THE MISSION: Enter the world of Football Manager 2017 and…well…just try as hard as you can, eh?
THE CATCH: This game is really difficult. Alex Stewart has already washed his hands of Liverpool and while the first season brought a Champions League semi-final and a third place finish for Arsenal, it wasn’t exactly straight-forward.
Last season I endeavoured to succeed with the Arsenal squad I inherited from Arsene Wenger. I gave every player, no matter how much they had underperformed in the past, the chance to impress me. Some, like Theo Walcott, took that chance. Some did not.
We finished third, just six points off the top, and we reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. By Arsenal’s recent standards, that’s not a bad season. But it’s not a good one either. We can do better. And in order to do better, we’re going to have shake this squad right up. I have ordered the admin department to stockpile farewell cards.
The departure of Per Mertesacker is no surprise. He’s 32 and, though he never let me down, he wasn’t going to get past Laurent Koscielny or Virgil van Dijk. With Shkodran Mustafi as my preferred back-up, there was no sense in continuing to meet his high wages.
I like Danny Welbeck a lot, but by the end of last season I was openly laughing at his efforts to hit the target. Sweet Jesus, he actually got the corner flag with one effort. Alexis Sanchez is unlikely to be shifted as my main striker, but I need something better than this in a support role. And that money can be well spent.
Poor old Lucas never really had a chance to impress at Arsenal. He was fourth choice striker in a team that played with only one. Frankly, I’m amazed that we managed to get £10m for him.
I didn’t intend to sell Wojciech Szczesny. I was going to give him another chance, using him in the domestic cups to see if Roma had improved him at all. But I never got the opportunity because apparently there was a release clause in his contract. Roma activated it. Oh well. Perhaps I’ll have to look elsewhere for my number two…
I had also intended to keep Rob Holding as my fourth choice centre-back, but the return of Calum Chambers made that a little problematic. You see, Chambers is a very good right-back as well, so he has even more value on the bench. And if Middlesbrough want to give me money, I’m only too happy to accept.
I will always defend the signing of Jonas Olsson. Because of injuries, we had just two fit senior centre-backs for the first three months of the season. Had I not signed someone, we could have found ourselves in a real pickle with just a couple of ill-timed injuries. He didn’t cost much, he’s a nice lad, his hair smells of freshly cut meadows, but yes, I’m glad he’s taken this option. He really wasn’t very good at football.
I had every intention of keeping Nacho Monreal as well, but the Chinese League beckoned and I figured that with all this money coming in, maybe it was worth upgrading that position after all. He leaves with our very best wishes and he’s welcome back, as a supporter I stress, any time he likes.
So, say hello to the first signing of the season, 22-year-old left-back Jose Gaya. He’s quick as you like, he’s got a lovely cross on him and he can only get better. And that’s key to this rebuilding project. I want people who have played a bit of football, but people who have got a whole lot more football left in them. I’m quite prepared to pay over the sticker price as well. What value can you put on sealing up a position for the next five to seven years? Or indeed…the next 15 years?
KABOOM! That’s the sound of Arsenal throwing their weight around. I was going to leave the acquisition of a goalkeeper until next summer, but you can’t turn down an opportunity like this. Petr Cech will remain my number one choice, but Gianluigi Donnarumma will have all the domestic cup games and all the time he needs to adjust to life in England. If it goes well, he’ll be the number one choice in 2018/19. If it doesn’t go well, I doubt the board will retain my services, so there’s no point worrying about it.
And now I’m just drunk with wealth. The coffers are swelling and I’m stumbling down the street with £50 notes falling out of my pockets. I wanted a young striker with a bit of potential to improve as a back-up for Alexis Sanchez, but I’ve got completely over-excited and tried to buy one of the best young strikers in the world. It’s probably for the best that this one didn’t work out.
We do need a new striker though. We’ve sold three now, so it’s just Sanchez and Chuba Akpom. And then new attacking coach Thierry Henry, I guess. But look, it’s a nice chance for Akpom to prove himself in the first team.
And, as our pre-season campaign begins away at Cardiff City, it’s a chance to see this refined Cobra Protocol in action too. The basic plan is the same. We hold our shape then spring into action on the counter, getting the ball wide, trying to overwhelm them with overlapping full-backs, and then cutting the ball back low for the advancing runners. It’s just that now we do it with a higher line and with an effort to retain possession until the time is right. It’s the Gooner Protocol.
And that’s an entirely acceptable way to start. Two goals in 50 minutes for Akpom, an assist for Gaya, an assist for young Stephy Mavididi and a bright performance from everyone else. Lovely. And you’ll note that a certain German playmaker was left at home…
Yes, I’ve done it. With just one year left on his contract, I’ve flogged Mesut Ozil for £32m and to Alex’s replacement at Liverpool, Marcelo Bielsa. This will be the stick that people use to beat me if it all goes wrong, but he didn’t fit with this style of play and no amount of perseverance was going to make it any better. And just think what I can do with all that lovely money.
And there’s a little bit more of it too. I liked Krystian Bielik, he had potential and I had just set up a routine to convert him into a defensive midfielder. But he wasn’t exactly crucial to the cause, more of a side-mission, and so he can go to Norwich without me losing sleep over it.
Next, we travel to Swansea. Sanchez injured himself at the Confederations Cup, so it’s another chance for Akpom up front. Donnarumma will continue on the bench. I’m very serious about allowing thus young man to settle in with as little pressure as possible.
Another goal for Akpom, a first goal for young Mavididi too. The future looks bright. There is nothing else to be said about this game. It was a friendly and it was a thing that happened.
Now this is a bitter-sweet moment. I had made overtures to Antoine Griezmann and could comfortably afford the £86m investment. What concerned me was the demand for £170,000 wages along with appearance and goal bonuses that totalled nearly another £100,000. That would have left me paying £2.5m a month for two strikers, only one of whom could play at a time. Unless one of them went on the wing. But that wouldn’t go down well. While there is a certain amount of presumption on my part that he would choose Arsenal over Manchester United, this is one of those decisions that feels like it would turn out bad for me whatever I did. I will watch his development with interest.
Another departure, and this is one purely for the wage bill. David Ospina was always good when called upon to deputise for Cech, but I can’t have three international class goalkeepers, that’s just silly.
And so with moves for Dybala and Griezmann having come to nothing, we spend our money on young Sandro from Malaga. He has the perfect attribute set to play the role of complete striker, he’s got the potential to improve further, he won’t mind a rotation role behind Sanchez and modern football is so ludicrous that this £28m fee makes me feel as if I’ve landed a bit of a bargain.
Our first home friendly of the season is against Lyon, and our old friend Lucas. There’s some serious pace in that team, so this will be a useful test. Akpom continues up front because Sanchez still isn’t quite fit enough and Sandro is nowhere near ready.
Another convincing performance and I got a good 76 minutes out of most of them too. Akpom scores yet again, confirming my notion to give him a place in my squad this year, and there are two goals from my new-look set pieces, a complicated affair where we send everyone forward and then smash it out to the edge of the D for a lurking, unmolested striker to have a welly.
More money rattles into the coffers as Joel Campbell, who I completely forgot we owned is snapped up by those mysterious lads at Real San Sebastian. I won’t miss him.
Sanchez will make his first start of pre-season in our contractually obliged friendly against Boreham Wood. It does rather spoil the increasing arc of difficulty, this, but it’s a good opportunity to get minutes into the legs of the back up XI and to give the Klopp Protocol an airing.
And for whatever it’s worth, the Klopp Protocol proves to be a very effective strategy against a terrified team of semi-professional footballers. Sanchez gets a hat-trick, there’s a goal for Sandro and two assists each from the wingers Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi.
Which brings us to our final friendly and the visit of mighty Roma. This will be a proper test of our progress. If we can come out of this with a respectable result, I’ll be quite happy with our preparations. If it doesn’t, I’ll be very clear that you can’t read anything whatsoever into friendlies. This, as far as I can see, is my first choice XI in what will be (with minor adjustments for specific opponents) their regular shape.
I’ve always said that you can read so much into friendlies. They are a true test of the progress of a football team. We don’t just beat Roma, we bully them. It caps off what has been a very convincing preparation process. Now we just have to do it for real when the season starts. And who have we got first? Oh. It’s Liverpool.
Catch up on previous projects here: Everton; Celtic v Rangers; (Revisited); The Pentagon Challenge; Alex Stewart’s FM17 Tactics Guides: Catenaccio; Atletico Madrid; Chelsea 04/05; Brazil; Roma 00/01; Hoffenheim; How To Get Better At FM17; Back To School In FM17.