For this week's Q&A segment we had the pleasure of chatting with The Short Fuse, one of the best Arsenal blogs out on the web. Long time readers of RBM have heard from various writers at TSF. Last season we had spoken with Paul DeBruler, and he answered our questions once again. Click here to read the segment we did on their site answering their questions.
RBM - It seems like we end up asking you this every season, so here it is again - How is Arsene Wenger's future looking at Arsenal? Are the fans happy with him so far this season?
TSF - Arsene Wenger's future looks now exactly as it looked a year ago, two years ago, and five years ago: in his own hands. You're talking about a man who reinvented the way the English game is played, and has had no small amount of success while doing so (put aside your recency bias, newer fans, and look at the entirety of his record). None of that is to say that Wenger is beyond criticism - his lineup choices can sometimes be baffling, his stubbornness gets in his own way more often than it should, and his faith in even the most marginal of his players can border on the pathological sometimes - but it is to say that, unless there's a collapse of historic proportions and Arsenal end up finishing 12th or something, Wenger and Wenger alone will be choosing when he leaves Arsenal. As it should be.
To your second question: some fans are, and some fans aren't. As with any long-serving person, at any club (as you probably know from David Moyes' time at Goodison), "Arsene Wenger" has almost gone beyond being a living, breathing coach and is now a concept, one that has hardened into two unshifting narrative camps with little or no overlap. One camp thinks he's still one of the shrewdest managers in the game, and the other camp think he's lost the plot. Winning two FA Cups in a row has helped soften the YOU NEVER WIN TROPHIES thing somewhat, which was a load of crap to begin with, but there are a non-zero number of Arsenal fans who will be very glad to see Arsene Wenger retire. I am emphatically, unapologetically not one of them.
RBM - How did you feel Arsenal performed over the summer transfer window? Petr Cech obviously was a big get that filled a need, but how about striker, do you think a 'galactico' signing was required there?
TSF - Ah, the transfer window. To avoid making the answer to #1 seventeen paragraphs long, I'm going to address part of it here. Wenger, as most everyone knows, is, at least until lately, very reticent to move in the transfer market in a big way. There are many reasons for this: First, through the early 2000's Arsenal were building a stadium largely paid for by themselves, so they needed to not spend money. Second, Arsene Wenger is a Ph.D. economist, and, for better or worse, that informs his view of the transfer market - if he feels that a player is priced more than he is valued, he generally does not even try for that player. Third, he has, as mentioned, a complete faith that, on paper, his squad is good enough to win the Premier League and at least challenge for the Champions League.
To me, that first reason is completely valid. Where I have problems with Arsene's strategy is in my second stated reason. As recently as 10 years ago, it was entirely valid to rage against the ridiculous overvaluing of Premier League players, because nobody else had any money either, so if a player's valuation got too high, that player's agent could always find the player a job in Spain. Now, though, overpriced is the new regular price, and while it's admirable that Arsene still holds to his principles, it also gets frustrating when obvious needs get neglected when they could be easily fixed without even going the super-expensive-player route.
This summer, for instance: I'm not sure Arsenal needed a "galactico", but they definitely could have used some cover in midfield, particularly in the overly-fetishized-by-many DM position. They could have also used another attacking option. They got Petr Cech before the window even opened, and then the window opened, and...crickets. That, even for someone like me who loves Arsene almost unequivocally, was tough to take. And yet here we are, nine games in, and Arsenal are in second place, two points off the lead. Which segues nicely into your next question!
RBM - Chelsea are a pale shadow of last season while Manchester City have been mercurial. Is this season Arsenal's best chance of finally breaking the hoodoo and lifting the Premier League trophy? Undoubtedly, if the side that spanked United 3-0 shows up most weekends then the title is a lock.
TSF - I believe that Arsenal could win the league this year, absolutely. Chelsea are a dumpster fire strapped to the top of a clown car, which in all honesty couldn't happen to a nicer manager. Or John Terry. Manchester United are still a shambles in search of an organizer who get lucky a lot, and since luck is not a repeatable skill, they'll probably finish fourth. City are City, and I think that the title race will be down to Arsenal and City. Arsenal seem to start slow and get better as seasons go on, so I think that will work in their favor.
RBM - Arsenal are a pretty young side and Wenger has shown in the past that he trusts youth. How is the youth setup looking? Any youngsters who we will be seeing in the near future?
TSF - After a few years of neglect, Arsenal's youth setup got a fairly complete overhaul last season, with the club bringing in a new academy director and staff to oversee that side of the world. After their first year's worth of work, the youth setup is looking quite promising this season. The U21 side is two points off the top in their division with two matches in hand, and the U19 side has won all 3 of their UEFA Youth League matches. Arsenal made it a point to bring in top teenage talent from all across Europe this offseason, and it has paid dividends so far with the club's youth squads performing quite well.
The youngster closest to the first-team at the moment is Alex Iwobi. The talented attacker is typically a winger, but really exploded as a center forward at the end of last season. He could possibly make the bench for Saturday's matchup, but will almost certainly be involved in our midweek Capital One Cup tie against. Jeff Reine-Adelaide (otherwise known as JEFF, conqueror of worlds - his name must be rendered in all caps to capture his awesomeness) is probably the only other youngster with any hope of making a first team appearance this season (barring a lot of injuries).
Due to our aggressive newfound loan policy, other fringe first-teamers like Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Isaac Hayden and Daniel Crowley will not be featuring for the Gunners this year but will definitely be names to watch both on their loan stints this season and for the next few years.
RBM - The Gunners left it all to do after two defeats out of two to the lesser teams in Group F of the Champions League. Do you think you have a real chance of missing out of qualifying for the next round?
TSF - Since your question was written before the game, I'll answer the question you have now. No, we didn't see that coming. At all. But we'll take it. Arsenal's group is wide open now - every team has three points, and Arsenal should be able to do enough to get to second place. Their next CL game is the return fixture against Bayern, and a point from that match would be amazing and would go a long way towards securing that second place spot in the group. A win would...nope, I can't even.
RBM - Does Arsenal have the squad depth and quality to play on two major fronts (PL & UCL) and yet go deep in the two domestic Cup competitions?
TSF - Arsene has never been public about this, nor should he be, but history suggests that his order of preference is league, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup. And like most major Premier League clubs, Arsenal definitely play down the League Cup; they don't start all kids, but there's a pretty healthy injection of youth and progress in that cup is definitely seen as a bonus, not a requirement. So they really only need to be competitive in three major competitions; still a big ask, but I think Arsenal have the squad to do it. But...
RBM - Six games in twenty days coming up - Bayern twice, Everton and Spurs at home and a trip to Swansea City too. How is Wenger going to manage? More importantly, how do fans manage their stress levels, and beer intake?
TSF - ...Another thing that Wenger has never really done all that often is rotate. He tends to be the Dusty Baker of soccer managers; he'll ride his chosen horse if he's playing well, until that horse is done. Fortunately, Arsene doesn't destroy careers with that approach, but it does mean that there won't be all that much in the way of rotation in the next month or so.
How do fans manage? That's a good question. Lots of beer, for sure, but also lots of second-guessing, teeth-gnashing, and celebrations when results like Bayern happen, as if we knew it all along.
RBM - Arsenal and Everton usually play some fun football when matched up against each other. How about a score prediction for Saturday? Who are you expecting to shine?
TSF - I am notoriously bad at predictions. In the last week alone, I predicted that my Portland Timbers would get beaten badly by the LA Galaxy (PTFC won 5-2) and that Arsenal would lose 1-0 at home to Bayern (Arsenal won 2-0!). So, take this with the grain of salt it richly deserves, but I think Arsenal will win, but that there will be a fairly open feel to the game and a relatively high score; I'm going with 3-2 Arsenal. As to who will shine, I'm going with the two most predictable answers ever: Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. "Shine" is what they do.