Monday, August 27, 2012

Arsenal Yet to Score: 0-0 Stoke

Arsenal has started the season with two nil-nil draws, seemingly both challenging and reinforcing the narratives going into the season. To start, one can't help put think we would have grabbed at least two more points with Van Persie in the lineup for both the Stoke and Sunderland games, and probably be sitting pretty on six points, rather than languishing on 2 (thankful Man U, Tottenham, Liverpool and even City have already dropped points). So the question: who will replace RvP's goals was and is legitimate. On the other hand, fears that the defense was going to be a real problem this year appear to be greatly exaggerated. I would still like to see a right back to replace Jenkinson, until Sagna returns, and maybe a fourth center-half, even as Mertesacker has settled in nicely, but one has to admit that Bould has seemed to improve the shape, discipline and challenging of the back four. 

As to the game against Stoke, we dominated on both sides of the pitch after an early flurry of attacks at Brittania, but again failed in putting the ball in the net. Giroux clearly needs a breakthrough to get rolling and will hopefully get one soon. Podolski looked active and strong running forward through the middle, but obviously needs to improve the actual finish to those great runs. Cazorla was great again, but he too needs to ensure his shots at least hit the target. And we need to work on our set pieces. We had corner after corner, but except for the flubs by Diaby and Giroux, had little to show for them. Walcott returned to his old disappearing act when he finally appeared on the pitch after Gervinho had put in a less than impressive performance after shining in the first game. Five takeaways from the game:

1. Arsenal need to work on set pieces: we have Giroux, Diaby and Mertesacker at over 6'2", but have yet to have anything close to a goal, even after 11 corners against Stoke.

2. Someone has to step up and put the ball in the net. One goal might be enough to open up the floodgates, as Arsenal has been dominating possession and creating opportunities, just not scoring on them.

3. Steve Bould's work with the back four is really paying off, as they have looked indomitable in the first two games. We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves yet though, as neither Sunderland or Stoke will be near the top of the league in scoring (though neither will the Gunners if they don't start soon).

4. We need reinforcements at right back. Jenkinson is just not ready to take the mantle and, while he was strong defensively on Sunday, I believe we need someone who can consistently get forward and put in good crosses and that is  not the youngster yet. It is yet another example of Wenger not taking care of an obvious need before the season started. And it has played a part in already costing us four points.

5. If no money is spend before the transfer window shuts Friday, I think this should be Wenger's last year. The moves over the past few years have taken Arsenal from a perennial title challenger to the most maligned team by the media in the EPL. And this is not without reason. The Song trade, in particular, seems to make no sense at all -- particularly after he admitted he wanted to stay at Arsenal for life. Rumors had us in for the exciting Sahin, but somehow we lost out on that good piece of business as well. Look around the league and you see why our rivals are improving at our expense. Let's start with Chelsea: they took Mata from us after we balked over a few million pounds more, outbid us for Hazard and, of course, still have the hated Cole plying at fullback. Moving to Manchester United, they just got our best player, who scored a sublime goal in the 3-2 victory Saturday. City has tons of ex-Gunners including obviously Nasri, Clichy and Toure. Even Tottenham has Abebayor as their top striker. Are we to be a selling club for the forseeable future? It's hard to know. But from that list, one could argue we are worse at left back, defensive midfield, attacking midfielder, on the wings, in the hole and at striker than we should be.

That's not good enough, and neither are Arsenal right now. And whether we blame Wenger, the board or both, it is time to change things at the club or risk becoming another Everton, happy with the occasional win over a big opponent and lucky to play in Europe at all. Of course, Everton sit far above us in the table at present, and have picked up a nice new army of talent as they push forward with their first good start in years. We, on the other hand, find ourselves in need of a win at Anfield this weekend, a tough ask after they should have beaten the defending champs.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Arsenal Blues ... Are We a Feeder Club?

After a rather depressing draw yesterday, Wenger announced that Alex Song was also on his way off -- to Barcelona for 15 million pounds. Unlike RvP, Song had two years left on his contract and supposedly seemed willing to stay for higher wages (he earned 55,000 a week and wanted a raise to 70). The anti-Arsenal pundits were at it immediately, claiming we are indeed a feeder club and that the fall of the house of Wenger is right around the corner. Why more abuse is heaped on this club than any other is not without merit, but certainly hard to swallow at times. One of my favorite British football pundits, Warren Barton, who now lines up for Fox Soccer in LA, is one of the leaders of the bunch, though the list is endless. But do they have a point?

The answer is clearly yes. Since 2006, Arsenal has been selling player after player after taking them from obscurity to world class status. The list is well-worn, but includes Cesc Fabergas (Cazorla could soften this blow if he keeps playing like he did yesterday), Samri Nasri (who looked wonderful today with a goal and assist), Van Persie (after spending more time on the bench than in games, he has one good year and leaves), Song (who Wenger cultivated into one of the top defensive midfielder last year) and a host of others in the recent past (Ashley Cole, Adebayoor, Anelke, etc.). Selling Song, while possibly a good move in the end, sends a bad signal to the fans and players and even Wenger looked depressed in announcing the move. But one does wonder what's in store for Arsenal moving forward. Most of the players who couldn't bring trophies to the Emirates the past seven years are now gone, replaced by others who might lack the same pedigree -- but who might bring the hunger back to the club. We looked set to snap up Sahin on loan from Madrid and I hope do a little more business in the next couple of weeks. But let's look at where we are at and what we can look forward to this year ...

In the back, Vermaelen looked solid again yesterday and Koscielny will be back soon. Mertesacker looked good as well, and should be a good backup this season, after some poor form last year. On the wings, I'm a little less sanguine. Jenkinson is not up to snuff to me, particularly going forward, and I really wish we would bring in quality cover until Sagna returns. On the other side, Gibbs looked bright at times but I still worry about him. Santos impressed at times, but like many Brazilian fullbacks, seems more intent going forward then actually defending. A fullback is a priority to me, and I hope we pick one up. I think we should also unload some of the deadwood on the bench.

In midfield, even with Song's departure, I think we are looking quite good. Cazorla was unbelievable and watch video clips of Sahin and you will see a player who more consistently gets the ball forward than Song ever did. We must remember that he played a key role for us last year playing centre-half on occasion and did assist 11 times. But he often played out of position and is certainly not as good going forward as Cazorla. Add to the mix Arteta, Wilshire (when he returns), Diaby (who showed why he does have the potential to be a key player this year), and Ramsey (who I'm afraid will never actually live up to his potential, but should be pushed toward the bench anyway). We could sign another defensive midfielder, but I'm not sure we need one. And, of course, we have Chamberlain, who might move from the wing to the hole position depending on where Cazorla plays, and provide another creative presence moving forward.

The attack is the major area of concern at present. I do believe Podolski and Giroux will settle and do well this year, but the heavy burden of replacing RvP might weigh on them early in the year. It appeared to yesterday, but there is time to adjust (though not too much). Gervinho looked like a new player yesterday, after a compelling preseason, and I look for him to be an important source of assists -- and hopeful some goals to boot. Walcott was less impressive, except for a few quality runs and a chance that I think Podolski should have pounded in. But maybe he will come good in a more consistent way this year (I hope). I still think another striker would be a smart move, particularly as we now have $39 million pounds we didn't a week ago, but the cheap option, Mirallas, is now gone so Wenger would have to splash the cash -- which seems unlikely. Rumors are Arshavin is in St. Petes and I hope that means we are finally unloading him and I would also like to see Chamakh gone as well.

The reality is we have lost too many players in recent years after cultivating them into top notch players. Too often, those players leave for our rivals. On top of this, we seem to too consistently lose out on top targets. How would last season have gone if we plucked Mata when he was available? We were only a few million pounds off and really could have used his creativity and goal threat. Or Hazard, who seemed likely until right at the end (and the mysterious Park snag that might have helped close the possibility)? In defense, I think Cahill would have been a better signing than Mertesacker and could have really helped our leaky defense. And the list goes on. Wenger's stubborness might be at the heart of the matter, but it is clear that the owners currently seem more intent on cashing in than making us winners. How long will fans put up with it? How long will the players, who seem on a mass exodus out of the club?

To finish on a positive note, I will go back to a point I made at the start. The players who have left have often found glory in their new surroundings (Fabergas and Nasri, most obviously), but why did they underperform at key moments for Arsenal? Has Wenger lost his touch or is there just too much complacency at the club and players who are not innate winners? I think the flush out could bring in a new crop of players that really want to prove the pundits wrong and really compete for trophies. It may be wishful thinking, but one hopes it comes to pass. At present, Arsenal stand on the precipice of a cliff -- by setting the bar too low, failing to reach it would be disastrous. Wenger has always qualified for the Champions League and that might be in real danger this year. If it comes to pass, Europa may beckon and the beleaguered feeling that we truly have reached the end of an era. But if Arsenal outperform this season and actually win silverware (I'd say the league is beyond them already but FA Cup and Carling/Capital One should be priorities), finish in the top four and silence the critics, maybe a rennaissance awaits ...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Arsenal .... Disappoint with Some Hope

Well, a 0-0 draw at home against a less than impressive Sunderland is not the result Gooners were hoping for. There were some bright spots but clearly fears that the absence of RvP is going to smart all season. We controlled the game completely after some early sloppy defending (70 percent possession) and created some real opportunities, but lacked the cutting edge that has cost the club over the past few years. And the way Sunderland played the game will certainly provide a blue print for others, including Stoke next week. Sit back, absorb pressure and hope the Gunners don't put it in net. The way to break this up, of course, is to score early, and that will have to be the real push this year from my perspective. To the grades:

Podolski (C): seemed a bit out of sort, out of position on a few occasions and missed two half chances early by getting bullied out when the goal was open. He will need to improve.

Gervinho (A-): we will still have to see if he can finish when given the chance, but he was bright throughout. His game is based on getting around defenders and he did it more often than not today. Missed a little on the end, but set up others for opportunities they didn't take. Certainly promising after the drop in form after ACN last year.

Walcott (B-): Walcott had some good runs and provided a couple of really good opportunities, but sometimes disappeared and was outshone by Gervinho through much of the match. He will have to step up this year or be unseated by others.

Cazorla (A): showed why he excited Arsenal fans so much once the rumors of his capture surfaced. Missed some chances on goal, but created many and only had two errant passes in the first half. Set up Giroux beautifully on the 82nd minute, but the Frenchman pushed the ball terribly wide. I think he will be a revelation this year and the replacement for Fabergas we've needed.

Arteta (B-): not much from Mikel, who seemed to disappear for large stretches of the match. His role has been partially taken by Cazorla, but we need him to get the offense moving forward quickly after defensive stops.

Diaby (B+): nice to see him back on the pitch and contributing. There are always the injury concerns but, if he can stay healthy, could be a key contributor with his ability to keep the ball in tight quarters, good vision and strong shot. He becomes all the more important with Song now gone. I hope we are planning on replacing him -- otherwise further reason to believe Arsenal are more interested in profits then trophies at the moment.

Jenkinson (C): didn't have to do much on defense, but I have never been terribly impressed with the Charleton full back. And that was reinforced today, with him rarely involved and fluffing a lot of crosses wastefully.

Vermaelen (B+): looked back to his old self with several important tackles and a strong game in the middle. As we move on from negative football in the future, a lot will rest on the Belgian's shoulders.

Mertesacker (B+): a good game for the German, even as there was little pressure. I'm constantly worried about his pace on the break, but was solid with some nice positional football (his strength).

Gibbs (B): A strong game after some early trouble, but nothing truly revelatory. If Giroux is in the middle, we will need him to get in good crosses, and one hopes crosses get better in general as the season goes on. 

Giroux (C+): while he looked better than Podoloski, he missed an easy opportunity to be early hero in the 82nd minute. Instead we will probably find ourselves two points off the pace right off the boot. I think he will improve, but this was the key with RvP last year -- need to finish our chances.

Arshavin (B+): looked okay coming on, but I hope it's for the last time. The little Russian who sometimes can, just isn't the player we were hoping for and it's time to move him on.

Ramsey (B): Ramsey looked decent, but as has become the pattern, misses on shots, tries blind passes which rarely come off and just isn't doing enough to help the squad. I think he might see his time increasingly sparse if he doesn't impress in the coming weeks. 

Arsenal have the potentially to have a decent season and hopefully push for cup glory, which should be a top priority now, but will not challenge for the title unless we see surprisingly performances from a number of the players. We need goals and it is unclear how we will replace the production of RvP. Man U look set to take back the title, though City will certainly still be up there. With Tottenham, Liverpool, Newcastle and maybe some other surprise in the mix, Arsenal cannot blow many points this year if Arsene is to keep his UCL steak intact. Two are now gone and we will have a similar opponent in the scrappy Stoke next weekend. The real concern is all the players that have left in the past few years. Why? What has happened that has pushed loyal Gunners to run toward the door. Has Wenger lost it? Has he lost the competitive fire that made his first eight years sublime? Is our pay structure hurting us as footballers understandably chase the money? We need to win something to stop the rot. I can't help think that the Carling Cup loss has been a key factor decimating this team for the past season and a half. Let's hope we make another signing and get back on track next week. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Well, the news is official. After months of back and forth and one media report after another turning out false, Robin Van Persie has walked out the Arsenal door for the last time. The destination for those not following the story, is hated rival Manchester United. This means in the past few years we have seen beloved Gunners leave for a host of our closest rivals including Ashley Cole and Nickolas Anelke to Chelsea, Emmanuel Adebajor to Tottenham (through the back door), Patrick Viera (in management), Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy to Man City (after a stop in Inter), Cesc Fabergas and Terry Henry to Barca and now RvP to Manchester United. It is a depressing list and shows how far the team has fallen since the glory of the late 90s and early aughts. But in this case, it was probably good business. Van Persie didn't want to stay and ensured that a transfer would eventually go through by posting the infamous note on his website openly criticizing Wenger and the board. Even as Wenger has now brought in three great new signings, it seems RvP's time was up.

I don't want to spend too long dwelling on Van Persie, who unlike Fabergas, Henry and Viera, I refuse to forgive for leaving. He is like too many athletes these days from Dwight Howard to Lebron James to Nasri who would rather transfer to a de facto all-star team and win then actually earn it like, say, Jordan or Arsenal themselves did. It seems pretty clear that money played a big part here, but one has to make the point that Van Persie played a part in many of our near misses over the past few seasons, from the sitter he missed against AC Milan to the failure to convert against Birmingham in the Carling, to the red card against Barca in the second leg the season before last, to all the finals, semis and quarters of cups he missed through injury. He had one great year and decided to cash in and leave a club that loved him, and that pretty much sums up what I think of him now. Adieu, adieu!

The problem, of course, is replacing him. Arsenal has a great mix of seasoned talent and youth now, but do they have a leader they can trust in the crunch? Without RvP, I am worried the answer might be no. We will have to see how Podolski and Giroux handle the pressure and physicality of the Premiership, how they jell with the other players and whether they can hold up for a season (though the friendly Sunday certainly gives one some hope on the first two counts). I believe Cazorla will be a revelation and that Chamberlain will have an outstanding campaign. I still worry about our defensive line-up, and our holding midfielder, if the other big rumor surrounding Arsenal comes true and Song departs for Barca. But we are still being linked with some interesting names and one hopes we use the 24 million or so pounds we get for "the traitor" (as he will henceforth be known), to do more business. Among the most promising are the creative Turkish midfielder Sahin, striker Llorente and Meirellas (sorry, to lazy to check spelling on this). In any case, more to follow, but I remain cautiously hopeful that we will finish fourth in the EPL, win no trophies and Wenger will again proclaim it a success (just kidding). Go Gunners! F-U Robin!

Liars, Damn Liars and Romney

Double speak is on a rampage these days, from cheaters calling themselves sex addicts to Romney calling out Obama's campaign as "about division and attack and hatred" that is "designed to bring a sense of enmity and jealousy and anger." (CNN) This came a week after Romney coined his own term "Obamabloney" (see below) to attack the President for lying so much. To call the Obama campaign hateful is like Minstrel stars calling blacks racist for picketing outside a show, just as Romney critiquing the President for lying is like an elephant calling a mouse "fatty." One of the more interesting terms used here, besides hatred (which I guarantee will be used by Romney as the election nears), is "jealousy." The reference, of course, is an attempt to argue that the poor and middle class condemning the growing inequality in America is simply envy, and that there is no reason to engage in such debates. It is one way to handle the biggest problem Romney faces -- which is the fact that he himself is emblematic of what Americans are so tired of, the rich and entitled "elitist" Ivy Leaguers whose greed is costing average people jobs and reducing the overall quality of life of Americans.

The campaign is clearly sizing up as one of the most contentious in history, with Romney and his team willing to say just about anything to win. The lies started with the first campaign ad (which famously used a clip of Obama saying: "The McCain campaign say if the election is about the economy, we lose", without the rather contextually important, but inconvenient, first three words) but they have accelerated in recent months. And while attacking your enemy for doing what you're doing is a tried and tested rhetorical strategy, here it almost seems like classic Freudian projection from a man that seems to stand for little but the interests of his below multimillionaires. Now that he has signed up Ryan on the ticket, at least he can't pretend to be a moderate and one could thus argue that like 2000 (though with a very different media narrative), this election is shaping up as one that will affect the country for decades ...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

True Colors ... Shining Through

It is hard to pigeonholing what Mitt Romney actually stands for, as he has far surpassed any "flip-flopping" presidential candidate in recent memory, making Kerry seem like a "decider" in the mold of George Bush (cough, cough). But with the selection of Tea Party darling Paul Ryan (Rep-R), any suppositions that he would move toward the center after winning the GOP nomination has disappeared. Instead it appears the ticket will try to win on charisma (which Romney has little of), good looks (one could say Romney and Ryan certainly have the advantage here) and attacks and lies (which Romney is quite good at). Ryan sells himself as a rebel that is looking to sensibly deal with the debt. But as The New Republic highlighted in an article yesterday, he is a truly radical figure who seeks to rewrite the social contract in ways that benefit the wealthy and hurt everyone else (Six Things to Know About Ryan).

As the article points out, the Ryan plan last year proposed a radical rearticulation of the government that would essentially lead to the biggest redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich in history. Ryan's plan would leave the elderly again making decisions between healthcare and luxuries like rent and food, eliminate health insurance for millions of working Americans, cut government services so radically that the CBO estimates say they would be unable to perform basic services like food inspection, education support or road repair and seek to destroy the entitlements that seem more necessary today and in the future than ever (given increased poverty and an aging population of baby boomers). I think all six points made by the article are worth repeating:

1. Ryan believes in cutting Medicare substantially, with a New York Review of Books mentioning that compensation would fall from 68 to 25 percent over time. He wants to change the current program to one with vouchers, with few safeguards to ensure that they keep up with rising prices. 
2. Ryan wants to end Medicaid as we know it. Following the script that has seen the GOP try to gut other successful programs for poverty abatement like Head Start, Ryan would call for block grants for Medicaid rather than the current federal to state compensation scheme. This would mean more poor, disabled and elderly without access to healthcare (from 14 to 27 million according the Kaiser Foundation and Urban Institute). To put it bluntly, it really means lowering the life expectancy of the poor.
3.  Ryan has brought up the idea of privatizing Social Security yet again. As I have outlined in the past (a few years ago), this is simply a plan to line the pockets of investment banks, Wall Street and investors, as stock prices become unnaturally inflated in the short run. If we want to make SS more solvent, a more pragmatic method would simply be to invest the money collectively in more high yield options. Giving people "control of their own money" simply means many will lose it, and thus have nothing to retire on.
4. Ryan wants to bleed the government of resources to the point they can't carry out routine services. Ryan proposed cutting the interest on the debt to GDP ration down to 4%, whereas it has not been below 8% since WWII (the current figure is 12%). To accomplish this, discretionary spending would be cut in every area and this would mean less oversight, less protection for workers and the poor, less social services and essentially ending the role of government in regulating the market and helping those in need (a sort of the "Awful Society"). One good piece of news is he doesn't want to cut, but actually increase, defense spending (the next cold war is clearly just around the corner).
5. Ryan wants to lead the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to rich in history. Paul Krugman wrote an interesting article for The New York Review of Books recently, arguing that we could get out of this "depression" now by simply spending government money to create new jobs. Ryan instead wants to keep the Bush tax cuts and expand them. To put this in context, the CBO estimates that the Bush tax cuts will cost $4.2 trillion by 2018, while the Ryan proposal asks for cuts during the same time of about, you guessed it, $4 trillion. Thus we could save ourselves from these draconian measures by simply reinstating the dreaded "death tax" (which, by the way, makes sense in a meritocracy) and upping the top tax rate from 35 percent to, gasp, 39.5 percent --- which is where it was until Clinton. Ryan truly is Robin Hood in reverse!
6. Ryan is truly radical when it comes to abortion rights. He has even argued for prosecuting women who have abortions. It's good that we have male candidates in 2012 who are still stuck in the 1950s. 

Ryan is a radical right wing lunatic who cloaks these behind bonhomie and a wonkishness that many find appealing. He talks in common sense language about the need to cut the deficit and long term debt, without showing his real hand -- which is further solidifying corporate and elite power while further undermining the power of government to do anything to stop them. With this pick, we now know what this election is about -- with a man worth at least $190 million running for president to serve his rich brethren in continuing to screw the poor and middle-class for their own greed. Can this reality really fail to escape the public for long?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Liar Liar ... Tax Returns on Fire

The general tenor of the election is turning increasingly ugly as Romney and his corporate brethren attempt to win arguing for a return to the failed policies of W, minus any increase in government spending. Obama in a clever turn of phrase argued that the proposed policies are "Romneyhood," as the candidate plans to take money from the poor and give it to the rich. Romney's team response was to coin their own phrase: "Obamabloney." (CNN) And while this too might be clever, it belies the fact that the Romney campaign has told more half-truths and lies than any I can remember in history. The latest is an ad that claims that Obama implemented a reform to welfare laws that will eliminate the work requirement. gave the ad its harshest rating: "Pants on Fire." And this can be said of many of the ads Romney and the Republicans have scripted so far, many coming from the veteran attack ads impresario who have us the infamous "Willie Horton" ad in the 1988 election, helping Bush senior to victory over another governor from Massachusetts. The reality is that beyond election finance reform we really need a bipartisan group to oversee political ads, just as the CBO gives independent budget reviews of various bills and platforms. Too many lies are spread to people who would never go to Politifact or any other site to check their accuracy. And this undermines our democracy, further hampering the ability of uninformed Americans to make informed decisions about the future of the country. While we're at it, I think we should set standards for candidates to meet, like providing adequate tax returns to give people a view of their financial position. What can one think but that Romney has something to hide when he refuses to release them?

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Arsenal's Summer

Well, I've been away from the blog for a while. Got busy with school, a novel that's almost finished and a few papers that are currently late but nearing completion. I will be returning to look at what I see as a key presidential election now, but today wanted to touch on Arsenal. Reading U.S. papers the past few years can cause one considerable pain, as reporters and editors have seemed to completely forget that essentially component of their jobs -- fact checking. As we have a presidential candidate who has a very acrimonious relationship to the truth one hopes they remember this key charge in the future. The British press, on the other hand, has never been saddled by any pretext to this inconvenient ally in selling newspapers; with no topic more filled with half-truths, supposition and lies than the football crew.

And so Arsenal has been the subject of one false rumour after another, from the imminent departure of Van Persie to Man City, Man U and Juve to recent revelations that he might stay (which I would love to believe, but am cautious in embracing). We have been linked with every player imaginable and often claims that we have already signed them have turned out completely false. But Arsenal has been active this transfer window and it looks like we might be adding some serious offensive midfield talent to the early signings of Podolski and Giroux. If Cazorla and Sahin do in fact join the club, I believe we do become serious title  and cup contenders, even if RVP exits. Call me crazy as so many football pundits will, who seem more enamored with hating and mocking Arsenal and the French Genius than any other club, but this is a team with depth, talent in the middle and up front. Our main problem last year was injuries, a dearth of effective final-third attacking and an awful start to the season after the late departures of Nasri and Fabergas. But if rumors from Spain are to be believed, Cazorla is the real deal and only one level below the Barca greats Iniesta and Xavi. Sahin will add presence in the middle and leaves Arsenal with a number of quality midfielders, with some able to play in the cup competitions rather than simply relying on our youth. 

So let's look at the squad. Defensively, our first team looked better for parts of the season, before a late season drop in form from Vermaelen and more porous tendencies, particularly early in games. Sagna will not be available until October and I thus think we should really get a decent right back in who can serve as a solid backup upon his return. Jenkinson is just not ready yet, and I'm not completely convinced he ever will be. I'm also somewhat troubled by left back, with Gibbs generally failing to impress me, though he's become more dangerous moving forward. There is the possibility that Santos will come back from his injury in better form, but he was too easily beat on the left side last season. 

Moving to the midfield, we look quite strong -- unless Song leaves, another rumour I hope is false. Unless we are planning to replace his with Capalou Wanayama, I just don't see this as good business. I suppose Arteta could drop back to the defensive position, but I'm not sure he can marshall the way Song does when he's on his game. Some have argued Song should be pushed forward and that is a possibility given some of his sublime passing, but I would like to see his overall completion rate improve, as he did have a tendency to lose the ball on the offensive side more than I would like. I've never seen Sahin play so can't say whether he could take this position as well, but I do like Coquelin a lot and think he might grow into that position if we don't need him to cover so often along the defensive line. Wilshire will return in October and Chamberlain could potentially move into the hole, or play on the right wing. The man who might get lost in the mix is Ramsey, who I personally have lost faith in, and thus see this as a good thing. The reality is that competition for play time will be at a premium and that will be a good thing.

Up front, we also look strong, particularly if recent rumours of a RvP U-turn are to be believed. If he does go, it looks like Giroux will play up the middle and Podolski and Gervinho will share duties on the left wing. On the right we have Walcott and Chamberlain vying for time. If RvP stays, one assumes Giroux will be the backup, or maybe move to the wing occasionally (or vice versa, as RvP could clearly play wide -- though I don't see it happening often). We also have some youngsters that could push for some time on the pitch including Afobe. And the future looks bright with a number of prospects on loan that could find their way starting or in the first team next season. A lot hinges on RvP's decision, on whether Gervinho ups his game again, on how consistent Walcott is and on how Giroux and Podolski adapt to the EPL. But one could see Arsenal being one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the league if anyone besides RvP starts putting the ball in the back of the net with regularity. It's important to recognize that that's exactly what happened at the end of last season, as our captain's production dipped. 

Finally, I want to discuss what moves are left to be made this summer to shore up our finances and maybe bring in those final pieces that can help us compete again at the top of the EPL. Obviously we have some players to sell and one hopes we offload Arshavin (who has no place at all at the club anymore), Squillaci (who, for lack of a better word, sucks), Bendtner (who will never be as good as he thinks he is, but might find glory elsewhere), Chamakh (I'm really tired of Gooners who want to give the kid another chance; he had it and it just didn't happen after a nice start) and Djourou (though he did have some better spells last year toward the end). As to  needs now that we have four major signings in the bag (one hopes) -- I would look to shore up the defense with a right back (1st need, as Sagna won't be back for a while and Jenkinson just isn't ready to take the reigns from what I've seen), a left back (2nd need, I'm less convinced by Gibbs than most and worry, along with others, that Santos is too easily bullied by the best right backs in the game) and/or maybe a center back (Kosielny and Vermaelen are great (though the lattter has to stop pushing forward so much unless we push Song or Sahin or Arteta further back when he does and/or get a more defensively strong left back) and Mertesacker should be a good backup, but I feel one more powerful force in the middle would do us well). Of course, we won't be getting three defenders and their is hope that Miquel might be ready to make the move up. I hope we do keep RVP for the season, even if he does leave for free next year. Wenger has made a lot of positive moves this summer and one has to wonder ... what has taken you so long? But losing our top player yet again would send the wrong message to the fans, particularly if he heads to City or United. And one more year with RvP leading the line will give Giroux time to acclimate to the EPL and give the 29 year old the rest he really needed last year (as his production did tail off a bit at the end of the season, as I've noted before).

I do believe Arsenal has the potential to surprise a lot of people this year by challenging at the top. But that depends on the new squad linking up well in a very short period, as we are but two weeks away from starting our season against Sunderland. I hope Wenger realizes that we need silverware this season and puts real effort into the FA and/or Carling Cup -- his stubborness on this point has cost us in the past and one mustn't forget he fell out of both while on a decent run of form last year and could have pushed harder with more veterans in the squad. The Sunderland loss was particularly disappointing (FA Cup) though the tough loss to City also showed a young squad that played well but couldn't put the ball in the back of the net. Only time will tell whether more tears will be shed this year (making it eight years running) ... I hope not.