Arsenal at the Crossroads
The 2007-2008 season of the English Premier League is still about a month away, and fans worldwide are impatiently awaiting the first weekend of matches. Pre-season tours and Champions League qualification will serve as appetiser, while newspaper speculation will continue to excite and confound fans till the last day of the transfer window.
Most of the top teams have a great deal to look forward too. Champions Manchester United have gone on a remarkable spending spree to bring in Hargreaves, Anderson, Nani and (presumably) Tevez. Chelsea have been uncharacteristically low key, picking up a few quality players on Bosman, while looking to replace the fragile Robben with Malouda. Liverpool have splurged on Fernando Torres, and if he lives up to his reputation, Liverpool fans can at last hope to stay awake through an entire match. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hostpurs have still not realised that they’ll never make it into the top 4, and continue to splurge on English talent, recently purchasing Darren Bent for a higher fee than Thierry Henry. I don’t know who deserves our sympathies more, Tottenham, or Bent.
What then of our beloved Arsenal? At first glance, we are under a deep pile of cow dung. We have lost our main man in the board room, we have lost the best striker in the world (not to mention, our primary source of goals), and most frighteningly, Arsene Wenger’s future at the club has been thrown into doubt. The doomsayers are singing their songs outside Ashburton Grove, and only a few brave Gooners are giving themselves a chance in hell. We’ve heard the word before, but it is back with a vengeance…
Will next season be nothing more than one long, slow and painful crisis? Several eminent analysts, such as Messrs. Drogba and Merson, seem to think so. In the worst case scenario being presented, Arsenal will fail to qualify for the Champions League, Arsene Wenger will quit the club to join Barca or Real, Cesc will follow him, the club will be doomed to mediocrity, and we will all be wallowing in memory of ‘the glory days’.
Anything is possible in football, so hey, for all we know, such a disaster could occur. I have my doubts though, and even if I shove aside my optimistic tendencies, I can’t help but feel… er… optimistic. And I’m not the only one – several Gooners are sniffing positive vibes, and some even feel that this could be the start of a new era of glory.
So crisis or glory… what will it be? One thing is clear, we are at the crossroads of potential and success. Arsene Wenger has been building a team that will be able to challenge for top honours, but are we there yet? Or will the entire building process come crashing on our heads, and leave the club floundering? Bah, these are far too complicated questions, it’s best to take things a little bit at a time.
First off, the problems… The most obvious one is that Henry has left. Apart from missing his goals, this could give us several other headaches. It sends out the wrong message to players within the club and else where. The youngsters now know that they have added responsibility. And that’s a good thing! Many of them must still be smarting from the messed up Carling Cup final defeat to Chelsea. Most need to make their marks now, to establish themselves as football players. Some, like Fabregas and Robin van Persie, must be fired up to make the transition from ‘great young talents’ to ‘great young champions’. And who would bet against them doing it?
I would, in fact, be more worried about what impression this gives to the outside world. Big name signings will be harder to attract if we appear to be a selling club. We might be forced to continue our system of scouting for the best unearthed talent, and turning them into superstars. Though, to be honest, that might be a necessary evil, given the debts associated with the new stadium.
The other major issue is goals, or the lack of thereof. Last season, chance after chance went begging, Baptista and Adebayor being the main culprits. Despite the fantastic build up play and number of perfect passes, we always seemed to miss out at the end. The killer instinct to watch for the perfect pass, make the run, and get a shot on target seemed lacking. What we needed was a conventional, annoying little striker, who would get on the end of stuff, and make stuff happen. Which brings us to Eduardo Da Silva. He of the messed up hair, buck teeth, small build, and THIRTY FOUR GOALS. I cannot help but feel that this guy is going to be a sensation! He knows where the goal is, he can turn and shoot faster than a cowboy in a duel, and his technique allows him to shoot from more positions than a kama sutra guru.
Minus Henry, we are also lacking pace up front. Obafemi Martins could solve this problem for us, and hopefully, we will be able to snatch him from Newcastle before Big Sam gets his grubby paws on him. A winger must also be on our wish list, and I would really like to see Babel brought in, if not for any reason, but to make sure Liverpool don’t get him. After all, he looks like he is made to play the Arsenal way.
Another big worry, for me especially, is Arsenal’s popularity. I don’t think we need to worry about stadium attendance. We are the only team where huge crowds gather to watch youth matches. We are not a side who need ‘big names’ to bring in the crowds! But if we are not deemed to be a ‘top team’ by television executive muppets, I could see a reduction in the number of Arsenal matches that are aired on TV. Yikes, that would be a personal bummer!
That ought to be the end of our list of lamentation. We could go on about Dein’s departure and the Kroenke takeover bid, but why bother? It’s what happens on the pitch that really matters to Arsenal supporters. The club begins with the players, and ends with the manager. Everything else is secondary. The board have always run the club quite decently, and any issues will certainly be sorted out over time.
Moving on to our cause for cheer – football! One thing that is often forgotten is that we played the best football in England last season. It was only injuries to our top 2 goal scorers that scuttled our ship. I can say with confidence that injuries to the top two goal scorers of any team would have turned them into lame ducks. Our players who produced this great football are still there at the club. Cesc will run the show in the middle, Rosicky and Hleb will run their socks off, Clichy and Eboue will bomb forward, while Gilberto and Kolo will provide the brainy brawn to handle anything thrown at us. And hopefully, our new strike force will give them the goals they deserve.
Meanwhile, supporters will continue to pack The Emirates week in, week out. The young first team will only get better and the talented reserves will begin to soar in their own right. Players like Walcott, Merida, and Fabianski could well turn out to be the superstars of tomorrow.
But all this will hinge on what happens next season. So what will it be? Doom or Boom? Failure could lead to a very hard fall and set the club back by a few years, while success will ensure that Wenger stays and consolidates, continuing our tradition of excellence. All in all, it looks like making predictions for the coming season is going to be very hard. I would say that at the end of the day, there is enough cause to be optimistic. And I can live with that!
THIRTY TWO DAYS TO GO!
Click here to digg this article up the charts!