Arsenal have won just once on the opening day of the season over the past five seasons so at least Arsene Wenger can find a crumb of comfort in familiarity, the problem is for him that it doesn’t get any easier. Next up is Crystal Palace, on an upward trajectory under Alan Pardew and buoyed by their own opening day win over Norwich, then a new-look Liverpool out to avenge their 4-1 defeat at the Emirates last term. Then they face Chelsea and Manchester United in their next five fixtures.
Arsene Wenger may have added one or two reinforcements before then, as while that crushing victory over Liverpool in April, the 0-2 win at Manchester City in January or the run of just defeats in 18 games to conclude last season were cause for optimism, Sunday’s 0-2 loss to West Ham at the Emirates dealt a hammer blow.
Anti-climatic yet again
The Gunners were again their anti-climactic selves, betraying the form shown in pre-season as Slaven Bilic’s Hammers, three days after being dumped out of the Europa League to Romanian side Astra Giurgiu and fielding 16 year old debutant Reece Oxford at the base of their midfield, stunned the Emirates with their first win there since 2007. Arsenal enjoyed 62% of the possession and had 22 attempts while West Ham had just 8, it is a refrain that Wenger has long since grown accustomed to.
Both goals could be attributed to errors from Petr Cech, making his league debut for his new team after making a £10 million move from Chelsea, but the consistency the Czech has shown throughout a trophy-laden decade at Stamford Bridge will ease any concern Wenger may have about them occurring again.
So far that move is the only incoming business Arsenal have completed this summer and with the club hierarchy claiming there is substantial money available to spend, Wenger may be persuaded to head back into the market as the routine flaws of his team once again make themselves known.
Lack of width and the possible need for a top striker
The notable lack of width that allowed Oxford and his midfield helpers Cheikhou Kouyate and Mark Noble to suffocate the threat of Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey as they all habitually drifted inside will soon be remedied by the return of Alexis Sanchez, who was fit enough to play only as a 67th replacement for Mathieu Debuchy against West Ham.
Theo Walcott was also a substitute, coming on for Francis Coquelin just before the hour mark, but whilst he also has the ability to stretch the play as a winger, Wenger has previously stated that this may be the year he moves into a central-striking position, as he did against Chelsea in the Community Shield, in support of Olivier Giroud.
It was Giroud who started against West Ham, possibly with Wenger suspicious that Bilic would play a deep defensive line and negate Walcott’s pace, and the Frenchman duly struggled to have an influence, seeing most of his touches come in ineffective areas.
Karim Benzema has been constantly linked but with the £45 million asking price seen as too high and although attentions have reportedly been set to Edinson Cavani of PSG, but throughout this window Wenger hasn’t seemed too occupied with the idea of breaking the bank for a new attacker.
“I can only repeat what I’ve said: if an exceptional solution turns up, we will do it” was Wenger’s view after the West Ham game and after opining in pre-season that a new striker is not needed, it is unlikely that the usually rational and measured Wenger will be pushed into the market so drastically following an opening day slip-up.
There’s still cause for optimism
He may yet be validated with Sanchez coming back to full fitness and Danny Welbeck still to return, Walcott motivated by a new contract and a period of sustained fitness as he looks to challenge Giroud. That quartet got 59 goals between them last term and with the threat of Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain coming from midfield, with Jack Wilshere also due to return from injury, there is cause for optimism.
Though it would take a great dose of naivety to believe Wenger wouldn’t have been alarmed by his team’s laboured attacking performance against West Ham, of the pressure they put on, Adrian only had to make six saves in the visiting goal.
Links with another holding midfielder
Wenger also now finds himself linked with a £22 million move for Grzegorz Krychowiak, Sevilla’s battle-hardened marauding midfielder, possibly with inhibitions over Coquelin coming to the fore in the loss to West Ham. The 24 year old was caught in possession by Mauro Zarate for the game’s killer second goal and although he has proven himself useful in tightly-contested games against bigger opposition, when Arsenal are required to sit deep and break, in this his breakthrough year, questions are being asked about the Frenchman’s role in the team when they are required to break teams down.
Credit to West Ham and Bilic; and hope for Wenger
West Ham and Bilic deserve great credit for the way they stuck to their plan and frustrated the home side with the Croatian right to voice his pleasure over a “great” start to the campaign. But for Arsenal it is the well-worn ground of frustration and scrutiny.
Wenger won’t be too disheartened by another false start but with a tough set of fixtures lying in wait with the potential to betray yet another off-season of optimism, he will have to answer the questions before they become too loud.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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