Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Alan Green: Wenger’s misfiring Arsenal are the weak link in Europe

Arsene Wenger

There’s not a single European opponent of English clubs that fancies its chances as the Champions League group games get underway this week.

It’s not inconceivable that all four matches will be won by the Premier League representatives.

Certainly you’d have to be foolish with your money to back against either of the Manchester sides whose form at the start of the campaign is simply fantastic. They’ve scored THIRTY THREE goals between them in eight matches and conceded only six.

Edin Dzeko scored four times at Tottenham just before the international break — ANOTHER international break — but was left out of the starting line-up against Wigan when Sergio Aguero scored a hat-trick. Wayne Rooney scored his second successive hat-trick in the rout at Bolton. It’s as well that Chelsea are hanging on in there or else there’s a real danger, even this early in the season, of the Premier League being a two horse race. And it speaks volumes of the mental strength of Andre Villas Boas that he had the courage to leave Fernando Torres out at Sunderland.

I thought there were clear signs of the ‘old Torres’ on the opening day: perhaps not.

Anyway, I’ve rarely been as confident of success as I am for Chelsea, home to Bayer Leverkusen tonight, City home to Napoli and United away to Benfica, both tomorrow evening. Sit back and enjoy.

If I have to admit to a doubt, then I’m afraid it surrounds Arsenal.

It was before the thrashing at Old Trafford that Arsene Wenger, with injuries, suspensions and the remainder of the transfer window to contemplate, surprisingly admitted the thought that his team’s season would really start on September 10th with the match against Swansea.

Afterwards, did he feel pleased or relieved? I suspect it was the latter because that was a very jittery performance by the Gunners: more a result than anything else.

At least temporarily, much of the customary beauty of Arsenal’s play has disappeared.

It was only for a short spell on Saturday following the goal that had been gifted to them that they became remotely expansive.

Soon, they retreated to defend a lead against a side that’s yet to score a goal in the Premier League. That isn’t Arsenal.

Wenger said adroitly: “Confidence goes quickly and comes back slowly.” But I do see signs for encouragement.

Mikel Arteta had a good debut: he’s a sort of blend of Fabregas and Nasri, not really as good as either of those that departed but a pretty good substitute. And I thought it significant hearing that the Spaniard actually took a £20,000 a week DROP in salary to move from Everton to the Emirates.

Now, there’s a man who really believes in the Wenger way.

And Per Mertesacker is a commanding international centre back. Why oh why was his type so long in coming Arsene?

The outlook will be brighter now that the domestic suspensions are over for Gervinho and Song and will ‘glow’ once Wilshere and Vermaelen return from injury. In the meantime, a draw at Dortmund tonight would do nicely.

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