For the first half of our pre-season look at Arsenal we spoke to Michael Keshani. He is a sane Arsenal voice who we’ve had on Typical City before, and both his twitter and Arsenal writing are highly recommended.
Hi Michael. Arsenal fans have been living it up recently what with the FA Cup win and now the club actually signing a proper forward in Alexis Sanchez. How much of an effect will this have on the club? Will you beat any proper teams and avoid the annual mid-season, post-Christmas collapse which we all know and love?
Ha, I imagine that’s what the club are hoping. One of the main reasons we got battered by Liverpool and Chelsea last year was that we had so little pace in the forward positions, so we struggled to make any impact on the break, so were too easily nullified when going forward. The other was the absence of Ramsey, meaning that there was no one in midfield breaking up play higher up the pitch, so we couldn’t really sit deep. But without the pace, or incisive attacking players (Giroud and Cazorla were rendered useless by the state of the side and Özil was injured for Chelsea). So to counter that, Arsène tried to push the full backs and the box-to-box midfielder (Wilshere for Liverpool, Chamberlain for Chelsea) further up. With dreadful results.
With Alexis we have more of those incisive forward players, so Walcott’s absence shouldn’t have nearly as big an impact. He’s also a serious alternative to Giroud, so we hopefully won’t run him into the ground again, and Alexis will give us a lot more variety in our play.
The major asterisk is buying a central midfielder. Arteta has been fantastic for us over the past few years, but he is slowing down with every game. It’s not much of an issue next to Ramsey, who has freedom to press higher up with Arteta ideally positioned in case he misses his man. But Wilshere’s errant positioning and Arteta’s lack of pace are a real issue together. And then the alternative to Arteta himself is Flamini, who can run a bit more and point and shout a lot better but realistically, is better at nothing else except picking up bookings.
If we have Ramsey-Arteta for the big games then we should be mostly alright, but that requires them both being fit all season, which is a massive risk, and would still leave us open to playing Flamini. A new defensive midfielder (and centre back cover, if Vermaelen goes) is the biggest question mark at this stage as to how far we’ll go next year.
The fight for the Champion’s League places will be fiercer than ever this year. I assume you think Arsenal will be safe as usual even with the renewed threats of Man United, Everton and Tottenham?
I expect we’ll be completely fine for finishing in the top three, unless something goes really cataclysmically wrong. We’re talking an outbreak of The Plague in the squad levels of ‘going wrong’ here.
Chelsea are looking very strong this season and will be our main title rivals this year in my opinion, but with Arsenal’s strengthening I can see you being up there as well… Should I be more worried about Arsenal than about Chelsea and their new striker?
Chelsea are a weird one going into this season. I really don’t know what to expect from them. Fàbregas is one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, but he’s almost the antithesis of a Mourinho player. He’s really slow, isn’t exactly famed for his defensive work and is more inclined to take two or three touches, then release the ball, rather than in one or two, as Mourinho tends to prefer.
Costa’s movement as a lone centre forward has been bordering on dreadful whenever I’ve seen it, but he could be a very effective ‘wall’ figure for Cesc, who is great in the final third himself. But that in turn would compromise the defensive unit somewhat, especially if Cesc is put further back, next to Matić. They have a set of fantastic footballers, and Diego Costa, but to get the best out of their best one, they’ll need a slight style or system change, and that could take a bit of time to gel. Arsenal are building around a core that has been going for about a year and a half now, so there shouldn’t be much of an adjustment process for us. It depends how quickly Chelsea gel together. Arsenal should hit the ground running, given it’s a system and team that was mostly the same last year, but it’s more a question of sustaining it (as we’ve seen so many times).
If you could have one City player for your starting XI who would you pick?
Agüero. Fernandinho is probably the one we need most from your side, but Agüero is my favourite by a long way. I doubt the reasons need much explaining.
Sergio truly is the coolest man alive. Thanks, Michael.
Interview by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter