Arsenal fans welcomed season 2017/18 full of expectations, like so many times before. Their team recorded some very good results on preseason tour, won the Emirates Cup, but also the Community Shield trophy after an even game against a top side – reigning Premier League champions Chelsea.
But, what gave Gunners more confidence ahead of this season than ever before in previous decade is the fact their club were doing a great job in the transfer market. Against all odds, this time around Arsenal was determined to sacrifice the financial side in favour of on-field accomplishments. They took a strong stance over their best players in order to keep them in the team, but also brought in another big name in the shape of Alexandre Lacazette.
Champions League football won’t be played at the Emirates Stadium this season, but many saw it as a great opportunity for Arsene Wenger’s side to turn their focus from less attractive Europa League and go with full power towards the Premiership title. After all, five other top contenders will certainly lose their ground here and there, bitter rivals Tottenham will suffer until they get used to playing at Wembley.
First match of the new Premier League campaign versus Leicester City was incredibly dramatic and three points were hardly won, but they were won. That was the most important thing after poor openings in recent years. Four goals scored by four different scorers – it seemed the team finally started the season with all guns blazing, new players fitted in well, fans were speculating over one more addition to their squad in the final part of the summer transfer window, when it all fell apart in the next two rounds.
First, three points were lost – where else? – away at Stoke. But, Arsenal had possession, created many chances, was unlucky with all the big decisions from the referee, so one could guess they’ll get back on track immediately against Liverpool. Also away match, with the Reds on a high after convincing promotion to Champions League group stage phase, but many times big game like this is the best to give the right answer.
It wasn’t. Liverpool destroyed Arsenal as if they were playing against an amateur side. It turned out to be another horrible day for Gunners’ fans, performance-wise maybe even worse than the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford in August 2011. Some players were simply lost on the pitch, scared, inhibited, insecure. They were powerless to rise above mistakes they had made early on and put up a fight, instead these mistakes spread from player to player as a quick disease that soon caught the entire team, with Petr Cech probably the only exception.
It was surprising to see Wenger named Granit Xhaka in the starting lineup, even though his partnership with Ramsey proved inefficient in first two games and left too much space for the opponent without protecting defence. But, what was really incredible was the fact Rob Holding got a nod ahead of Mertesacker, Chambers and mostly Mustafi (who might be on his way out!). Xhaka and Holding had their worst performance for Arsenal at Anfield as if they were competing who’ll do more damage to the team. Hector Bellerin helped them a lot as well, he was even worse after returning to the right-side line in second half, when Wenger tried to turn the tide by switching to 4-2-3-1 formation.
The biggest problem is there was no one to command these players, to snap them out of their stiffness and yes, yell at them! Team captain Koscielny is a top-class player and deserves a place in a top side, but he’s not vocal, he’s not a leader. Every strong team needs to have an artist like Ozil or Ramsey, a player who can change the game with one play like Sanchez or Lacazette, deadly and robust forward like Giroud, calm presence at the back like Cech or Koscielny, but it also needs a leader.
In their heydays, also lead by Wenger, Arsenal always had one or more of these greats: Adams, Keown, Lehmann, Vieira, Petit, Campbell, Toure,… Now, can you recognize a player like that in current team? Gunners are desperate for a leader, a man both physically and mentally strong, dauntless, formidable. They’re desperate for some steel. The quality IS there, but there is no one to lead it to success.
The international break was very much welcome to Arsenal, but they must use it well. Transfer window is open for a couple of more days and they must react as big changes are necessary. Because, you can’t win the war without warriors!