The heat is on at Arsenal — and not just because Saturday was the hottest day of the year in London.
By selling last year’s Barclays Premier League leading scorer Robin van Persie to Manchester United, the London outfit is in desperate need of a new goal scorer. That could not have been clearer than Saturday, when they were held scoreless by Sunderland. Adding to the Gunners’ woes, they followed Saturday’s draw by dealing influential midfielder Alex Song to Barcelona.
Despite losing the two key players over the last 72 hours, manager Arsene Wenger was adamant that the team’s approach would not change. In his pregame notes, Wenger mentioned, “regardless of incomings and outgoings, I believe our playing style will be the same this season. We will try to play our usual game, building from the back with quick passing based on a lot of movement.
"We have lost world-class players before and we have always survived," Wenger was widely quoted as saying in the buildup to the new season.
To that point, the Gunners were able to string together pass after pass throughout the 90 minutes Saturday. And they were unlucky at times, as new signing Santi Cazorla created a handful of opportunities and even had a few of his own. The two other offseason signings, Lukas Podolski and substitute Olivier Giroud, also had a few chances to shine against the Black Cats, getting clear chances at goal during the match.
But in the end, it was to no avail as Arsenal begins the season with a draw – only the third time in 12 years the Gunners were unable to start a new season with a victory.
“We lacked sharpness at the moment, and fluency to be dangerous in the final third,” said Wenger after his team had the lion’s share of possession and took twelve shots — but only put four of them on goal. “The chances we had, we couldn’t convert them,” snapped Wenger.
“If you are not sharp enough to make a difference early in the game, it becomes difficult,” added Wenger. “We need to be more creative in our final third.”
It’s just the start of the season, so it’s too early to start sounding fire alarms. Yet, with strong competition from the likes of London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea, — to say nothing of rising Newcastle United — for one of the four Champions League spots, missed opportunities at home could add up late in the season. For a big club like Arsenal, one of only five teams to win the Premier League championship during its 20 years of existence, falling out of the top four would be disastrous — regardless of who is in the lineup.
“Yeah, of course it was a greatly missed opportunity because if you look — it’s always frustrating in the game when you have so much possession and so little points,” Wenger said after the game. “But that’s part (of it). You have to calculate that you (have) a draw, or two, or three during the season. You don’t want to make it at the start in the first game.
“Once you are on the football pitch, you don’t think about the players who are not there. You try to make a good pass when you have the ball and all the rest is an excuse that is not valid.
“We had the opportunity sometimes to play the ball quicker, (but) our passing was not quick enough today in my opinion.”
With a reported windfall of more than £40 million (approximately $62.7 million) from the sale of van Persie and Song, rumors are swirling that Arsenal will spend on replacements on top of those they brought in during the offseason.
If its performance against Sunderland is any indication, Arsenal will need to just to keep up with its rivals. Arsenal also faces a tough stretch of matches — at Liverpool on Sept. 2 and defending champion Manchester City on Sept. 23, and a home match vs. defending Champions League winner Chelsea on Sept. 29 — in short order.
If Arsenal can’t find some firepower soon, it could be in deep trouble.