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Wednesday 19 August 2009

One Swallow Does Not A Summer Make

It would be all too easy to be sucked in by all the hyperbole following Saturday’s astounding goal-fest at Goodison. Yet with the world and it’s myopic media mate having written us off, we Gooners are entitled to feel just a little bit smug. Not to mention cream crackered, after 90 minutes spent cavorting in the aisles, to the tune of “jump up cos we’re 1..2..3..4..5..6 – 0 up”, as we milked the Arsenal’s emphatic response to the full, while the lads let their feet (and their heads!) do all their talking.

As did all the Evertonians who refused to accept more miserable medicine and began flocking out of the ground at half-time. I had to ask a steward if they were perhaps heading out for a fag, as I couldn’t believe my eyes and the sight of so many home fans throwing in the towel on the first day of the season, after only 45 minutes of football. Although in light of what transpired, perhaps these premature evacuators were proved right.

Personally I expected the Toffees to come tearing into us after the break, after the Ginger had given them a piece of his deranged mind (nothing could’ve stopped Denilson’s scorcher, but Moyes must’ve been positively seething about the awful defending that saw Vermaelen and Gallas gifted free headers) and to at least try and restore some self-respect by winning the second half. But then with Everton chasing the game, they were always at risk of being sliced and diced by the Gunners, on a blisteringly swift counter. When Fabregas turned the knife, only a couple of minutes after the restart, galloping onto Van Persie’s pass and nutmegging Howard for our fourth, I suppose this knocked any remaining stuffing out of the home side and sent even more disconsolate Toffees fans trudging towards the exits.

I’ve been wallowing ever since in the glowing reports of all those journos who were only digging Wenger’s grave a few days prior. Yet I’m still uncertain if this result was an anomaly, a consequence of an awful day at the office for an Everton side suffering the fallout of the Lescott farce, or a brilliant performance by the Arsenal, offering a genuine promise of the shape of things to come.

I suspect a little bit of both but whatever the case, there were plenty of positives to be drawn from our breathtaking display. Vermaelen couldn’t have possibly scripted a more impressive debut. Aside from getting his name on the scoresheet and seemingly offering the sort of aerial threat at set-pieces that’s been absent at the Arsenal, since Stevie Bould made the near post flick-on his trademark, more crucially there’s an assuredness about our new centre-back’s bearing that could just prove infectious, as our entire backline appeared to benefit from the Belgian’s composure.

Nevertheless, I’ve witnessed enough defensive false dawns since the demise of our fab back four, to know better than to tempt fate, by hailing our one and only summer signing (to date?) as the panacea for all our defensive frailties. It might seem churlish of me to complain but I was a little disappointed that we went to sleep at the death, allowing Louis Saha to spoil our clean sheet with Everton’s 91st minute consolation prize.

There were a couple of similar lapses in concentration that gifted Barnet two goals in a pre-season friendly and which left me wondering if Tommie the tank engine was going to prove himself to be the real deal. So I guess I’ll reserve judgement, until we’ve seen whether he’s capable of maintaining the sort of concentration and focus needed, to shut-out some of the Premiership’s more accomplished strikeforces, before putting him up on a pedestal as a potential Tony Adams and watching him fall from such a great height. We don’t want Vermaelen ending up in the same psychological boat as Phillipe Senderos, as permanently damaged goods, subsequent to a roasting by the likes of Didier Drogba.

In the meantime Thomas’s calm and decisive interventions on Saturday proved a much welcomed tonic, compared to some of the panic-struck defending that we’ve grown accustomed to in the recent past. Moreover there was some pleasing evidence of the likes of Song and Denilson justifying the faith that Arsène has shown in them, as they both demonstrated that they might just be maturing into big game players, with some of the naivety of seasons past perhaps being replaced by a confidence and a presence that has been borne out of the unstinting belief of le Gaffer.

Wenger couldn’t have wished for a more resounding response to all those other doubting Thomases, who’d begun to question whether Arsène still knows. Although I kind of wish he’d known enough not to leave Wilshere back at home, since such blinding opportunities to give the boy a run out are unlikely to present themselves every week.

We hadn’t turned into also-rans prior to tonking the Toffees and we’ve not proved ourselves genuine contenders on the strength of one great result. We’ve merely demonstrated that on our day we remain a formidable match for any side and that hopefully a season further on, Arsène’s work in progress is perhaps a little closer to bearing some fruit. Yet it remains to be seen whether we’ve sufficient depth to our squad compared to our competitors and whether we’ve developed the hunger, drive and determination needed to grind out results when we are not quite at the races.

I spend much of my time at matches scrutinizing the interaction between players through my binoculars, trying to ascertain the genuine mood within the camp from their body language, both in success and adversity. While it’s easy to be best mates when everything is hunky-dory, there’s no mistaking the swagger of those sides that possess the sort of spirit of togetherness, which refuses to be torn asunder, no matter the circumstances, or the opposition. It’s an increasingly rare commodity in the mercenary money merry-go-round that has become of top-flight football.

I’m not about to make any precipitous claims that the Gunners have cracked it, but the club’s parsimonious policy has ensured that the majority of this Arsenal squad have developed together, to a point where it’s hard to ignore a burgeoning sense of the cohesion and camaraderie, of the sort that many of the other big clubs are forced to try and fake nowadays.

Encounters don’t come much more stirring than the intense cauldron at Celtic Park and hopefully by the time you read this, Wenger’s squad will have proved their Champions League pedigree, with the sort of result that ratifies their increasing maturity. Yet no matter where our destiny lies this season, so long as they’re prepared to put themselves on the line for one another week in, week out and can continue to conjure up such scintillatingly stylish entertainment every now and again, you certainly won’t find me complaining.

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Trennon said...

Hey B. Great article and yes a great start but some real tests just around the corner.

BTW! I've been following Arsenals finances and something struck me when I was watching an interview with Wenger on Skysports. Arsenal cover working expenses with money earned from matchdays and merchandising and TV rights. With all of that combined they come out with just enough money to cover the interest on the stadium loan. The real problem is they count so heavily on the 26 million that comes from qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League. This is why Wenger has not spent the money earned from the sales of Ade and Toure. It had to be kept in reserve, just in case we didn't make it. Mark my words, when Arsenal finish Celtic off in a weeks time and confirm their place, Wenger will know that money is available and spend it. This is perhaps the most exciting period for Gooners in the last 5 years.

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Anonymous said...

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