This Arsenal team is much different from the side last year. It is no longer being driven by a single-pronged express train of brilliance. Robin van Persie has gone to Manchester United and the creativity of the team is moving deeper again into the midfield. There are better options up front but moreover there are Plan’s A, B and C. Gervinho, Podolski and Giroud bring unique qualities.
Wenger has used Gervinho in the central area, allowing him to thrive in a drifting running striker option. Granted a freedom to drift, knit connections with the wider players and midfielders, room to dribble from the flank; it is almost as if he is attempting to do a version of what Messi does at Barcelona. Gervinho looks to run in behind more however, and Messi is a magical player who is done a disservice by having his name mentioned in the same sentence as the Ivorian. Gervinho offers an unpredictable dynamic, the unknown of an occasionally fantastic natural athlete who does not know what is going to do himself before he does it.
The problem with Gervinho is when he becomes obvious, when he tries to hit the ball with his laces from far out or when the tide of the game turns away from him – he never looks capable of rescuing it back. Fortunately he plays with a far more reliable striker in Lukas Podolski. Podolski is not the ‘risk’ player that Gervinho is, but he has football intelligence – that strange term nobody seems able to quantify or measure but we all know it when we see it. I think of him as a cold blooded superb finisher, but Podolski does not have the selfishness so often associated with that breed of footballer. His willingness to play wide on the left, and ability to do it so well, are the reason he was the youngest European player to reach 100 international caps for Germany. What makes the achievement ever more fantastic is that has done it for a national team that has had a litany of excellent wingers and midfielders since his debut. Klose, Gomez, Götze, Reus, Özil – he has found a place for himself in every team and with every star under each manager because he has delivered.
The signing of Olivier Giroud creates a spinal focal point for the side when Gervinho is out of the side or on the bench. Giroud is young, French, and a project for development so he has a he fits the template of the players that have thrived most under Wenger; Henry, Vieira, Pirès. I am not sure Giroud can consistently deliver, certainly not this season in any case. Each time something goes wrong or a ball falls away from him he throws his arms in the air in exaggerated disappointment. I want him to look driven and hungry, not wistful and humorous. When Bergkamp or Henry smiled on the pitch it always seemed to be a moment they were affording themselves after a goal, assist or moment of excellence. It was a reward for them, but for Giroud it is natural. A small thing? Maybe, but the best players do not seem to fit his style.
In 2014 the tide at Arsenal could turn. The primary commercial deals that Arsenal have in place are due to expire. In order for the club to cash in to the maximum, the team need to be in a position to attract the huge deals and that means they need consistency and results. They Champions League football and they need to continue to build their brand – the Barcelona of England, a team that ‘play the game how it should be played’ and get the accolades. If Financial Fair Play can at least hinder the oligarch-run teams, Arsenal have a great chance of sustaining a new era of success. I do not know if Wenger will want to be the manager for that new phase, but he will ensure he does not tarnish it for the replacement that takes his position.
If Giroud and Gervinho are not the guaranteed line-leaders that Wenger needs, if Walcott will not renew, and if Podolski is too effective in front of Gibbs – then we may see Wenger move for a striker once the hefty wages of Chamakh, Bendtner, Arshavin and Park are all off the wage bill. So which top class strikers are currently available and keen to be transferred? Robert Lewandowski would leave Dortmund for Manchester United but whether he would for Arsenal is a matter of debate. Fernando Llorente is hungry to leave Athletico Bilbao, in conflict with his coach, and would gel at Arsenal for Wenger. A bright and lanky forward with a great touch, Llorente would sell shirts and satisfy fans in the way another Spaniard has recently has. Llorente has thrived alongside clever imps like Iker Muniain at Athletico – who is to say he would not be able to do the same alongside clever imps like Cazorla, Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain at Arsenal?
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