Just when virtually nobody thought Arsenal could ever produce another result worthy of mention under Arsene Wenger, the Gunners impressed for the first time in recent memory by ending Milan’s unbeaten run at the San Siro. I, for one, could not foresee that, so kudos to Wenger and his charges for proving me wrong.
The question is can this form be sustained in the league? We’ll find out soon, as Arsenal get the chance to stick Troy Deeney’s castanets comment down his throat on Sunday.
My guess is Arsenal will be up for this clash. Although Wenger may have lost the ability to rally his troops, the players have got enough about themselves to respond to criticism and deliver. Like the legendary ‘Invicible’ Lauren once said, and I am paraphrasing: ‘Once the whistle goes, the manager has little influence on what happens during a match’.
I’ve always maintained that there’s not much wrong with Arsenal, in terms of ability on the pitch. In my opinion, some of the first-team players would be gratefully by clubs currently above Arsenal in the league, if they were for sale, as Ramsey might be soon.
You might ask, who are these players that could move onto bigger and better things than Arsenal? Firstly, I would say Bellerin is likely to return to Barcelona, where he may well get the chance to get his career back on track. Even when he’s not at his best (which has been most of this season), he’s still one of the best attacking right backs that I’ve seen. Although Arsenal achieved an amazing result in Milan without him, I would not be prepared to see the Spaniard unless there was absolute fortune being offered. I think Bellerin is vastly underrated by the supporters, perhaps because he had the temerity to criticise Arsenal Fans TV. Personally, I wouldn’t care what Bellerin says too much, as it’s all about his ability. The question is why is he not delivering on the pitch the way he did? Could he be managed better? We’ll see when he inevitably moves to Barcelona and produces world-class performances for them. No doubt the ‘undisclosed’ fee that Arsenal receive for his services will not be as much as it should be, but the lack of transparency at the club will hide the truth, protecting those in charge of negotiations from criticism. However, there is the hope that the off-the-field changes in personnel will be able to make Arsenal competitive again when negotiating.
Now I hear you asking: aside from Bellerin and Ramsey, who else would be in demand should they be available for transfer? I’d answer Lacazette, Aubameyang and Monreal, although Arsenal wouldn’t get that much for the latter, due to his age.
Due to the dire form of the first team, the other players’ transfer values have probably plummeted with the exception of Wilshere. However, due to the negligence at the club, ‘Super Jack’ could be set to depart on a free transfer this summer. While I don’t think he’ll move to a top 5 club in England and become a regular first-teamer, again under better management perhaps Jack could further improve as a player. If I was his agent, I’d advise him to move abroad, as I think he’d benefit from that experience and possibly become a world-class player. Maybe Barcelona could sign him, as they’ve already bought an Arsenal youngster and could get Bellerin too. It would be home from home for Jack, if he went there too.
As regards the rest of the team, I’m a bit bemused at the criticism aimed at Mustafi. When he first arrived, Arsenal went on a long unbeaten run with him in the team. I thought: ‘What an investment!’ He got injured and when he returned, Mustafi went from infallible to occasionally fallible to often fallible. The way he was nudged off the ball by Aguero springs to mind. No wonder Gary Neville now claims Mustafi was awful at Valencia. However, let’s not forget that on his day, Mustafi can be majestic. Will we see that form again at Arsenal? Probably not, and maybe that’s why the Gunners wanted to sell him last summer.
Meanwhile, what’s happened to Cech and Koscielny? Those two have gone from world-beaters to weather-beaten. Maybe age and injuries have simply caught up with them and now both are error-prone. I’d be tempted to make Ospina the number one at Arsenal, until Cech can regain his form, but Wenger probably won’t do that.
In midfield, there’s not a lot to crow about. Although the likes of Elneny and Xhaka are a step up from the Diaby/Denilson days, the other top teams in the Premier League have improved significantly since, so what Arsenal have assembled in that department is simply not good enough: hence the sixth-placed league position.
In attacking midfield, Wenger is overloaded with light-weight players, who deliver the occasional match-winning performance. If Arsenal were to sell Mkhitaryan and Ozil this summer, I don’t think they’d get the money they paid out for them (although it’s hard to calculate the former’s value, given he was part of a swap deal). Meanwhile, Iwobi would generate some cash, if sold, as I’m sure someone can see the potential in him is not being realised at Arsenal.
To conclude, despite their dire form, Arsenal have always been about class, which is relatively permanent. The key may be getting Cech and Koscielny back to their best. If that happened, then maybe the rest of the team would grow in confidence. Then results would improve.
The Milan result is proof of what Arsenal are capable of. If they can add castanets to their undoubted class, the Gunners can at least have a chance of winning the Europa League.
Finishing fifth has become the new fourth, as Arsenal’s ambitions continue to become more and more modest. I always said Arsenal should have moved to Wembley from Highbury, but Wenger always feared that Arsenal couldn’t even sell out a 60,000-seater stadium. Right now, he is right, as a lack of investment on the pitch has progressively made Arsenal more and more like a team that can only be also-rans in the league.
Perhaps the new manager, when he arrives in 2019 will have more ambition than the current boss. The only benefit of waiting until then to dispense with Wenger could be there will be more hats in the ring then. At the moment, it’s about sticking with the ‘old hat’ until the end of the season, at least, in the hope that the team can produce the miracle of silverware again.
The most amusing story on that front is how PSG want to bring in Wenger to win them the Champions League. Do they not realise that he has never won a European trophy? Still, that could change this year, but Arsenal need a miracle and castanets to make it happen.