Season so far

Late, late Arsenal.
 
Predictably, most teams came to the Emirates hoping to defend a point and try to release a sucker punch when the Arsenal is preoccupied with scoring the perfect goal.
 
The first game of the season began in the worst possible way – Jens Lehmann gifted Fulham a wonderful opportunity to be the second team in the Premier League (and incidentally, from London) to win against the Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Then the team left it very late to win; a confident Robin van Persie penalty and a superb Alexandr Hleb strike meant that the Emirates Stadium faithful can go home with the satisfaction of seeing the team play some of the most predictable games and still win.
 
At Ewood Park for the second fixture, the team scrapped for a valuable goal from van Persie again before another Jens Lehmann howler gifted Burnblack their one point. It was, in truth, a rather poor match and Arsene Wenger came out with his usual comments of Blackburn being physical and all that. Personally, it’s not new and would not surprise EPL enthusiasts at all that the less talented teams in terms of skill and goalscoring abilities would resort to these ruses. But for Jens Lehmann and the team, dropped points would be so telling at the end of the season – even Chelsea topping the table now has gotten the mischievous side of Mourinho geared up again for some wisecracking dares and uncalled for challenges to knock them off the summit.
 
At home in the Emirates for the eagerly anticipated clash against Manchester City, the team left it to the 11th hour to score thru Cesc Fabregas. This was not before the Citizens gave the home team a round of close shots which is too close for comfort. Sven Goran-Eriksson may have had the luxury of calling upon different nationalities to play the game he knows best and it did work – the good old SS Lazio days are back . Their forwards needed a bit more skill to complement their good midfield and if Dimitar Berbatov is with Man City, the Arsenal may have been nursing another home defeat. Still, all credit to the Arsenal for pushing for victory down to the final 10 minutes. After all, the old adage of gaining points at home is starting to work on the team. We can see glimpses of Eduardo showing what he can do with his immaculate positioning. Given a start, he may fashion a chance from nowhere but his efforts would suffice for now.
 
But has the team impressed so far? The Arsenal was linked with Obafemi Martins for a time running, but nothing material has come of this and quite frankly, it would stay that way. If there’s a problem with the squad- it’s everything that is wrong. This situation is akin to a WWII U-boat being depth-charged to pulp and the mechanics inside are struggling to piece together something to save the boat while the Captain reminisce of the good old hunting days. This Arsenal team is average and the fans have to come to terms with this fact. We have Rosicky, van Persie, Kolo Toure, Willy Gallas and the old German Jens Lehmann to form a team who is considered as challenging for the title. Adebayor is hardworking and his efforts did pay off in the Old Trafford last season but that is the oast and this season, he did nothing to prove that Arsene Wenger has made the right choice to pluck him from the French Ligue. While the team is average, it would need to take something special to raise their game one level.
 
The way I see it – the team is getting too predictable. Flank attack; pass/lob to centre; centre man (van Persie or Adebayor) try to fashion chance; hopefully score. Repeat process until a goal comes or the opponent snuffs out the attack and counterattacks. I agree; teams visiting the Arsenal turf are no longer the gullible English pigs but are smart asses now – previously, the opponents would try to pack the centre, hoping to unsettle Patrick Vieira and then launch a quick sortie upfield. At least, if the attacks fail, there would be the midfield to back them up as the midfielders are still likely to be in roughly the same position. But this tactic famously opens them up to the Thierry Henry style of through pass interception and the rest, as they say, is history.
 
But this team is just so predictable! The crosses weren’t as good as they used to be (no Pires and Ljungberg); the passes were no longer as accurate (no Petit or Patrick Vieira) and the finishing is not so good without the enigmatic Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Co. That is without referring to once solid defence of Lauren, Martin Keown, Tony Adams and the once-faithful Cashley Cole.
 
This is not about being all nostalgic about the old times when the Arsenal tore apart teams with relative ease – When was the last time the team bushwhacked opponents 7-0 or thereabouts any longer? There was a time when Alexandr Hleb is already at the club in his first season where he capped a spectacular performance against Burnblack in a 6-2 rout. That was not long ago, but the team at that time still had Pires, Bergkamp and Henry. A half-decent Fredrik Ljungberg was there as well and Jose Antonio Reyes still had something to prove. Now, it’s pretty hard to envision these scorelines anytime soon. Not with the way the current team is playing.
 
It goes with a little thought that the team needed a serious revamp and a quick one at that. Perhaps the youth policy is bearing fruit; perhaps not. Many fans feel that a balance of experience and youth is important but that is as useful as quoting the biological role of a male and female in this universe to knowing adults. Arsene Wenger probably knows this in advance that his team is not as strong as even the naysayers make it out to be; but his dwindling resource base, coupled with the debts incurred from the building of the stadium and the fact that the talisman Henry has left would make for a familiar read as far as recruiting top level performers are concerned. Naturally, it is happy to note that there are players who have confidently declared themselves Arsenal players well before negotiations actually transpired between the buyer and seller clubs. Bakary Sagna and Ryan Babel have done that although the former Ajax man is now at Liverpool and his hard-selling reeked of a first–class opportunist looking for a springboard.
 
Gallas has done an about-turn regarding the team’s fortunes and has vowed to work hard. Making him captain is one of the strangest choicest ever made by Wenger, and angering and saddening Gilberto Silva in the process. Gilberto even told the press recently that he is ‘happy to see out his career’ at the club. While his dissatisfaction is  understandable, it is unfortunate as this is not the best time to be concerned with captaincy issues and self-vanity questions. We have seen Cesc Fabregas kissing the club’s crest after his wondergoal against Manchester City but I suppose that while it is gratifying to see that; it carried not much tangible value – Henry has done that and he left in a lurch when he did not get to win the Champions League and put the blame on David Dein’s departure and with it, effectively declaring that his departure is a politically-inspired one. Patrick Vieira did that too but we have seen him wavering in his performances in his final year. But beggars can’t be choosers. At least one player is willing to display some love for the club instead of smooching the holy crest and then packing bags when the going gets tough.
 
As we have seen so far, it would only take one defeat to knock the confidence out of the Arsenal youth. Being an Arsenal fan for so long, I guess that it is natural that the team has reached the point of a trophyless season and a period of transition is also acceptable. We’ve been treated to champagne and vintage Wengerball for so long and we can only be so grateful for that.  
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