Every summer, I feel like we enter the transfer window knowing exactly what needs to be done and what areas we need to improve in, whether it is through a tactical change or through the purchase of certain types of players. This window has been no different. After a lackluster performance in both offense and defense, it was clear that aside from the goalkeeper position—which I believe we are truly blessed in at the moment after a long drought of mediocre talents at best—we badly needed a brand new spine down the center of the field.
Summer 2016 seemed like it would be different. We acquired Granit Xhaka, a deep lying midfield steel that we have been missing for a long time. Xhaka would provide us the size and skill sets that the legends like Patrick Viera and Gilberto used to provide us with. Granit showed that he is, for now, worth every penny, in the Euros. However, since the arrival of Granit, we’ve really gone nowhere.
After Per Mertesacker started to show a decline in form and Gabriel’s hasty performances, it seemed like another first-team level center back was necessary. On the other side of the field, while Olivier Giroud was great in some ways, it was clear that we needed another attacker that would be able to provide us with a different dimension when going forward.
Fast forward to mid-August, and only one out of three are done. Unfortunately, with Gabriel’s recent injury, this problem was further exposed.
With Laurent Koscielny resting after an extended run with France in the Euros, Per and Gabriel on the injury list, Arsenal were left with Calum Chambers and the new boy, Rob Holding. The last couple weeks have been frantic, with the club trying to sign Shkodran Mustafi to not have to field a young pair at the back, in case Kos also goes down. Liverpool game showed this is now a must.
Arsenal 3:4 Liverpool. I hope people are not too surprised by this result. I would say that our young center back duo of Chambers and Holding is promising. Remember, these kids are still 21 and 20 years old, with Holding playing his first Premier League game after playing in League Two and the Championship the last two years. However, are they ready for this level? Are they ready to be starting center backs for a team that should be competing for the league title and the Champions League? Probably not.
Against Liverpool, I don’t recall our team being thrashed like this, since the days Suarez, Sturridge, and Sterling were spearheading their attack. Firmino, Coutinho, and Mane are definitely quality, but certainly not the level of the past Liverpool forwards. A quality center back pairing could have taken care of these players.
It just was a terrible day for Chambers and Holding. Holding creates the foul at a dangerous zone at extra time in the first half where Coutinho steps up to beautifully put it past Petr Cech. Then Holding continues to be exposed, as his positional error leads to the through pass that gets Lallana off to a run and a goal. Rob’s miserable Premier League debut continued with failing to stay sharp and track down Coutinho when a ball is crossed through the goal. The worst is probably when Mane single handedly outruns and outwits both Chambers and Holding to blast it past Cech.
Sure, other defenders, and possibly even the defensive midfield pairing of Elneny and Coquelin could have helped even more. And of course, players can make mistakes. However, these mistakes become hard to ignore and get over as a one-time thing, when it was clearly evident that an experienced center back was a high priority this summer.
Some bright points from the match include the promising start to a season for the Ox. He seems quicker and more lethal since the pre-season. Hopefully injuries do not impede his progress this season. Santi is also back folks! Aged, but still very steady and starting the season with two assists in the first game is good. Hopefully he stays off the injury list this season too! Additionally, this is still August. I prefer us having our businesses done quickly so that the players can gel together during the pre-season, but at least we have time to find band aids. Hopefully we do not put the next two weeks to a waste.