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Wenger's Mistake Has Shaken My Faith

From Falcao to ‘Welbz’. The saga that was Transfer Deadline Day had varying levels of misery for all Gooners. Some had the Samaritans on speed dial. Some were questioning whether we had the required depth to mount not only a title tilt but if we were going to let our customary Champions League slot slip. Some had buried their heads so deep in the sand that they could hear Earth’s molten core churn. The most revelatory though were – like myself – the staunch Wenger fans who couldn’t ignore what was perceived as negligence.

Let’s travel back to the glorious World Cup. What a smorgasbord of football. General optimism levels were pretty high amongst us Gooners as the Cup final triumph still lingered in our memory banks – pictures of Rambo’s instinctive winner, Santi’s trophy-saving set-piece and Arsene Wenger drenched in champers – we fed on these majestic mental images whilst countries broiled and indeed toiled in the balmy heat for the most illustrious of honours. The Hoi-Palloi of the footballing world gathered in the home of the rainforest and Samba to pore over unknown jewels that could bolster their respective teams for a steal of a price compared to an already established name. These anonymous soldiers for their nations didn’t disappoint. The surprise factor helped the bargains flow copiously as well. Costa Rica, Chile, Columbia, Algeria and the USMNT all exhibited players that even the most decorated anoraks were left scratching their patchy face-fuzz. Gamboa, Yedlin, Cuadrado, even our own ‘Lesser-Spotted Campbell’ showed the illustrious audience what they could do on the biggest stage of them all. Players saw dollar signs, managers saw bargain buckets.

Our own esteemed leader though, was apparently knee-deep in Brazilian sand and semi-clad beauties, exhibiting his footy skills on the beach whilst agents ran willy-nilly shoving their wares under gaffer’s noses at every spare opportunity. He wasn’t interested. He was chasing tail, he didn’t have time fo’ no damn signin’, he was livin’ tha life – don’t hate tha playa, hate tha game. As the kids say in their peculiar vernacular. Or so we thought. Like a ganglier, French, Milk Tray man, he was working behind the scenes, wining and dining the power men, the targets and the target’s family whilst subtly sliding a lucrative contract offer into the conversation. Boom, Barca’s No.9 was secured whilst we thought Wenger was schmoozing the Samba-Girls. Wham, Bam and indeed Thank You Ma’am.

If we thought Alexis Bantchez was the crest of the wave, imagine our surprise, nay, our frozen shock when our Gallic Chief acted proactively to replace the outgoing Sagna and Fabianski with real quality. Then we signed highly-rated Chambers. Wowsers in my Arsenal trousers, we are going places. Wenger going against the grain and continuing to spend after the Ozil outlay and actually acting on our needs before August reared its head, caused our initial optimism to bloom beautifully into a frothing, crazed fuchsia of buoyancy.

The contrast to that time is right now. This very moment.

Our stuttering form hasn’t helped, even though we are unbeaten. Add into the bitterness mixture a lack of goals, our top performer’s firing blanks and our city rivals showcasing a hatload of goals aided and abetted by a former shining light of ours and we have a noxious concoction. Then our familiar injury jinx bit hard. Giroud out until January. That’s one hell of a lay-off considering every attacking sequence goes through our quiffed lothario. We knew of our Manager’s obsession with Sanogoals, so with our idyllic summer fresh in our minds we hoped for Cavani. We dreamed of Reus. With real zeal.

We were given Welbeck. ‘Welbz’. I’m not going to focus on our capture of the haircut that time forgot. I happen to think he will do a great job if played up top in Olly’s absence, but this isn’t the tale I came to spin. I was one of the few who thought that our attacking options were plentiful and diverse enough to grab us goals. I was fraught though – with our defence. Our first team isn’t the issue here. Our first eleven is strong enough to compete with any. Depth wise however, I’ve seen deeper paddling pools. I don’t count midfield in this, nor the attack as I previously mentioned. My ire is solely focused on defence.

I’ve listened to many different voices and read many opinions – all who I respect might I add – on their wishes for the window and what they wanted Arsene to strengthen. Most thought a striker - now Giroud was chatting up the Arsenal Nurse - was a priority. A lot said that a holding midfielder was vital if our plans to hold aloft the Premiership come May were to come to fruition. All though, highlighted our need for defensive back-up.

Hell, even Arsene admitted it. A candid admission from Wenger is as sparse as finding gold-dust in a skidmark. He came out in an official capacity and stated that we would sign a defender to replace Vermaelen when he leaves. We are still waiting. For all Arsenal fans to agree on something is unheard of. It highlights the obvious and important nature of the topic. 6 senior defenders to fit four defensive positions. No matter how you dress that up, it doesn’t look pretty. I’ve tried. Let’s look at the variables though, to see if this is the iceberg that we negligently missed.

Let us start with last season. We escaped unscathed in terms of missing MerteScielny – they were pretty much ever present. Mertesacker played 52 times for us, Koscielny played 46 games. Injuries-wise, Laurent missed 59 days through injury and our German Fine-Collector missed just 2 games through illness. At least that’s what my research tells me. That is frankly incredible and ridiculously hard to replicate. What about suspensions? Well, 1 sending off with 2 yellows for our Frenchman and just 4 yellows for our German. These stats, whilst impressive, show just how hard it will be to reproduce this season. It tells me that I expect Koscielny at least to be given his marching orders and miss out on future games through suspension. Where would that leave us? Let us hypothesize.

Koscielny nuts John Terry for being a repugnant character of ill-repute. He misses the next three games. Don’t worry, we have the talented, if a little rash, Chambers to slot in. With the wise head of Mertesacker next to him, that will surely soothe Calum’s urges to go forth and slide-tackle. What about if Per can’t match his herculean efforts from last season and finally, like all native Tree-People, succumbs to a wound to his bark? I heard an interesting opinion about this very situation.

Surely Debuchy can cover at centre-back? Or even Nacho? Wenger has hinted at this and we all know that versatility is something Wenger covets? I’m sure they could do a job there but you don’t hear of Azpilicueta at Chelsea or Kolarov at City being handed the defensive reins at their clubs? I agree to a point that if a player is talented enough, then they can change their perspective slightly to adapt to a small change in responsibility. I agree to a point that both of our current full-backs could do a passable job as emergency centre-back. What I don’t agree with is the refusal to bolster our defensive ranks –leaving this ugly scenario as not only a scary one but pant-wettingly real.

With a reported £50-60m left in the kitty, and at the very least three weeks to find a Vermaelen replacement, you could be excused for thinking that a back-up would be as good as gift-wrapped. No signings at the back can reap no excuses. We had time, we had money. Wenger has an extensive knowledge of the game, so a lack of targets is complete tosh. There are no excuses, our Boss has cocked up. This has resulted in shaken faith. At least on my part.

Another incendiary set off in my mind has been the apparent death knell sounding on our ambition. I thought this was the watershed moment that heralded change. I honestly thought that we had set our reticules on sitting on the zenith of the domestic and European game. At the closing of the window, I fell into a chasm of realism and dark thoughts. I felt this way for a few days until I found my usual spark of optimism.

This blog is a cathartic measure to put down my musings – a list of pros and cons which will enable me to rest easy at night and hopefully put an end to my defensive nightmares. I hope it helps you too. I have a wonderful nightcap for you too.

Our 3rd choice centre-back last season, our then captain, played 21 games last season. At least 7 or 8 of them were legitimate starts to break the ring-rust and give our Skipper a sense of entitlement. So at least 13 games he was called upon to fill in through injury or suspension. I’m more than sure Calum can be that guy for those games. Yes, I am aware I’m grasping at straws.

I have now made effigies of Koscielny and Mertesacker and placed them atop altars so I can pray to the injury deities for a safe passage through this arduous season. This may sound foolhardy but I’m sure Arsene has the same set-up.

I’m more furious that he has made me doubt him. He has always trudged through the tests that have faced him, none bigger than the Great Money Drought of 2006-13, but this is self inflicted. There are chinks of light shining through my mental fugue, namely the adaptability of our full-backs and the amount of times we can expect to call upon our 3rd choice centre-back, but these are hopeful at best. If the trials and tribulations of what looks to be another hard, long season take their toll – as we expect them to – then Hayden, Bellerin and Pleguezuelo (I have no idea how you spell his name) may be pushed into the water without their armbands. Sink or swim.

I have to wrap this up, the Mertesacker effigy is looking at me funny.

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