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Aug 21, 2014

Flat Arsenal seek a spark at Everton

Arsenal claimed a goalless draw in their first-leg playoff with Besiktas in the Champions League on Wednesday night, with Arsene Wenger's side lacking their usual fluency.

Much of the optimism that surrounded Arsenal ahead of the new Premier League season has evaporated.

Perhaps it was because of an unconvincing midweek display against Besiktas, which followed a hard-fought, very late victory over Crystal Palace at the weekend. Or maybe it's because Arsenal have picked up a couple of injuries to key players. It could even be fresh memories of last season's 3-0 hammering at Everton.

- Mangan: Arsenal in precarious position
- Cross: Signings still needed
- Macintosh: Three points vs. Palace

Goodness knows how people would be feeling if Arsenal hadn't beaten champions Manchester City 3-0 in the Community Shield, taken three points from their first game and drawn away in Europe. If this is what it's like after playing three, winning two and conceding just one goal, what's it going to be like when things really go wrong?

It's probably for that reason that Arsene Wenger looked relaxed at his news conference on Thursday. He swatted away questions about transfers in a way that left no doubt that the club are still very much in the market for new additions -- but it now feels more and more as if the deals they're going to do have to wait until after the Champions League game against Besiktas on Wednesday.

Maybe the players they want are waiting for qualification before committing. Maybe there's no point in signing them now because they won't have been incorporated in time for the weekend and would be ineligible for the European tie anyway. Suffice to say, it seems obvious that the spending is not yet done for the summer.

The Arsenal manager is hoping to have his World Cup winners back for the trip to Merseyside, and many people have asked why other members of the triumphant German side have been back and producing for their clubs already.

The first hint comes from Wenger himself, who said last week: "You have the choice -- you get them back very quickly and you lose them in October, or you give them a needed rest to build them up again. They have an individual programme that they follow so they could be very quick."

So it's caution first because they don't want to jeopardise the long-term fitness of the players -- something most Arsenal fans should understand in light of their poor injury record. Yet as much of the spotlight has been on the Gunners' new backroom addition Shad Forsythe, it seems his influence has been part of this decision.

Romelu Lukaku terrorised Arsenal at Goodison Park last season and scored in Everton's comprehensive 3-0 win.

As the fitness coach for the German national team for the last 10 years, he more than anyone will know how hard those players worked in the summer, what their levels of fitness are, and how to get each player back up to speed as quickly as possible.

When Wenger talked about each one having an individual programme to follow, those have been designed by Forsythe. And if Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski do return for Everton, they'll have missed one league game, which Arsenal won anyway. Sure, they might have helped in midweek, but the season is long and they'll have a chance to make an impact against Besiktas next week.

What's clear is that Wenger's team does need a spark, something to make them click, and hopefully the Germans can provide that. In particular, Ozil. It seems obvious that the signing of Alexis Sanchez was one designed not only to add something to the Arsenal attack but also as a way of getting the best out of the former Real Madrid man.

Those pinpoint passes aren't as effective when you're aiming them at a relatively static centre-forward, but when they're aimed into space for lightning-fast players like Alexis, then it's a different ballgame altogether.

Arsenal have to be wary of the threat of Everton -- the 3-0 loss in April won't be forgotten easily -- but with that touch of creative quality up front, the Gunners should pose more of a threat than they did in midweek.

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