Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Arsenal finally swimming in the deep end

courtesy: guardian.co.uk/football
With their acquisition of Málaga's Santi Cazorla, Arsenal have for the third time this summer acquired a potential Premier League star. At worst, the twenty-seven year old will consign the somewhat-resurgent Tomas Rosicky and a turgid Andrei Arshavin to the North London scrapheap. At an unlikely best, his signature may even convince Robin van Persie to stay at the Emirates Stadium.

A classy attacking midfielder with a corner-seeking free kick, Cazorla will inherit the role of creative hub made vacant three times in recent seasons by injury and infirmity: Jack Wilshere's foot refuses to heal properly, Cesc Fabregas' homesickness finally bested him and Samir Nasri contracted a distressingly severe case of wandering-eye-syndrome (not a real condition). In Arsene Wenger's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Cazorla is liable to start in the middle behind van Persie or fellow newbie Olivier Giroud.

The squad has been reshaped dramatically from August last year. Fuelled by the 8-2 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United, Wenger threw cash to the four corners of Europe and came up with Mikel Arteta, Andre Santos, Chu-Young Park and Per Mertesacker. In retrospect, only Arteta performed to his potential during 2011-12, but each – except the lamentable Park – played a role in salvaging Arsenal's season.

With Podolski, Giroud and now Cazorla arriving however, that quartet's greatest contributions may not come as absolute first-teamers. Apart from (maybe) Arteta, not one of these four purchases projects in Arsenal's best XI. This isn't a bad thing, though: they provide the quality squad depth Arsenal has needed since The Invincibles.

The Arsenal eighteen who lined up against Newcastle to begin 2011-12 included such luminaries as Arshavin, Emmanuel Frimpong, Carl Jenkinson and Marouane Chamakh. Perpetual fan-prey players Sebastien Squillaci and Nicklas Bendtner didn't even feature. While Frimpong and Jenkinson may indeed play major roles in the future, they were often overmatched, as were other youth graduates occasionally called upon to fill out the senior squad.

If Mertesacker and Arteta are shuffled to the bench, not only will Arsenal have almost completely addressed their need for quality reinforcements but their bench may indeed be one of the Premiership's strongest. It's conceivable that the Gunners start their first match with a lineup of:


Sagna       Vermaelen       Koscielny       Gibbs

Ramsey       Song

Walcott       Cazorla       Podolski

van Persie

Most would agree that such a team is solid and no doubt capable of obtaining Champions' League football. However, the real strength may emanate from the bench where the likes of Arteta, Santos, Mertesacker, Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho and Rosicky await. There remains promise that perhaps Wilshere, Abou Diaby and the impressive Ryo Miyaichi could feature later in the season.

The bench mob features pace, tricks, height, aerial ability and incision. More than anything, however, they feature experience and won't be phased when asked to step in for injured or departing stars. This is in direct contrast to recent years, where despite an ability to feature top class starters, the Gunners have most often backed this with talent or experience, rather than both. Even during the glory years, reserves were often rising (read: temperamental) starlets like Song, van Persie and Jose Antonio Reyes.

Suddenly – with or without van Persie – the Gunner first eighteen is arguably as good as it's been since 2007. Without needing to resort to youth in its purest form, the Arsenal has more weapons than at any time since the departure of Thierry Henry.

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