By LA Gooner
Coming up tomorrow Arsenal will play host to Turkish side Fenerbahce at the Emirates in what most Gooners hope will be a repeat of last week’s performance in the first leg of this qualifier. In the wake of an onslaught of criticism, negativity and undue want for failure from members of our own fan base, our starting XI was as precise and determined as any top flight club would hope to be at this stage. Having been so thorough in Istanbul last week, we now have new set of possibilities for Arsene Wenger going forward, perhaps none that he’ll take, and certainly fewer than should be there.
That said, I’ll make no fuss about the current squad in terms of talent. I’m personally nestled comfortably in the camp that believes this Arsenal side has the capability within it to accomplish great things…albeit some additions would certainly make that potential much greater, I’m not here to beat the dead horse any more than it already has been.
Which is a lot.
It is, however, obvious when reviewing the rosters and performances of the past few seasons that we had some maturing talent that deserved a more defined role this campaign thanks simply to the continued flashes of potential despite a somewhat inconsistent playing schedule (see: Ox, Jenkinson and most notably, Ramsey, to name a few). Unfortunately for the hopes of supporters the last few seasons, potential doesn’t win titles…which you may have heard if you’ve been on twitter at all this summer. With apologies to Oxlade-Chamberlain and his unfortunate injury, one of the more exciting aspects of the new season for me has been the obvious maturing from individuals and the team as a whole.
At the risk of jinxing their start to the season, the three performances put in by players like Aaron Ramsey and Bacary Sagna have made for a delightfully silent peanut gallery. Their deserved praise so far in the new campaign is a welcome change of pace from the high scrutiny they faced last season for what some may consider more pedestrian performances than we have come to expect. To that end, the team as a whole has done well to take another stride towards ending the trophy drought (with the lone exception being that one time those one things happened when AFC opened the year against Aston Villa…which is about all the thought I intend to pay to that as it’s clearly more the exception than the norm with our club…despite what you may have read if you were on twitter at all this summer).
With the clash at home Tuesday, Arsenal face, from an outsider’s perspective, the least daunting game of their young season. Villa and Fulham demanded a sense of urgency, maybe a bit excessively from media and fans, to get the season off the ground in good form and the first leg of our qualifying round, coming on the heels of a frustrating weekend and carrying the weight of the Champion’s League boost and all that implies, was a massively important row. Conversely, with three away goals in the bank and
another solid showing at Craven Cottage this weekend, Arsenal go into Tuesday with more confidence, experience, and even if just a little, a better understanding of what they’re capable of when they perform up to par.
In recent seasons, games of understandably smaller stature have prompted a shift in the roster for Arsene Wenger. Granted some of these moves have given way to some truly disappointing evenings, but despite the season still being so fresh, I can’t help but get the impression that the mental shortcomings that have gotten us into trouble in previous years has moved on with a lot of the other deadweight we had in tow. The options the manager has at his disposal now are made up of players whose skill is perhaps less proven, but with that, we’re likely to see a different mentality and approach to the chances given. Where players like Arshavin and Chamakh came into a match trying to regain the decidedly lost form that got them into the team in the first place, we now have players like Ryo and Serge Gnabry who are fighting to establish themselves and mature into more regular appearances. At this point, Ramsey, Jenkinson, Jack Wilshere and even Giroud to a degree have made vacancies for the next crop of potential to start following in those footsteps so many great players have before.
We got a glimpse of those rising players this preseason, which for all it’s unimportance, was not short on providing optimism. I don’t deny that the potential exists for us to be regarding some of the reserve squad in diminishing light over time, but half the fun (and in some respects, reward) for being in multiple competitions in a given season is that you get to really evaluate the crop of players sitting behind your first team, and if all goes as planned, it’s a chance to see future club heroes.
At a point in time where any loss will sound a chorus of things for Arsene to ignore/ refute and us fans to attempt to defend (on twitter, mostly), I doubt he will make any big changes to the squad. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a few adjustments, namely Sanogo up front to spell Giroud. Being the lone addition to our squad so far this summer, I for one am anxious to see what set him apart (not meant to be cynical..but if it was taken that way, so be it). I’m also looking forward to seeing Ryo get game time when he returns from injury. In a summer where we lost a lot of players we knew would be departing and rightfully so, Miyaichi stayed. It would not be hard for anyone to lump him in with Santos and Gervinho as a player purchased hastily who never really panned out, yet the fact that he’s still around would imply that Wenger rates him high enough to not issue walking papers or find a better suitor for the striker.
Whatever the case, anyone who takes a roster spot from Bendtner is a rousing success in my book. Beyond that, it gets a little tricky adjusting things too much in my estimation. With Sagna filling in at the middle we’re perhaps seeing his future role as long as he’s with us, and if his first few attempts are any indication, there’s reason to rest a little easier as we see Carl Jenkinson stake a claim for his former position. However, with Kos likely to return to action, I’m not sure how confident I am we’ll be rocking the boat too much in terms of defensive starters. There may also be value in giving any player who will take the field against Tottenham this weekend a bit of a rest, so long as it doesn’t compromise finishing the job in our qualifying game. Our defense has been a notable force in recent memory, but we’ve got a lot of competitions to play in this season and as long as we’re as thin at the back as we are, lets hope we take any chance to conserve energy along
Similarly, most aspects of the midfield have been greatly improved in terms of consistency and contribution. At that rate, save for confidently throwing Ramsey out there to handle it all on his own, something in the same vein as what we’ve been fielding so far is likely the smartest play. Continuing the development of the Wilshire- Ramsey relationship is important, and unless he’s just arrived on a flight from Ecuador (even then it’s apparently not a complete faux paux), it’s hard to imagine a reason we keep Santi out of a game. Podolski and Walcott retaking their place on the wings seems likely too, but especially in Podolski’s case, we’re likely to see him subbed before the final whistle which should make room for younger player to seize an opportunity should the game be in hand at that point.
Despite being happy with a standard approach, I have a growing fondness for Serge Gnabry and faint but present hope for Frimpong to materialize into the effective DM we lack in Arteta’s absence. At that rate, I wouldn’t mind seeing one or both get some time, but I’m a patient individual and there’s a lot of opportunity for that in the near future. And while I’m being greedy and reckless with my starters/subs, a little part of me likes to believe there’s an alternate universe in which Gedion zelalem sees some time in these games we can afford to , just to see if that skill he showed translates out of the preseason, but smart money would say we’ve still got time before we get an answer to that.
Overall, whatever team is fielded will begin the game with a comfortable cushion behind them. Regardless of who we start, so long as we avoid complacency and play the way we’ve shown we’re capable of so far, there’s no reason to think we’re in danger of missing out on the next stage. I suppose it’s more likely we see some of the squad players come off the bench when/if the upper hand is gained, but it would seem Tuesday night at the Emirates is the first real chance this season we’ll get to see some of our reserve players take the pitch in a game with importance. And while the difference in the two teams is apparent in looking at last week’s matchup (which would have been more difficult to grasp had you been on twitter before the match), Fenerbahce do have some threatening players in their side that ensure they shouldn’t be overlooked.