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Monday 18 August 2008

New Season, Same Old Story

G'day fellow Gooners everywhere,

Here we go once again, gripping the roll bar on our red & white carriage, as we begin to loop the loop on the madness that is the eight month Premiership rollercoaster ride.

Mercifully I managed to avoid the Irish Examiner's pre-season preview a couple of weeks back(which is another hair-raising tale all together!). However there was a silver-lining to this cloud, as it means that I also avoided the much despised pre-season predictions and come next May there will be nothing in writing to disprove my seer-like "told you so" claims concerning all the winners and losers.

I habitually omit the Arsenal from any such predictions, as a matter of course, in my superstitious efforts to avoid putting the kibosh on out season before it's even started. But in this instance I was never more relieved, as prior to last week's competitive KO, I imagine there will have been few Gooners who would've fancied staking their reputation on where we might end up finishing this season.

Thus there was an abiding sense of relief come the final whistle on Saturday, as no matter that we made much harder work of West Brom than should've been necessary, we at least discovered that Samir Nasri's no shrinking violet and I'm sure I wasn't alone in being delighted to witness an immediate return on at least one of Arsène's four summer addition's to the squad.

I wondered when I read of four additions in Arsène's programme notes on Saturday and so for anyone else who's similarly bemused, in addition to Samir Nasri and Aaron Ramsey, after investing £2.5 mill. in Carlos Vela at 16 and loaning him out in Spain for the time needed for the Mexican striker to obtain an EU work permit, we've already seen ample evidence in pre-season as to why Wenger decided to bring 19 year old starlet back from a loan spell at Osasuna, where his 12 goals helped to stave off relegation. In his words, Wenger is "taking a gamble" on his 4th addition Amaury Bischoff, a 21 year old French midfielder, signed on a free from Werder Bremen after a two year injury nightmare.

After the early excitement of Nasri's debut goal, I was hoping the floodgates would open up and if we'd managed a second they might well have done, as the Baggies would've been forced to chase the game, rather than hanging on in there, for a momentary lapse of concentration or a stroke of good fortune of the sort that very nearly gifted the Midlanders an equaliser.

Instead of which we witnessed an all too familiar tale of an Arsenal team failing to capitalise on our dominance, as we squandered several good chances to put the 3 points to bed (albeit perhaps not the sort of proliferation of goal scoring opportunities that we've enjoyed in the recent past from a fully fit, on song Arsenal XI). It would've been great to see the Gunners give the newly promoted side a confidence inspiring pasting, of the sort that saw a soft-centered Pompey blown away at the Bridge. Then again I suppose we could've just as easily dropped a couple of points, as our "friends" from the North did in Sunday's live game and at the end of the day, when has it ever been the Arsenal way to make life easy for ourselves?

So on reflection, considering the Premiership opener is invariably a potential banana skin, I'm more than grateful to get past the weekend with the points on the board without playing catch up from the start and with a clean sheet to boot (even if a little fortunate).

Should you require any more convincing, just imagine how we'd be feeling if Arsène had broke into the boardroom safe (the same safe which seems to have remained unopened for so long, that I'm beginning to wonder if David Dein was the only person who knew the combination - and I'm not convinced that the Photoshopped picture of a bloke standing beside it with a stethoscope is anything to do with Keith Edleman's resignation :-) and had gone on to fall flat on his face, after spunking up 40 million quid on a bunch of mercenaries who failed to turn up at Boro. Managers go and managers come, but as the line goes, for our poor unfortunate North London neighbours "the song remains the same" and life as we know it just wouldn't be the same if we were denied our inevitable annual "Let's all laugh at Tottenham" moment

Meanwhile, having torn myself and my goggle-eyes away for far too long, it's back to my all night Olympic vigil
Come on you Reds
Big Love

New Season, Same Old Story

Prior to Saturday’s Premiership prelude, there was hardly a surfeit of the sort of optimism that usually abounds amongst most other footie fans, at the start of a new season. For long-suffering supporters of less successful sides, this is often their one and only opportunity to fantasize about a summertime transformation, from a schlemiel of an ugly sister, into a silverware chasing Cinderella, in advance of a ball being kicked in anger and the customary crash landing of these annual flights of fancy, the moment their keeper plucks the first ball out of the back of an all too easily breached onion bag.

Whereas there seemed to be a prevailing mood of diffidence, amongst perplexed Gooners gathering around the ground for our first game, with the majority of us praying that le Prof’s sleeve still contains 2 or 3 aces, to be played before the transfer window closes, which might yet address those deficiencies that were all too evident when last season’s fruitless campaign faltered and which haven’t exactly been helped by the subsequent departures of Hleb and Flamini.

The “party line” from the suits at the club concerning the robust health of Wenger’s war chest, rings ever more hollow. Strolling to the ground, I passed the building site of the soon to be completed Highbury Square development - a hotch-potch design, which in my humble opinion, has failed miserably to incorporate the grandiose (listed) art-deco facades of the East and West stands of the old stadium, with modern brickwork buildings that have more of a council care home appearance, than a millionaire’s paradise – followed by the umpteen empty blocks of flats, lined along one entire side of Drayton Park, which need to be occupied before they add any income to an alleged £90 million return from the old stadium.

I know it’s traditional for clubs to take advantage of the mug like gullibility of their fan base, but we Gooners would require the mental capacity of an amoeba, if we were to believe that in the current precarious economic climate, the club’s ability to cover it’s annual £24 million mortgage repayment on our luxurious new gaff was not the least bit affected by the downturn in the property market. We’re not that stupid and despite the board’s best efforts to dress the stadium build up as a profitable venture, with absolutely zero impact on the playing field, we all knew that there would be a price to pay.

Modern day disclosure regulations have denied them the ability to play this particular hand out with all their cards clamped firmly to their chest, as would’ve undoubtedly been the case in more secretive days of yore. But instead of this almost embarrassing pretence, which has been responsible for so much false hope of Arsène splashing serious amounts of cash these past two summers, I think we’d all have been a whole lot less perturbed and the majority of realists amongst us would’ve been perfectly happy to accept that in spite of the board’s best efforts to finance the building of our magnificent new stadium with ambitious property projects, there were always going to be inevitable ramifications and the resulting belt-tightening would mean that it would be X number of seasons, before the increased matchday income would be reflected in the provision of a serious transfer budget.

It’s obvious that if we’d remained at Highbury, we’d have no chance of competing with the spending power of our opponents, now, or in the future. Whereas as a result of the move, even if we have to suffer treading water for 2 or 3 seasons (and mercifully the evidence of le Gaffer’s astounding ability to maintain a competitive squad in recent times confirms that there’s no better manager on the planet for making a mickle out of a muckle!), we can at least rest assured that our time will come.

Meanwhile, considering le Prof’s customarily enigmatic reticence, Arsène’s post-match comments after our first pre-season friendly against Barnet back in July, were as close as he’s ever likely to come, to actually confirming that there were transactions in the pipeline. Yet more recent expressions of contentment with his squad might lead one to conclude that these plans failed to come to fruition.

Whatever the case, Deco’s stunning strike for Chelsea and the Toon’s two new Argie defenders might’ve demonstrated the benefits of being able to strengthen one’s squad, but if the opening round of games served one purpose, it was the £40 million reminder that money alone does not maketh a winning team, as Lilywhite dreams were dashed on the rocks at the Riverside. While Ramos ponders his new jigsaw, Spurs fans are forced to wait for their “one day”!

If the Baggies should end up being battered 8-0 by Man U, it will put our single goal victory into some perspective. In the meantime you won’t catch me moaning about 3 points, with the added bonus of a clean sheet. Yet this only came courtesy of a goal-line clearance and I suspect that our continued inability to put patently weaker opposition to the sword, promises another tense season, with hearts in Gooner mouths, spending far too many matches perched on the edge of our seats (perhaps we should request a discount?).

Sadly I continue to dream in vain of us breaking the bank for a world-class keeper, with the sphincter twitching sort of stature and presence that Almunia lacks, who would solve our defensive frailties. But Saturday’s match was a reminder that in Clichy and Sagna, we’ve two of the best full-backs in the business and with Fabregas fit, on our day, our first XI remains a match for anyone. Moreover Nasri’s seamless competitive debut makes an absolute mockery of the patience demanded of us, to allow foreign players months to adapt to the physical demands and the pace of our game. Assuming Samir’s immediate impact wasn’t a flash in the pan, perhaps Alex Hleb will end up looking like an ineffective show-pony by comparison.

To my mind, Alonso is an older, more jaded version of Fabregas, with little to prove. Perhaps he’s merely angling for a move because his missus is bored of Merseyside and wants to hang out with the “up town” wags in Browns, or spend his money on Bond Street, instead of Primark? The Spanish midfielder is definitely not the answer for the Arsenal, especially now that Rafa has ensured that he’s cup tied in Europe. Still I’m sure I wasn’t alone in pondering the addition of Alonso’s certain brand of genius to the Gunners squad, whilst savouring his audacious attempt to beat Craig Gordon from 60 yards at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

We’ve only seen a glimpse of him to date, but hopefully in Coquelin, Wenger has uncovered yet another rough diamond, to be polished into a midfield partner for Fabregas, as a replacement for Flamini in the holding role. The pundits might clamour for Arsène to add experience to his teenage troops, but unlike the sort of established star who’s only motivated by the moola, with a dressing-room disturbing ego to match the size of his wage cheque, Coquelin arrives at the Arsenal from the French 2nd division with everything to prove. Thus he’s likely to be so incredibly grateful for his big opportunity that I imagine we’ll see him grafting his socks off, sweating blood for the cause, compared to the Bertie Big Bollix type star who believes they’ve a god given right to be on the pitch and who expect the game to revolve around them.

Then again I wouldn’t have complained if Wenger had tried to blend in some more experience with such a youthful team, to ensure there isn’t too much pressure on likes of Aaron Ramsey and Carlos Vela to perform at the highest level, right from the off. And as excited as I am by the latest “great white hope” to roll off Liam Brady’s Academy production line (apparently Brady was raving about 16 year-old Jack Wilshere at the tail end of last season - from what we’ve seen so far, with his low centre of gravity and his willingness to run with the ball, he’s a ringer for Joe Cole), along with the likes of Randall, Simpson Lansbury etc, I’d be feeling a lot more confident if the emergence of Wilshere this season was a bonus, rather than a pre-requisite for success.

Nevertheless the all-important blend of personalities in the dressing room is an extremely delicate business and judging by the early season turmoil, amongst some of the competition, I can appreciate le Gaffer’s reluctance to tinker and risk a burgeoning team spirit, merely for the sake of appeasing the masses by bringing in big name buys. It’s a big ask to expect Wenger to once again work the oracle on a shoestring, as all around us opposition squads are strengthened (?) by multi-million pound imports. Yet such is our faith in our manager that nervous Gooners everywhere continue to trust that “Arsene Knows”


Mean Lean said...

Good write up mate, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

i enjoy reading your take on proceedings far more than any other. thank you.