Familiar summer for Arsenal means Premier League prospects are mixed
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Meet anyone now who is an Arsenal fan and the first question they will be asked is “Oh, so are you Wenger in or Wenger out?” There are now, apparently, three rival teams in north London: Tottenham, The Wenger Out Brigade and the Wenger Knows Best Crew.
So divisive has the situation become that, on either side, there is no middle ground, as increasingly each camp interprets any situation to suit their cause. Much like their club, they are fast becoming a parody of themselves.
Arsenal’s pre-season could go down as a case study in repeated history. An impressive early signing whets the appetite; subsequent pursuits of high-profile strikers drag on before a predictable collapse; eyes are made towards the last week of the transfer window, before a long-term injury or two sends a section of the team into crisis. Oh well, Gooners, at least there’s the Olympics.
Of course the events of last season showed that even the most pro-active spending from clubs means little without that sideshow of actually winning matches.
Yet the frustrations many have with Arsene Wenger and the board is that a stable base for success is already there. Unlike most of Arsenal’s top-four rivals, a major overhaul isn’t needed – simply the perennial ‘two or three players’ who could end the much-referenced title drought of over a decade.
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At least with the signing of Granit Xhaka, the media’s familiar call to land a tough-tackling, defensive midfield leader should finally be shot down. For all his necessary aggression and physique, though, it is the Swiss international’s considerable composure and range of passing that has most excited – raising hopes that he may be the anchor that allows Aaron Ramsey to drive forward as the scintillating talisman he was in 2013/2014.
If Arsenal’s midfield is in the best shape of recent times, however, the problems around it remain. First it was Jamie Vardy, then Gonzalo Higuain and Alexandre Lacazette, but now it seems distinctly possible that, once again, any prospect of an incoming ‘top-class striker’ will be shelved for a show of faith in the hit-and-miss Olivier Giroud and the miss-and-miss Yaya Sanogo.
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Back in defence, there is certainly an element of misfortune in the injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, coupled with the extended holiday granted to Laurent Koscielny following his Euros campaign.
Yet since this shortage became clear, the only response from the management has been to look the other way, leaving the promising but raw pair of Calum Chambers and new boy Rob Holding to hold the fort against Liverpool on the opening day.
All in all, it is hardly the statement of intent desperately needed to coax the Emirates out of its embittered, corporate slumber. Rising ticket prices and multi-million payouts to owner Stan Kroenke prompted protests last year, but this season feels like a tipping point.
The manager’s contract is up for renewal, but as divisive as this issue may prove, it ultimately distracts from the more unanimous disdain towards those above him.
How long will Gooners put up with a board that each season asks more of fans, and less of themselves? We’ll soon know the answer unless Arsenal take action, because the biggest motions so far this summer have come from the media and fans elsewhere sharpening their knives.
Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexBellotti