally done nothing to bolster his squad.

Thus far Cech is the only player to arrive, while we’ve seen the likes of Podolski, Sanogo and Flamini leave. Joel Campbell, too, is expected to have another spell on loan, leaving Wenger with just Giroud, Welbeck and young Chuba Akpom as the frontline strikers. Well, Theo Walcott has hasn’t played enough games to be transformed into a genuine centre forward.

Well, unless Wenger can pull off a last day coup, I don’t see more additions to the squad. So, it could be deja vu again. May be even with the current crop of players Arsenal are a good side, but to say that by adding one world class goal keeper, Arsenal will challenge Chelsea for the title is a far fetched idea.

Just go back to the last month of last season and it shows how Arsenal lacked the killer instinct. A successful unbeaten run of 11 games saw them jump to second spot, 4 points ahead of Man City, that too with a game in hand. Arsenal were comfortably placed to secure the second spot, but as they always do, the Gunners lost games which they were least expected to. A 1-0 loss at home to Swansea severely dented Arsenal’s hopes, especially since the next game was at Old Trafford. Arsenal did well to secure  a1-1 draw, but then fumbled again in a goalless draw at home to Sunderland.

Manchester City didn’t need an invitation to leapfrog over Arsenal. So, Arsenal finished third in a season where they beat City twice and drew on the other occasion. However, it’s not often the big games, but the mandatory ones where Arsenal have been found wanting. Perhaps, it would be wiser of  people to be realistic about Arsenal’s chances. Let’s just take it one game at a time.

Arsenal will be straight away tested when they square off against Chelsea at Wembley in the Community Shield game on August 2. Let’s hope, before that Wenger might loosen his purse strings to make at least one addition. Phew! Now who’ll bet on that?


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