By Bagga Wilks
How does a team lose five of its top players at the beginning of 2010-2011 and now at the commencement of 2012-2013 season? One can argue that Arsenal was fortuitous to finish in the top four and qualify for the European Champions League.
Last season Arsenal started the dreadfully and the team remained vulnerable against set pieces. Van Persie and Alex Song were the rescue workers and now Song has moved on to Barcelona and Van Persie has shifted his goal scoring prowess to Manchester United.
What is truly remarkable is that the made over Arsenal in the few games played thus far, looks like a better team than last year. The defense is more solid. Arsenal as per usual retains possession of the ball. Possession is an essential part of the game but great teams do not give up silly goals and are capable of putting the ball in the back of the net when they are in the attacking thud.
Arsenal was scoreless when they played their first game of the season. Without Van Persie would they be able to score goals, win matches and remain a formidable force in English football? That question has been answered. The movement off the ball this week against Southampton was impressive. The movement of Cazorla, Podolski and Gervinho was sensational. If that kind of chemistry in the attacking thud continues, Arsenal will be contenders for the League title.
With the departure of Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal lacked a first rate playmaker. Cazorla has filled that void. By relegating Ramsey to the bench, the mid-field of Diaby, Arteta and Cazorla packs the arsenal necessary to keep opposing teams on the back foot. Also surprising is the improved play of Kieran Gibbs on both sides of the ball.
Wenger’s trades in the off season and his forging of the new players into the Arsenal style of football is testimony to his genius as a manager.
It appears that Chelsea got off to a rollicking start but the club’s draw against Queens Park Rangers revealed that Chelsea is still a work in progress. Fernando Torres is no Drogba. Hazard will be an invaluable playmaker but the 4-3-3 formation allows teams to outplay Chelsea in mid-field. The aging Lampard neither has the zip nor the work rate to manage a mid-field of three. Mikel seems to be blossoming under Di Matteo but Ramires is more productive in the middle where his indefatigable presence makes Chelsea more competitive. And Di Matteo will sooner moreso than later, find a place for Oscar. Right now Chelsea would be better off playing Sturridge at the top, Hazard behind him and a mid-field of Ramires, Oscar, Lampard and Mikel. Cole and Ivanovic already play as attacking full backs. Di Matteo has to learn what is the personnel needed and the formation required for the Blues to be most potent.
Mano Menezes, the Brazilian coach cannot continue with his experimentation until the date of the 2014 World Cup to be played in Brazil. He seemed to have abandoned the aging stalwarts, Kaka, Ronaldinho and Robinho. In recent games Mano has trotted out the young lions like Oscar and Lucas and has re-summoned the workhorse, Ramires. The defensive mid-fielder is still up in the air and Luca Leiva would be the favorite if he can return to full recovery from his injuries. Sandro has gotten his opportunities but appears likely to be in the squad but coming off the bench.
Menezes must be gratified with the discovery of Dede, another central defender who can partner with David Luiz or Thiago Silva. Up front Hulk is more energetic and more dangerous than Damiao. Neymar needs to be more involved as a playmaker and most become more mobile.
Things have been slow in forging a starting eleven. Under Mano Menezes, Brazil has been playing friendly after friendly and thus far it has been a grab bag as to who starts. There is now some signs of solidifying a team. Nonetheless, Brazil did not look like Brazil against South Africa even though they won 1-0. Against China, the Selecao scored eight goals but China could not have been more abysmal and that trouncing of China is not a reflection as to where the Brazilian national team is in relationship to its preparation for World Cup 2014.
Mano is running out of time but it appears that he is settling down with a nucleus but there are still gaping holes to be filled if Mano is not to have an ungracious exit.