Everton host Arsenal midweek, and we interview our fellow SB Nation blog, The Short Fuse and Ted talked to us about some of the issues Arsene Wenger has faced this season. Also, click here to read the five questions we answered for them on their blog too.
RBM - The Gunners are in sixth in the Premier League, into the quarters of the League Cup and also through to the next round of the Champions League. How would you describe Arsenal's start of the season?
TSF - It's been pretty wild, in many ways. The team was displaying perfectly mid-table form in the league for a few weeks and looking as non-threatening as a mouse, and then they put seven past Reading and five past Tottenham, all while qualifying for the Champions League knockout round for the 13th season in a row. From game to game it's hard to know which team will show up: you might get the one that can't generate attacking threat and has complete brain farts in defense (e.g. vs. Chelsea, Norwich), you might get the one that plays wide open and creatively kamikaze stuff (Reading), or you might get a pretty solid comprehensive performance (Montpellier). There's not much of a pattern so far.
RBM - Arsene Wenger has built a reputation for very shrewd dealings in the transfer market. How was the offseason for Arsenal? What are some of the more important pieces you added, and who did you bid farewell to?
TSF - Well, the club sold Robin van Persie to Manchester United, and so far, he's doing van Persie things up north. They also sold Alex Song to Barcelona, although his absence has perhaps been overstated by just about everyone. Arsenal do miss his size and strength in the midfield, but what they really lack are midfielders who will drive forward on the ball and beat the oppositions's mids, and Song wasn't really that, for all his qualities.
The big three additions were Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, and Santi Cazorla. Although the first got off to a slow start, in total, now, those three players have combined for something close to 20 goals and 15 assists in all competitions after 19 or so matches. van Persie will be missed, but the front players the club brought in are doing the job more and more lately.
RBM - It looks like the team is struggling in the midfield area, especially with no capable reinforcements to support Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla (while Jack Wilshere was out). Did Wenger make a mistake there?
TSF - Possibly so; his mistake in the midfield was not the abilities of the players at hand. It was definitely in relying on the fitness of Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky. Anyone who saw Diaby play at Manchester City early in the year could just imagine what he would be if he had been fit all these years, and Rosicky was an important piece in the second half of last season. However, neither of them have managed anything close to a full season basically ever. If one or two quite good central midfielders don't come in January, the strain on Wilshere and Arteta, as well as Santi, will only deepen.
RBM - How about the goalkeeping situation, what's going on between Vito Mannone and Wojciech Szczesny? Is Lukasz Fabianski's career at the Emirates done?
TSF - Szczesny is the undisputed number one. He's very young yet, but he's better than Mannone. Fabianski cannot shake the injury problems (he's sort of turning into Diaby at this point), and if he's still at Arsenal next year, given his ambition to be a number one somewhere, I'd be surprised.
RBM - Between Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, are you comfortable with the defence? Has Koscielny's second season been less error-prone? Bacary Sagna is a very understated but reliable member of the team, how has he been?
TSF - Mertesacker is very good, despite his lack of pace. He just knows where to stand (although Jermain Defoe made him look silly on Tottenham's opener two weekends ago). He pairs well with either Koscielny or Vermaelen, both of who like aggressively challenge further up the pitch. Vermaelen has not had a good start to the year at center back, although he's looked okay filling in on the left for Kieran Gibbs (where his attacking instincts don't expose Arsenal quite as much). Koscielny could be very good indeed if he wasn't error-prone, and sadly, this year, he's been error-prone. He's good for 89 minutes, but one minute of the aforementioned brain farts can undo much of that work.
Sagna is just a very, very good all-around right back, who has a good partnership with Theo Walcott on the right. I love him. That being said, I also love his inexperience backup Carl Jenkinson, who has a trainload of potential.
RBM - The January transfer window is almost upon us, and one assumes Arsenal will be busy in that period. Who have they been linked with so far? What areas do they need to focus on to ensure they can compete on all four fronts?
TSF - Well, Arsenal were hilariously linked with Radamel Falcao, who would only represent something like a 300% increase on Wenger's all-time transfer outlay and wage outlay. At the moment, depth and creativity are the main issues. A really capable (read: not Marouane Chamakh) true number nine backup for Giroud, as well as more central midfield help, are probably the biggest needs, although I still don't really trust Kieran Gibbs' health at left back, and Andre Santos' play hasn't been very good this year.
RBM - Finally, a score prediction for Wednesday's game. What are you expecting from the two sides at Goodison? Who do you think will have standout performances?
TSF - To be totally honest, I think Everton are going to win this game. I'd obviously prefer that to not be the case, but I think a 2-1 or even a 2-0 to the Toffees isn't out of the question, and I think that Marouane Fellaini, as usual, will push everyone around in Arsenal's midfield.