Ninety three days after victory at the Stadium of Light brought the curtain down on last season, we’re in Holland tonight for the opening game of the new campaign, a Champions League qualifier against Twente, now of course managed by Steve McLaren.
And the story on everyone’s lips is the lack of depth in midfield, which is being cruelly exposed by early season twinges. Candidates Diaby, Cesc, Nasri, Song, Bischoff and of course Rosicky are out, while elsewhere they are joined by Eduardo, Senderos and Toure.
Of ths six unavailable midfielders, all were predictable. Song is at the Olympics, Rosicky and Diaby are always injured, Bischoff was signed with a long term injury, Cesc has had a draining summer, which just leaves new signing Nasri, too soon for him to be relied on, especially as he favours the wide role.
Of course, if it is too early to rely on Nasri, it is certainly too early to depend on young Aaron Ramsey, but that is where we find ourselves. The Welshman has a responsible role in the middle of the park tonight, with Denilson likely to play the creative role. Elsewhere, Djourou will slot in at the back, which I have to admit makes me a touch uneasy as well, but at least he has some experience.
For all the doom and gloom, however, this is eerily familiar – last season the midfield was highly rated, but we were seen to be short in defence, and with Henry gone, we were screwed up front. Of course, Adebayor stepped up, Eduardo looked great, Bendtner played some cameo roles, and Senderos looked solid when given a decent run in the side.
This season, we are stocked up front, even with Eduardo out – Van Persie is chomping at the bit for an injury free season and he deserves one. We deserve him to give us one. At the back, there is still not a lot of backup, but neither is there at United, and they’re favourites for the title.
Wenger knows we need another midfielder. He says Ramsey ‘needs to improve his technique’, which in other words means he isn’t really ready for the role he is being given tonight. But the boss also talks about trying to sort something out ‘this week or before the window closes’. My bet is we’ll sign a central midfielder, but not until August 31 in order to drive the price down.
By then, the qualifying round for the Champions League will be over, and we’ll have played West Brom, Fulham and Newcastle in the league. Whether that is a risk worth taking will be discovered in the next fortnight.