180 minutes of soccer (Arsenal vs Stoke, Sunday, August 26th)

180 minutes of soccer.

So far this season this is how many minutes the Arsenal squad have played in the EPL, and how long they’ve been held scoreless.

Completely leaving aside the fact that these scoreless results have come at the hands of Sunderland and Stoke, not exactly top-of-the-table competition, there is no denying that these results are uncomfortable for those of us that follow the Gunners.  But is it panic time?  Here are a few thoughts I had while watching the game…

1) The trio of Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud all looked more settled today.  Perhaps it is a matter of giving the new signings time to really gell after all.  While all the talk centers around who will be the one to replace the goals of a single player from last year, the weight of that is being placed on a trio of summer signings.  Last week Podolski looked out of sorts, and Giroud looked off his game.  Today they both looked better, and Santi Cazorla had another fine game.  Given that the largest chunk of the Arsenal attacking contingent are brand new to both the team and the league, and on top of that they all came from separate leagues (German, Spanish, French), I’m optimistic that it will just take some time for them to settle in.  Goals will come from this group.  I have no doubt of that.  I don’t think one player will replace the production of “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”, but goals will come.

2) Is Mikel Arteta the right man for the deep midfielder’s role?  I’m not totally sold on him there.  I love his tenacious play, his ability to pick out a pass, and his ability to help control the game from that deep role, but nothing has jumped out at me watching him these last two weeks.  And I don’t fault him for that.  I just don’t know that he’s best utilized there.  Arsenal’s biggest trouble has been slowing down too much as they approach the attacking third.  I almost wonder if he doesn’t contribute to that a little more than needed by sitting in that deep role.  I have no complaints about his play, mind you, I’m just still undecided about how I feel about having him be the one-to-one replacement to Alex Song.

3) Somebody shoot the freakin’ ball.  Quite simply, I’m convinced that a large chunk of the Arsenal scoring drought is simply an unwillingness to shoot the ball.  One credit to ol’ H-W-M-N-B-N (Dutch affinity for initials) was that he would take responsibility for scoring on his shoulders and shoot the ball.  Cazorla does take the odd strike from distance, and Giroud took a really nice crack at goal from the left flank today, but there just weren’t enough shots taken in general for my liking.  The final ball into the box, be it a simple pass or a cross, was often lacking in real threat or accuracy.  It looked a lot like some of those passes were taken just because that was the last idea left to whoever had the ball.  They’d played themselves out of other options, and a speculative ball was all they had left.  Shots earlier in the progression, or even an earlier ball into the box before it becomes the absolute last option left, could prove more dangerous.  Hopefully this will come with the time I talked about before.

I don’t think this represents the big set back that I’ve read some others think it is or thought it would be pre-match.  I think there’s still time.  Yes, the Gunners have a tough September ahead of them, but that tough September may prove to come at just the right time…far enough into the season that the new signings are settling, and early enough to help expedite the process with just the right amount of pressure.  Only time will tell.

Where are the Gunners now? (Arsenal vs. Sunderland, Saturday, August 18th)

A lot of ink has been expended trying to figure out what to expect this season from Arsenal after so much change, some good some bad, occurred at the club this offseason.  And we could continue to guess until we’re blue in the face as long as games aren’t being played on the field.  That period has come to an end as the EPL kicked off today.  After watching Arsenal draw a blank on Sunderland, I have drawn several conclusions:

1) Santi Cazorla is the best investment Arsenal have made in a long while.  Arsenal have been buying players that still need a lot of development or who are simply “promising” off season after off season in recent memory.  Rarely is a player brought in who is ready to step in and hold a starting place, with Mikel Arteta being an exception, although he was brought in on an emergency situation to help right the ship during last season.  Cazorla showed today the exact kind of effort and creativity that Arsenal can build on.  He’s going to be busy this season.

2) Van Persie’s shadow will be over this team the whole season, no matter the outcome.  When Nasri and Fabregas left last off season the whole year was spent talking about how things would have been different if they hadn’t been sold.  That same trend will only get worse this year.  The reality of soccer is that beautiful play only counts if you score goals.  Van Persie was the only proven goal scorer on the roster, and now that he’s gone every time a scoring chance goes by, as both Podolski and Giroud had against Sunderland, people will ask if RVP would have put that one away.  Any time a goal is scored the total number will be held up against what Van Persie was able to do.  As a fan I hate more than anything to admit that, but this team simply will not be able to outrun RVP’s sale, and can only make it work for next season by playing well this year.

3) Arsenal, for all their positive financials in the transfer market, simply are not winning the battle to build an effective team.  Every Arsenal fan I know gets uppity whenever the phrase “Arsenal are a selling/feeder club” gets uttered.  And I feel my blood rise when I hear it too.  But the fact that we’re losing players we want to keep (no matter how much money we get for them or who we buy with that money), that we don’t seem to be improving in any one specific area, that we’ve had the same criticisms leveled against us (shaky defense, all our passing comes to nothing, no biting edge on attack) season after season is a bigger deal than our silverware drought.  And any player that complains about the “lack of ambition” (Nasri, Van Persie) is full of crap.  Because if they’d stayed we have an amazing team.  They’re selfish players.  And I don’t blame them for it, I just hate the holier-than-thou stance they’ve tried to use to cover the fact that they personally aren’t willing to take on the pressure make it happen at Arsenal, and would rather go somewhere where other people have already done the work.  But the biggest issue is that Arsenal themselves aren’t able to prevent it, either because of finances, bad contract management decisions, or because of the prestige and swagger of the club.   We’ve lost and sold way more prestigious quality players year after year than we have brought in, and now have lost Song too this year to add to the RVP debacle.  Fans are continually pointed towards the healthy finances of the club, and hopefully when the FIFA Fair Play Rules are blanket across the league it will be beneficial, but it’s a cover.  If we were winning on the field no one would ever mention it as a major selling point.

Arsenal didn’t look terrible today, they didn’t look great.  They looked the same.  Podolski was shaky, Giroud was better but fluffed a great chance.  Arsenal fans are hoping that it was part of the settling process, but regardless this looks like the same ol’ Arsenal we’ve seen.  Unless our new talent proves that some gell-time is all they need this season will simply be more of what we’re used to: good, but not good enough.