Lee Dixon: This season will be biggest puzzle for Wenger...but he can solve the jigsaw

The Weekend Dossier
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The Independent Online

Arsenal and Arsène Wenger are coming to a crossroads.

The rest of the transfer window and the first couple of months of the season are going to be of huge importance to club and manger. I am sure Wenger realises it is probably his biggest season at the club and he still has a couple of weeks to build and change things from the last campaign.

Much can change while the window stays open, so it is difficult to make predictions, but one thing is for sure for Arsenal: last season was not good enough. The attacking options were great and they had the best away record in the league – taking six more points than Manchester United – but conceded too many sloppy goals. That has been followed by a hugely frustrating summer for Wenger, Arsenal and the club's supporters. He's said himself that he has had a few sleepless nights recently and I'm not surprised.

It's a massive season, and just to increase the tension there is absolutely no time to ease into the new campaign. The Udinese game next Tuesday in the Champions League qualifier puts extra pressure on because as a player you are never at your best when the season starts. It doesn't matter how many pre-season games or training sessions you have slogged through, it takes three or four games to get into your stride properly – and Arsenal don't have that. It's Newcastle this evening, the two legs against Udinese either side of Liverpool and then a trip to Old Trafford, all before the end of August.

It is so important for Arsenal to be in the Champions League proper, not least for recruiting players, and there is huge pressure on Wenger. He is no fool – he knows what matters and I don't think anyone can put him under more pressure than he does himself. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have been pretty much two of the best midfielders in the Premier League over the last couple of years so it is little wonder Wenger has spent so long trying to keep them. They are losing two top-class players.

It was important for Arsenal, once they had finally accepted they were going to leave, to get the right price for them. They are a prudent club so there was no way they were going to risk a player like Nasri going from being worth £20-odd-million today to walking away at the end of his contract in a few months' time for a free. They could not afford that. At least the waiting game is over but Wenger may have a bit of a job to get new players in before the window shuts at the end of this month. It's such a tough balancing act. You cannot go out and spend £40m on players before the ones on your books have moved on. Deals can still fall through.

Wenger will be hugely frustrated, but it is too easy to be critical of how he has handled this summer. If he spends money before deals are done it could jeopardise the club's financial position. The way the club is run financially is something very close to Wenger's heart. He puts himself under pressure and will be desperate to find the missing pieces in his jigsaw.

One player I'd like to see come in is Nigel de Jong. He is supposed to be having some contractual issues at City and would be the ideal signing. He's the type of experienced player this young squad needs – although the wages may be an issue – and would help solve their major problem. They have to defend better as a unit, especially when it comes to winning the ball back. Graham Taylor may not have been everyone's favourite coach but he knew what he was talking about with his obsession with "time difference" – how long it takes between losing the ball and trying to win it back again.

It used to be like that at Arsenal under George Graham, as soon as we lost the ball units of two/three players would be hounding the opponent in possession – that's why somebody like De Jong would be such a good acquisition. It's a natural part of Jack Wilshere's game but sometimes he goes off on his own. They need to harness his natural ability. I would also like to see Steve Bould, currently working with the reserves and academy, step up to take a greater role with the first team alongside Pat Rice. Someone with a purely defensive mindset would be a big help.

Opening at Newcastle is a good reminder of Arsenal's failings last season. Four up at half-time – and we all know what happened next. It might be a good thing; players sitting in the same dressing room saying "hey, come on – let's put that right". But it doesn't change overnight – it only comes about through hard work out on that training field.

Wenger has set high standards at Arsenal and they have slipped below those recently. He has always done it his way and what he has created is a forward thinking, at times breathtaking team, but the balance isn't always right and that is a problem he has to solve this season.

Three to watch for 2011/2012

1. Ross Barkley - Club: Everton - Age: 17 - Debut: –

He missed most of last season after breaking his leg playing for England Under-19s, but he's now fit and there is a buzz around Goodison about him. He's an all-round midfielder – I was talking to David Moyes and he was singing his praises. It is an understatement to say it's been a quiet summer at Everton, but Barkley is something to get excited about.

2. Ji Dong-won - Club: Sunderland - Age: 20 - Debut: –

He is establishing himself as an international striker but the Korean's signing slipped through almost unnoticed behind Connor Wickham. I'm told he's been hugely impressive in pre-season. I bumped into Niall Quinn at an Eddie Izzard concert – not your everyday meeting – and he was raving about him. According to Niall, he's going to surprise people.

3. Martin Kelly - Club: Liverpool - Age: 21 - Debut: 2008 v PSV

He is 21 but plays with an assurance way beyond his years and experience, he looks like he has seasons under his belt. I remember making my debut for Burnley in the Second Division and feeling petrified. Kelly runs out at Anfield to play in front of 40,000 people and looks completely at ease. He has so much confidence and looks set for a long career.

Top Summer Signings

£38m Sergio Aguero Atletico Madrid to Manchester City

£20m Stewart Downing Aston Villa to Liverpool

£18m David de Gea Atletico Madrid to Manchester United

£16.5m Phil Jones Blackburn Rovers to Manchester United

£16m Jordan Henderson Sunderland to Liverpool

£16m Ashley Young Aston Villa to Manchester United

£12m Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain So'ton to Arsenal

£10.5m Gervinho Lille to Arsenal

£9.5m Charles N'Zogbia Wigan Athletic to Aston Villa

£9m Charlie Adam Blackpool to Liverpool

Lee Dixon's Weekend Predictions

Blackburn Rovers vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

Odds: Home 6-5 Away 5-2 Draw 11-5

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.15pm)

Team news: Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen may miss out for Blackburn, while David Goodwillie could start on the bench. Kevin Doyle should be fit for Wolves, despite missing Ireland's draw with Croatia with a knee injury.

Fulham vs Aston Villa

Odds: Home 6-5 Away 5-2 Draw 11-5

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.15pm)

Team news: Bobby Zamora starts for Fulham despite a broken hand, but Simon Davies (knee) is out. Alex McLeish's only worry is defender Carlos Cuellar (knee). Shay Given and Charles N'Zogbia make debuts.

Liverpool vs Sunderland

Odds: Home 4-7 Away 6-1 Draw 13-5

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.15pm)

Team news: Luis Suarez could feature from the bench, despite a late return to training. New signing Jose Enrique is also available. John O'Shea (hamstring) must wait to make his debut for Sunderland.

Queens Park Rangers vs Bolton Wanderers

Odds: Home 7-5 Away 2-1 Draw 9-4

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.15pm)

Team news: Rob Hulse (knee) is out for QPR, but Kieron Dyer, Jay Bothroyd and D J Campbell make debuts. Tuncay will watch from the stands but Nigel Reo-Coker and Darren Pratley feature for the visitors.

Wigan Athletic vs Norwich City

Odds: Home 6-5 Away 5-2 Draw 11-5

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.15pm)

Team news: Wigan are without James McCarthy (ankle) and Antolin Alcaraz, though Hugo Rodallega plays. Paul Lambert awaits updates on Andrew Crofts (ankle) and Russell Martin (calf), as James Vaughan misses out.

Newcastle United vs Arsenal

Odds: Home 11-4 Away 11-10 Draw 9-4

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1, 10.15pm)

Team news Newcastle are without Hatem Ben Arfa (ankle), but Gabriel Obertan and Joey Barton are included. Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas miss out for Arsenal; Samir Nasri (illness) and Robin van Persie (knee) face tests.

Stoke City vs Chelsea

Odds: Home 9-2 Away 5-2 Draw 7-10

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news: Matthew Upson waits for his Stoke debut, but Jonathan Woodgate features. Chelsea welcome back Fernando Torres from concussion; David Luiz and Michael Essien are injured, Daniel Sturridge suspended.

West Bromwich Albion vs Manchester United

Odds: Home 11-2 Away 8-15 Draw 3-1

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.25pm)

Team news: Debutant Shane Long may lead the line for West Bromwich, with Peter Odemwingie (ankle) doubtful. Manchester United have doubts over left-back Patrice Evra (knee) and miss Javier Hernandez (concussion).

Manchester City vs Swansea City

Odds: Home 2-7 Away 12-1 Draw 4-1

Kick-off: Monday, 8pm (Highlights SS1, 12.30am, Tues)

Team news: Carlos Tevez will not feature for City, but Sergio Aguero could make his debut. Swansea have major worries over Garry Monk (foot), while Michel Vorm, Danny Graham and Steven Caulker make debuts.

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