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Tuesday 7 August 2007

That's Entertainment!

I was standing before the wardrobe, staring at the overcrowded shelf containing my Arsenal t-shirt collection, trying to choose suitably serendipitous attire for our first home friendly, when it suddenly struck me. By contrast to the state of flux of our first XI, there’s been little turnover of t-shirts in recent seasons, due to Róna having enforced a strict “one in, one out” policy. As the movie title puns (Untouchables, Invincibles, Gladiators) came tumbling out, printed upon tops adorned with the images of Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp, Henry and Ljungberg, I began to realise that the vast bulk of these will soon be relegated to dusters.

It’s only when one considers the calibre of the players exiting London N5 these past few seasons (their careers having peaked with the Gunners) that one begins to appreciate Arsène’s onerous responsibility. Compared to the humdrum mediocrity that we were accustomed to prior to his arrival, Le Prof has presided over a metamorphosis, which has raised the bar to such a lofty zenith that there’s no overstating his achievement.

Such fantasy football feats are all the more amazing, based as they are on a shoestring budget, compared to the wanton spending of many of Wenger’s rivals. As Arsène strives to prove that there is “another way”, the club suits continue to tout the party line that this is his choice, rather than the necessity of having to divert the additional TV income towards the interest payments on the new stadium. So while many of his peers have spent the summer with these extra millions burning a hole in their pockets, Le Prof ploughs his somewhat lonelier, high-pressure furrow, where he’s expected to continue pulling rabbits out of his magic hat, polishing up more sparkling gems, from relatively cheap, rough-cut stones.

Apart from the departure of Henry and Ljungberg, the arrival of Eduardo, Sagna and Fabianski and the inclusion of a couple of those talented kids who so impressed in last season’s Carling Cup run, the Arsenal squad won’t be too dissimilar from the one which started last season (pending the possibility of any last-minute purchases?). Whereas following a few weeks of feverish madness in the transfer market, several teams will be taking to the field in August, virtually unrecognisable from the one that kicked-off only a couple of months back.

Admittedly there was some frustration, feeling like the wistful wallflower at the Premiership party, whilst watching every other manager get their wedge out, in their efforts to strengthen their squad. But then perhaps it was the novelty of this new found spending power, which acted as an intoxicant to encourage the likes of Martin Jol to embarrass himself, by spunking up over £16 million on Darren Bent, a striker with only one 20 goal haul (in the Championship!) from his six seasons.

Doubtless the extravagance of Spurs own Tony Soprano was based on his belief that Bent might prove the ideal foil for his main man, Berbatov. But how do you rationalise a footballing world that values a big, bourgeois no. 9, above an elegant artist like Titi? This hugely inflated transaction only served to highlight the fact that Arsène would’ve been on a hiding to nothing, in any attempt to spend his way out of a post-Henry depression. No one player was ever going to fill Thierry’s transcendent boots.

Six million used to be an astronomic sum of money, but it’s positively peanuts relative to the obscene amounts being paid for above average strikers nowadays. Thus with 34 goals under his belt in Croatia last season, Eduardo could well prove to be a bargain, if he ends up plugging the crucial goal-scoring gap that’s been left in Henry’s wake. The addition of the Brazilian born youngster will be viewed as yet another masterstroke, in keeping with Arsène’s other, equally astute acquisitions (and obviously the odd mega-bucks boo-boo with such misfits as Jeffers and Reyes). Whereas compared with some of the more obvious, overpriced alternatives, if this Croatian feller fails to adapt to our frenetic brand of football, it will be no big deal.

On first impressions Eduardo certainly appears up for it. As does Traoré, Eboué, Denilson and the other young bloods, who’ve enjoyed spirited pre-season appearances. Perhaps we’ve begun to witness the galvanising effect of our former Galactico’s egress, as the Gunners set out to prove that there is life in North London, after Henry.

In truth the evidence suggests that we remain a player or two away from mounting a consistent challenge in the Premiership marathon. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the many naysayer pundits, there’s no mistaking a recent groundswell of optimism amongst the Gooner massive. We remain confident that at our best, this Arsenal side is capable of running rings around any side on the planet and no matter how the card’s are dealt, so long as we finish above Spurs and closer to the eventual winners than the also-rans, we’re happy to be embarking on what’s likely to prove one helluva ride!