December 6 2013 Latest news:
Friday, August 16, 2013
We’re ready. That was the assured message emanating from the Arsenal camp after they completed their pre-season programme with a morale-boosting win over Manchester City.
True, Saturday’s 3-1 victory on the neutral turf of Helsinki achieved what the Gunners have failed to do in their last five attempts against the richest club in the Premier League.
But does that result have any bearing at all on Arsenal’s hopes of closing the gap on Manuel Pellegrini’s side, along with their neighbours and league champions Manchester United, during the months ahead?
Unfortunately, the nature of the Gunners’ pre-season programme – the bulk of their warm-up games were, of course, against Asian opposition of varying standard – gave few clues about their prospects this year.
So, along with two inconsistent Emirates Cup performances, Saturday’s game in the Finnish capital was probably as decent a benchmark as you can get to assess Arsenal’s Premier League chances.
And overall the signs were promising. Olivier Giroud maintained his impressive run of goals in pre-season, Theo Walcott scored once and set up the other two, and the back line looked generally solid against the likes of David Silva and Alvaro Negredo.
Eventually, Negredo did breach the Gunners defence, but only for a late consolation strike after goals from Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Giroud had given the Londoners a 3-0 advantage.
On their day, it is not overly bold to predict that Arsenal’s first-choice team can certainly match and beat City, United or Chelsea.
But doubts persist whether, over the course of the campaign, their squad has sufficient depth, compared with the Premier League’s leading trio, to churn out victories on a weekly basis.
While much of the summer gossip has centred around Arsenal’s attempts to add to their forward line, the reality is that they should not be short of goals even if the protracted Luis Suarez saga ends in disappointment.
Giroud looks far more comfortable in the Premier League than the player who arrived from Montpellier a year ago, while Lukas Podolski – as he showed in Helsinki – is quite capable of playing in a central role.
Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere – if he can only stay fit for a full season – will all contribute sufficient goals to the cause.
It is at the other end of the field where reinforcements appear to be more urgently required. Arsenal are overly reliant on Mikel Arteta to shield their back four but, if they can secure the signature of Luiz Gustavo, that should take the heat off the Spaniard.
As far as the defence itself goes, club captain Thomas Vermaelen remains sidelined and that leaves minimal cover for Arsene Wenger’s first-choice central pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker.
Wenger’s options at right-back also look limited, but the Gunners boss has been wise to keep faith with Wojciech Szczesny rather than recruiting a bigger-name goalkeeper as many have urged him to do.
Signing players just for the sake of it has never been the Wenger way – and rightly so.
Nevertheless, it is hard to escape the conclusion that his squad will need padding out, at least to some extent, if Arsenal are to finally provide a serious threat to the Manchester duo and Chelsea over the coming season.