As one of the top leagues in the world, it is generally accepted that it takes players time to adjust to the rigours of the Barclays Premier League. Six months is the time frame that is most-often mentioned, but sometimes players from other leagues hardly miss a beat before their full talents go on display.
In the summer of 2012, Arsenal brought in fresh talent in the form of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla. All three players were handed big roles from the moment the season kicked off. And last month, Nacho Monreal started his first game for the Club just one day after joining from Malaga. So how are Arsenal's newest players doing so far?
Question: What do you think of the progress of Arsenal's summer signings so far and what are your early thoughts on Nacho Monreal?
I think it’s especially unfortunate that Arsenal’s current league position -- in addition to the more obvious drawbacks -- has detracted from the achievements of an exceptionally well-adjusted class of summer recruits. It’s hard to recall a season in which three new signings have all acclimated themselves to the English game so quickly while also establishing themselves as such essential members of the team.
To name their contributions specifically, Giroud has -- in my opinion -- established himself as the lynchpin for all things Arsenal offense, a trait which is exhibited through the way he provides a focal point for the attack and efficiently distributes possession even when he’s not having a particularly good game.
Podolski likewise has earned a reputation as a defensively honest midfielder and a consistent playmaker through his ability to deliver inch-perfect passes at the vital moment. It’s just too bad that he can’t somehow be utilized as a more direct goalscoring option as I believe his role as a winger in this Arsenal squad at times almost undermines his lethal finishing ability.
Like Podolski, Cazorla is also a player who I’d like to see influence games more consistently. His creativity and eagerness to shoot make him look almost unstoppable when he’s given time and space by the opposition, but he tends to drift into anonymity against teams who make a point of marking him and, in my opinion, currently lacks the kind of physical approach Jack Wilshere often uses to wedge his presence into games despite his relatively small stature.
But in the grand scheme of things, I think any criticism of Arsenal’s most recent additions really amounts to nothing more than nitpicking when you compare their speed of adaptation to new signings at other clubs and consider the degree to which we currently rely on them for success on a weekly basis.
If we’re including the group of L.A.N.S. returnees, I think it goes without saying that Jack is far and away the leader when it comes to transitioning back into the starting lineup. His tenacity off the ball and deceptively deep midfield runs have become the fulcrum of most of Arsenal’s midfield attack ever since his return, and while it’s worrying to see his chance of injury improve as his playing time increases, you can understand why he features as much as he does given his vital contributions.
As for our brand new signing, Nacho, I’ll try to refrain from giving him too positive or too negative an assessment until I’ve seen him face the full spectrum of Arsenal’s domestic and European opponents. I will say that so far he’s displayed what I feel is a fair amount of positional maturity at the left back role while minimizing the amount of usual jitters that are typical of newcomers to the Premiership. I think in the long term he’ll feature only part time and serve primarily as the more experienced mentor to Kieran Gibbs, who can always benefit from squad competition and could glean a much-needed sense of defensive and offensive balance from the Spaniard.
I agree with Joel that the success of the three summer signings has been better than I had hoped for. The return on goals and assists has been great. The only downside is that they come in bunches; that makes it exciting, but often causes feverish nail biting on my part when the goals do not come. What is unfortunate for me is that Arsenal are third in goals scored and third in goals allowed and yet are fifth in the table. If that shows anything it means that when the goals come at a balanced and consistent rate that Arsenal are going to move up the table a spot or two, and it will be due to those new signings.
There are some other items with the new three signings bring to the team that I think we have missed. Podolski, as Joel said, brings left-sided support. Walcott and Sagna have a beautiful relationship on the right and it would be fantastic to see Podolski have the same with Gibbs and Monreal. Giroud bring an aerial ability that we have been missing. We did not get it with Chamakh and Bendtner never quite worked out. Giroud is a talisman for aerial attacks and a brave defender on set pieces in the box. Cazorla brings dribbling skill that we have been missing. The ability to take on a defender one on one to create goal chances is key, especially when your opponents plays with a zonal marking setup. Three players, three attributes, all previously missing from the squad over the last couple of seasons.
It is far too difficult to project Monreal at this point. He has had two physical encounters and come through them really well, I've been really impressed with that. However, Tottenham and Everton will be key tests in analyzing the success of this acquisition. He'll be up against a mix of players including Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker and then also against Naismith, Pineaar and Fellaini, his closest test to that calibre was Sessengon. Until he has been thoroughly challenged by pace, skill and height I think it is unfair to give him any grade other than to say that he has handled himself well thus far.
Joel’s assessment of the new additions to the team mirror my own for the most part. I think they have all done very well in adjusting to a new league and country. I am especially impressed by the way Podolski has seamlessly adapted to London life and Arsenal. I remember being concerned about how he would adjust when his signing was first announced in the summer and am happy that he has proven me wrong. He appears to bring good energy to the training ground and seems to be quite popular with the rest of the team. I do wish however that we would have more of an opportunity to see the German play as a centre forward alongside Giroud. I think with his abilities and left foot, he could be lethal if given the chance down the middle.
The Frenchman, on the other hand, has had his fair share of critics this season but I think he has held his own so far. Although he may not match the goal tallies of prolific strikers we’ve had in the recent past, I think his technique, positioning and determination on the pitch have been key to the team’s attack this season. I am also impressed by Santi’s contributions to the midfield this season. Even though I feel that he was well marked by opponents in a few games so far, the Spaniard has brought much needed creativity back into our midfield. I think we will truly see him thrive with the presence of a true defensive midfielder on the pitch, one we have not really had this season with a smaller framed Arteta taking over those responsibilities (and very well too).
It’s difficult to judge Monreal on the few games he’s played since his arrival in North London but he has been a calming presence in defense for the most part. I thought he had a good start in his first Arsenal game considering it was against a dreaded Stoke side and he has other crucial tests coming up in the North London derby and the fixture against Man United. It’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to see how he fares against European opposition until next season. His experience and guidance will be key in Gibbs’ development.
I think Joel quite comprehensibly answered the question. Having taken three new players and almost immediately thrown them into the fray, their contributions have been staggering, considering how cautious the manager typically is with players from outside the Premier League. Giroud, despite a rough patch in his first few matches, has become essential to the Arsenal attack and has added an aerial threat that Arsenal haven't had since Alan Smith; we'll have to hope that he becomes as comfortable at finishing with his feet as Smudger was, but he also really seems to love the club -- and he has a fantastic song already.
Santi has been a revelation at times, and has answered questions about his stature and ability to adapt. I agree that he has not been as dominant when well-marked, and could honestly use a day off once in a while, but overall I'm quite pleased with our little Spanish maestro. Podolski has scored one of the goals of the season already against Montpellier, and has a left foot like Thor's hammer (Mjölnir, in case you were curious). If not for the brilliance of Giroud at the heart of the attack, I think he would be very successful in a more central role, yet he has excelled plying his trade on the wing, scoring occasionally and providing great service to the middle (and striking up a very good partnership with Gibbs all the while).
None of these players will themselves replace the goal tally of our most recently-departed captain, but they were never meant to. Arsène Wenger meant to re-shape Arsenal's attack, and that's exactly what he's done. The final results of the experiment are still out, but midway through, the signs are encouraging.
The Nacho Man has snapped into the Premier League so far as though it were an unnamed spicy stick of probably beef. He's adapted well, and immediately, to the physical nature of the English game, as well as the speed, and has turned in two very solid performances in two starts. I think in the long-run he'll serve as competition to Gibbs at left fullback, which should do the Englishman the world of good. Gibbs has had moments of sheer brilliance and others which have left me scratching my head. The presence of Nacho could be the motivation for Gibbs to find some consistent form and become the player I think he can be. And if not, I'm comfortable with what I've seen from Monreal to let him take the reins.
When you lose a player like Robin van Persie, anyone who comes in after him is going to be judged as his replacement. Goal scorers for their past teams, it appears that maybe the likes of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski may be better at setting up than scoring this year. Giroud, with 10 assists in all competitions, and Podolski, with a team-leading nine just in the league, don’t appear to be the type of player to replace van Persie. Santi Cazorla, who has been hugely influential, as Joel notes, hasn’t been consistent enough, which has been Arsenal’s largest problem this campaign.
With a few matches now under his belt, I like what I have seen from Nacho Monreal and he appears like a strong late-window signing. Defensively he is sound and he does appear to be learning the Arsenal way forging his way into the attacking third. I would, however, like to see his crosses, and goal efforts to be more measured, but overall the early returns are good. It’s just unfortunate that Monreal is cup-tied with Malaga and cannot play for Arsenal in the Champions League.
The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Media Group.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 27 Feb 2013