Into the unknown: Arsène’s fourth generation
At the commencement of the 2011-2012 season Arsenal’s trophy drought stretched to seven years. The longest period of time without silverware since the infamous wait after the 1971 double win.
As a club, Arsenal have been through two seasons of complete change and transition. The world has watched as the team that Wenger built around Fabregas to succeed the Invincibles has slowly disintegrated, the lack of success and silverware haunting many of the third generation Wenger side, based so strongly on young players developed for years within the club.
All the Invincibles are gone and the ‘Third Generation’ has now receded into history with the departures of first Van Persie to Man Utd and then Alex Song to Barcelona. Indeed, it is probably true that the best three players have left the club within the space of a year, as Fabregas, Van Persie and Nasri departed. Furthermore, with the departure of Song, Arsenal have lost another key player.
According to Jeremy Wilson in the Telegraph this means that:
“In the space of just three days, Wenger sold the two outfield players who he selected most often last season and who finished first and second in the most recent player of the season poll.”
The loss of such players would be a blow to any squad, but the exodus may not halt there.
Speculation surrounding Theo Walcott, also means that another of the longer term members of the squad may leave before Friday, considering that according to the latest reports Walcott’s party has failed to agree a new contract after lengthy negotiations. It wouldn’t be unfeasible to rule out a now customary summer approach by the Premier League winners.
Arsenal will surely sell rather than wait until Walcott’s contract expires in 12 months and miss out on a proper transfer fee to offset the £12-15 million paid for his services to Southampton as a 16 year old in 2006.
That whole generation built around Fabregas, may be looked back upon as a lost team of underachievers. It is clear is that that team was extremely talented, but through circumstance never won the trophy which could have turned them into another generation of legends to follow in the footsteps of the Invincibles.
Some of the failings of that team may lie in the fact that the transition from the Invincibles team was made extremely rapidly, at a time when other teams such as Chelsea were becoming increasingly competitive, and outspending Arsenal by far.
However, the focus is now very much on the present as this season is pivotal for Arsenal, as further key players leave. Those who remain need to carry the flame of the club, and Arsène Wenger’s vision of football.
This Arsenal side will take some time to gel and develop as members of the previous side including Van Persie, had up to eight years to develop and learn how to play together. Arguably, the lack of trophies means over that period mean that the squad was ready to be shaken up, though Wenger would never have wanted to lose so many key players so rapidly.
However, from the ashes of that project Arsène has produced the building blocks of the next. Arsenal now look to a rejuvenated squad blended with experience and added grit. In the long term the club should look forward to a backbone of Szczesny, Vermaelen & Koscielny, Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla to take the team into the future.
Meanwhile in the short term, much of Arsenal’s progress will now depend on mentality and how well the new signings can adjust and gel. Further key acquisitions in defence or midfield would bolster the side.
Six out of eleven starters for the first game against Sunderland arrived at the club either this summer or last, that’s almost 55%. Against Stoke there were seven, which takes the percentage of relatively new players close to 64%. Compare this to Utd who fielded four players who joined in the last two years as they won 3-2 against Fulham on Saturday. This means that much of this season will be spent developing understanding within the team, and an understanding of the best XI.
Over the course of the summer the Olympics demonstrated just what a difference psychology and mentality can make. Those who succeed in sport are those with the talent, but also belief that they can win, and determination to take this through to execution. Maintaining this mentality within a squad of players is even more challenging.
Wenger will not want the club to get into a dangerous situation where the best players leave each season, and go on to win trophies elsewhere. With star players lining up to leave, Arsenal run the risk of becoming a perennial selling club, unless they can buck the trend in terms of performance. Though this will depend on the development of the new squad: The unknown element of the Fourth Generation
The backline is clearly stronger than it has been in previous years, though injuries are the concern in midfield and the best combination upfront remains to be seen. Giroud and Podolski have both shown promise, but will most probably be utilised in different circumstances, whilst Cazorla looks like a quality player.
Furthermore, the promotion of Steve Bould to Assistant Manager has led to many hopes that Arsenal will improve on the 49 goals conceded last season.
Attack may be more concerning to fans, and should Walcott leave, this might worth some late investment, bearing in mind that on top of Van Persie’s departure the likes of Chamakh, Park, Arshavin and Bendtner will most probably move on too.
The departure of Van Persie and possibly Walcott, combined with the lack of goals against Stoke and Sunderland so far this season, highlight goalscoring as a key issue, for which the newer players will have to step up to the mark.
These are interesting times for the team as they refocus and look to settle as a new team. Transition is a testing time, and even more so when the previous project did not fulfil its potential. Arsène handled the crisis situation fantastically well last season, and ensured that he did not have to worry about even qualifying for the Champions League.
However, silverware should be a key target now. There is the possibility that this could come in one of the cup competitions. Any trophy win could provide the spark to help imbue the winning mentality at the club once again.
Get involved! What are the major issues you think this side will face this season? Comment below.