If you’re an Arsenal supporter, recent seasons suggest you should expect the worst on opening day – today was no different. Jurgen Klopp’s troops turned up at the Emirates and hit the Gunners for four in a 4-3 away win that, yet again, has left everyone asking for answers.
Though the North London giants started well in the first half only to be outdone by a moment of magic from Philippe Coutinho, no one could have guessed what was to come after the interval. When new signing Sadio Mane slammed home his effort inside the box after his darting run down the left-hand side on 63 minutes, Liverpool found themselves 4-1 up away from Anfield.
While Arsenal did their utmost to claw back into the match to pull two goals back, it was too little too late. Yet again they find themselves three points adrift from two of their biggest title rivals after only ninety minutes of football. It may only have been match-day one of thirty eight, but the feeling of yet another groundhog day dominates the minds of many.
The question seemingly pursed on the lips of Gooners the world over, was this avoidable? The short answer, in a word, is yes.
Despite the business done to bring in Swiss international midfielder Granit Xhaka being lauded, Arsenal have genuinely failed to kick on and improve the first team. Fellow new signing Rob Holding made his dull debut, but he should not have been put in such a position. The additional signing of Japanese international forward Takuma Asano is one for the future, but the future isn’t the issue. If the transfer business is seen as not being enough, then surely what was produced on the pitch can be viewed through the same lens.
Beyond the excuses of players needing a proper rest after the Euros, Arsenal fielded an XI which was doomed to fail before a single ball was struck. Alexis Sanchez, a wide player for the entirety of his club career, found himself running the center forward channel. Theo Walcott, who many feel has no future at the club, was selected instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who came on in the second half and was brilliant). Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi were deployed in their most effective roles, which as encouraging, but that has to be seen as the only positive that can be taken away from the team chosen.
Though Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin and Petr Cech remained the defensive stalwarts, the selections of Calum Chambers and Holding, while tactically the right ones given that they are center backs, ended up costing Arsenal dearly given their inexperience – it is this fact that has so many Arsenal supporters reeling in the aftermath.
Linked for a large part of the summer with German international center back Shkodran Mustafi, many have been left questioning whether or not the club are capable of doing business quickly and efficiently enough. With the Gunners’ need for a center back being evident and glaring even before the injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, why a deal for an inexperienced and only Championship tested defender was seen as enough by the club must surely come under the microscope.
Additional questions will be levied regarding the club’s failure to bring in a center forward or a goal-scoring right-sided player, given the apparent interest ranging from Alexandre Lacazette to Riyad Mahrez. One thing however is clear, that Arsene Wenger seemingly stubbornly keeps faith not only in the players at his disposal, but the excuses that the “right players” are not available in a market that is inflated. As an Arsenal fan, I myself, like so many others, are tired of those excuses.
“All summer we’ve been told we have money, we will spend – season starts, and we cannot compete with other clubs. what is the truth?”
It is incredibly difficult to bring in a perfect player, as there are very few of those in world football. But when you look at the business done by so many Premier League clubs, one has to discern that players of real quality have absolutely been approachable. The likes of Michy Batshuayi, Henrik Mkhitaryan, Vincent Janssen, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, and the aforementioned Sane and Lacazette are all players that either moved to the Prem or expressed their desire to leave their current club – and that’s just looking at done deals involving the Prem, let alone moves that have happened in other leagues of a high standard.
No one can say that bringing in a myriad of new signings would have been enough to avoid today’s disastrous result. Full credit must be given to Klopp and the tactical adjustments he made at half time to garner the full three-point haul. But the truth remains that Wenger has not done nearly enough, quickly enough, to strengthen an Arsenal side that really should be looking to kick on from last season’s second-place finish (which some, including Mertesacker, feel was a fluke) and make a real push for the league.
It’s true that it is still early doors in the Prem, but Arsenal have done themselves no favors in the race to the top of the ladder. With a tricky away fixture coming up against a Leicester side looking to rebound from their own opening-day disappointment, Arsenal still have it all to prove in the early August exchanges.
The good news is that the returns of Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny are imminent, which is a massive boost in quality as well as tactical familiarity. The problem still remains that one of Holding or Chambers must be thrust into a role they are not ready for, while Oliver Giroud still has no genuine back-up/competition for the center forward role. With roughly three weeks remaining in the transfer window, Arsenal still have time to remedy the question marks that linger in the first team, but the question is will Wenger show the ruthlessness required to bring in the players the club actually need.
At the end of the day, one result certainly does not define a season. However, a slow start more often than not consigns a club to missing out on winning the league. Champions usually start on the front foot from week one and look to build from one performance to the next. If Arsenal are to once again rise highest on the domestic landscape, Arsene Wenger must do what it takes to push the club forward to genuinely compete – not just in the market, but on the pitch as well.