By David Chitwood
It’s over. Deadline Day has come and gone. We survived, didn’t we? In true Arsenal fashion, we didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got enough. That’s what we tell ourselves. That the five signings of Welbeck, Sanchez, Debuchy, Chambers, and Ospina are going to fix Arsenal. Wait? Fix what? We won the FA Cup! The Community Shield! We’re gonna win the double! Yet, here we are, having taken just five points from three matches and looking more penetrable than invincible at times. We didn’t get that DM or CB. No Khedira. No Carvalho. No added strength to what looks like our thinnest back line ever. Injuries, both major and minor, are once again dismantling our squad like guerrilla warfare, a little bit at time and where it hurts the most.
Is it time to panic? No, of course not. We shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. The season is bright and you’d have a hard time convincing me this wasn’t the best transfer window in years. All five signings are top, top quality according to most Gooners so what’s not working then? Why aren’t we top of the table, handily winning Champions League matches and on our way to our rightful place as the greatest football team in the world? We’re predictable. Our style of play has been the same for a decade. When opposing teams play against us, they know exactly what we’ll do, and for the most part when we’ll do it. The mentality that we’re not in a hurry, that we can take our time advancing the ball and can spread out in midfield leaves us vulnerable and gives the impression that we’re a lucky, leave it late side. It’s exactly the team we were on the day of this years’ FA Cup. Fortunately, it went our way. If you asked the Magic 8 Ball how likely that is to happen over the course of the season, its reply would likely be “Reply hazy, try again”.
There’s not much point in arguing formation. While some of us desire two strikers up top, it seems fairly obvious that AW isn’t interested. Arsenal experienced many, great victories with a duo of forwards pre-2005, but since then it’s predominately been a story of “The Lone Striker and his band of Merry Out of Position Players”. And if that’s the way AW wants it, then you’d have to think it can work. And it does, to a degree. Top four and CL qualification for a record number of consecutive years is nothing to complain about, but merely making top four and CL seems to be all we care about, instead of setting our sights just that much higher.
Culture. What is it? I’ll skip the definition and move on to my point. It’s a practice. It is a way of approaching things. Unfortunately, for Arsenal, our way of approaching things has not been steadfast. We have been in flux for quite some time. We had a stadium to pay for and we’ve had an extensive history of long lasting injuries. We had players come and go quicker than we thought proper. We’ve been spending a long time doing what we can to patch holes and tackle things in the moment. We’ve been reacting to things, making right the wrongs. So it’s no surprise that’s what you see on the pitch. We don’t do much of anything until something happens to us. We react. Sometimes good, sometimes not enough. I have to wonder, what is Arsene’s vision and where are we headed?
Arsenal spent an estimated $135 million dollars during this transfer window. They gave us what we’ve all been clamoring about. Buy! Spend! That’s what Gooners, the world over, have been shouting to the club. Despite answering the calls (including the to-the-point “Sign a fucking striker” chant from Sunday), what Arsenal can’t buy is exactly what we need. Creativity. It’s priceless. One creative player does not a creative team make, though. Passion and influence do. Fortunately, it does seem the club is shifting in its vision and approach. Adapt or die, after all. We can’t recreate the past. What Arsenal can do, however, is choose players in a carefully, calculated way that picks from a pool of already bonded players. It’s no surprise then that the core of countries represented the most at Arsenal are England, Germany, and France with five or more players each. The 2004-2005 Arsenal squad represented 14 different countries (including the honor of being the Premier League’s first team to feature zero British players in a match day squad). That number is now down to 10. Almost a decade later, it’s obvious Arsenal want their players on the pitch together for love of both club and country.
The thinking behind this is that it brings in loyal players and, in turn, fuels passion and influence to each other and the rest of the team. Of course it’s hard to imagine this having any real world effect, but interestingly enough our recently added silverware came after a season of breakout performances from our English, German, and French players. The most important take away we should have is this: there is a vision, AW and his staff have laid the groundwork for what we’ll look like for the next decade. It’s a highly focused approach of nurturing young homegrown talent (Afobe, Akpom), buying those homegrown specialists (Chambers, Welbeck), and sprinkling with the entertaining attack of foreign stars (Sanchez, Ozil).
If we’ve been missing anything since 2004-2005, it’s a highly focused, foundational vision that fosters loyalty and creativity. It’s more than a short term patch up job, and it’s definitely not a quick fix. It could be the turning point. It feels like it’s the turning point. Let’s get behind it and show Arsenal just how much passion we have. In Arsene we trust. [fingers crossed]
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