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Monday 12 September 2011

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

If we were picking teams in the playground, I’m not sure any sane captain would select Arteta & Benayoun over Fabregas & Nasri. Yet compared to a couple of weeks ago, when Arsène was left with nothing to choose from but the last knockings of his squad, I’m certainly not moaning about our manager’s uncharacteristic last minute shopping spree.

In fact our humbling at Old Trafford couldn’t really have been better timed to rip our obstinate leader’s blinkers off, before it was too late. Traditional advice suggests that it’s best to get straight back on the horse after such an abysmal fall. However for once I was glad of the break in domestic matters, enabling the Gunners’ gaggle of national team captains to restore some much needed confidence while on International duty.

Thus we all rocked up to the Emirates on Saturday, eager to cast an eye over our new arrivals and bristling with a reinvigorated enthusiasm, in the hope that we might’ve turned the page, after our mauling in Manchester and that we were about to witness a performance against lowly Swansea which might announce the Arsenal’s golden new dawn.

In this respect I guess we were always riding for another anti-climatic fall. Such false hope was perfectly understandable, after the sort of flurry of transfer activity that we Gooners have not experienced in umpteen years. Instead of which, we’ve merely discovered, like the fans of so many other clubs who’s managers have a preference for a more frequent turnover of players than their underpants, that an ‘off the shelf’ panacea for a side’s deficiencies is an onerous task and is unlikely to manifest itself overnight.

What bothers me most is that Arsène had to be backed into a corner, before seemingly being forced to break all his rules. But if the 4-year contract offered to an aging Arteta, had been on the table for the likes of Gilberto, Gallas, or any of the over 30s who’ve exited the club in recent years, the Gunners would’ve never been left grounded in such an unbalanced boat, crying out for more experience.

Moreover, as pleased as I am by le Gaffer’s efforts to beefen up our gossamer thin squad, I can’t help but suspect that he has focused on the sort of players who might be capable of improving our Champions League prospects. But on the evidence of our disappointing domestic opening blows, the Gunners have got a job on their hands just achieving the upper echelons of the Premiership. Experience of the big stage will be of little benefit to us should we fail to even reach its apron!

As a result, in light of Keiran Gibbs error strewn display against the Swans, instead of having the likes of Santos biding his time on the bench, familiarizing himself with our more frenetic brand of football, I can’t help but wonder if we might’ve profited more from Kenwright’s fire-sale, by procuring the more industrial likes of Leighton Baines.

Perhaps Baines isn’t destined to set any fires on the European stage, but he’s a battling “do a job defender” of the sort that could’ve come straight into the side and provided the instant return necessary to recapture our rarified top four status; before being encumbered by the sort of ‘soft target’ perception that’s likely to result in a tense, season long struggle to elevate ourselves beyond the Europa Cup also-rans.

Mertesacher might be a big, immobile lump of a centre-back but he appears to have that economy of movement of an experienced old pro, with his Tony Adams like intervention of a timely extended limb. Coming from the Bundesliga, hopefully a bedding-down period won’t prove necessary and he’ll exude the air of composure that can influence the kids around him (rather than him being infected by their panic-struck mien!). But similarly, it might be argued that we’d have been better off with a player who’s more familiar with the Premiership course and all it’s idiosyncratic prat-falls?

Wenger would undoubtedly find a statistical ruse to put a positive slant on a nuclear holocaust. Yet in truth, in the absence of Wilshere and Vermaelen, you only have to consider how few of our players would be coveted by the competition, to fully comprehend quite what a struggle lies ahead for us to cling onto their coat-tails.

Frimpong’s misdemeanours appear to have left him playing with the handbrake on, which is tantamount to castration of our virile young midfield moose. He even had Shava on his case about his marking on Saturday, with the diminutive Russian returning from Moscow utterly unrecognizable from the disaffected Gooner who departed these shores. Shava might start to win us over, if he can maintain this level of commitment at Ewood Park and beyond?

Yet with Park and Benyoun swelling the ranks of those familiar with the responsibility of wearing the armband for their respective countries, it’s ridiculous that leadership should remain an issue within this Arsenal squad. When I watch the breathtaking way in which Fabregas is flourishing for Barca, I almost feel guilty that we deprived the lad of his pitch on world football’s most talented stage for so long.

We can but hope that for all we might’ve lost in artistic flair (at least until Wilshere’s return), we can compensate with the sort of guts, graft and determination that was all too often on the missing list, so long as we were perceived to have such an advantage. As someone grounded in the Bertie Mee’s boring Gunners, you certainly won’t hear me complaining if we can roll our sleeves up and grind out a run of prosaic encores to a good old-fashioned “1-0 to the Arsenal”.

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