In my last article, I said that Arsenal were at the crossroads of potential and success. Would our team complete the transition and become a side that can take on all challengers? It’s still too early to tell, but on the evidence seen so far, this side is going to be one to reckon with.
Setting the Pace
Arsenal began life without Thierry Henry in a home game against Fulham. We played at a brisk pace, but before long, the memories of last season came flooding back. A Lehmann error resulted in an early goal for the visitors, chance after chance was being repelled by Fulham’s reserve goal keeper, and what seemed like a certain penalty was turned down. Arsenal held firm though and after van Persie scored from the penalty spot, Hleb finished off an injury time chance to give Arsenal the winning start that we badly needed.
The opening match set a few trends for the season. The first of which was the immediate integration of Sagna into the side. Eboue was pushed on to the wings, and Hleb played just behind the striker, giving Arsenal a novel formation that caused all sorts of havoc in the Fulham defence. It also began a trend of midfielders scoring – in fact, there is an ongoing bet between Cesc, Hleb ad Rosicky to see who scores the most! And perhaps most importantly, it showcased Arsenal’s new found self belief and winning mentality.
Relishing the Battle
This winning mentality became vital in the next couple of weeks, with a visit to Blackburn Rovers sandwiched between a two-leg Champions League qualifier against Sparta Prague. Physical teams had often proved to be our bane, and Sparta captain Repka wasted no time in declaring his plans to bully the Gunners into submission. Fabregas had other ideas though. His crunching tackle on Repka showed who was boss, and Arsenal came through riding on a comfortable cushion, thanks to a goal from Cesc and a late strike from Hleb. Blackburn were as annoyingly violent as expected, but Robin van Persie’s strike would have given us 3 points if not for another terrible error from Lehmann. The Champions League spot was duly wrapped up in the Emirates, with the midfield providing the goals again. Rosicky, Cesc and Hleb had all contributed to the score sheets within the first 4 matches, suggesting that their little bet was going to be an interesting one to follow this season. And to cap off an effective performance, Dudu came up with a classic poacher’s goal. Our fox in the box might have arrived at last.
Next up were a rejuvenated Manchester City. Coached by Eriksson, and buoyed by a derby victory over struggling Manchester United, the match was being billed as our first against a quality side, and one that would delight the enthusiast. As happens so often, the match failed to live up to hype. After Robin’s penalty was saved, it appeared that the match was destined to end in a draw, until Cesc ripped up the script with a vicious shot at the near post.
While the Gunners were busy scoring and winning matches to set up a title bid this season, unseen machinations were churning behind the scenes – business manoeuvres that could well shape the future of our club. When David Dein left the Arsenal board, few Gooners believed that we had seen the last of him. And we were right. Wily as ever, he made sure that the media did not forget him, with regular stories in the press talking about how he was planning to return to ‘his club’. Eventually, he made his move, selling his shares to the Russian owned ‘Red and White Holdings’. A firm with an appealing name, but dubious motives. The main man at Red and White is Usmanov, a chap who claims to be an Arsenal fan at heart. And with Dein acting as the chairman of this company, they seem to be ideal candidates for an Arsenal takeover. Dein has gone so far as to say that Arsenal must accept major investment, or they will be ‘left behind’. And apparently, Messiah Dein plans to turn Arsenal into the world’s Number 1 club!
But do we really need him and the company he represents? Without getting too deep into this argument, it probably needs to be mentioned that the club is well run, and our performances on the pitch are very encouraging. In seasons to come, we’ll only get better. And the most critical angle to this entire story is that everything Dein has been saying, has been in complete contradiction to Wenger’s beliefs and statements. And that can not be a good sign.
Whipping Boys Show Their Mettle
Having been written off by everyone from commentators to ex-Gunners to even David Dein, Arsenal showed that they were in fine shape when they welcomed Redknapp’s Pompey to Ashburton Grove. The team that had played so well against Manchester United and Chelsea, were attacked and conquered in a stylish display of football, that hardly let up even when Senderos was sent off. Adebayor slotted in a penalty won by strike partner RvP, Cesc turned in a predatory finish from a corner, and Rosicky finished off the game in the second half. Old boy Kanu tried to spark a comeback with a gem of a fluke, but that was all Portsmouth had to show for their efforts.
Given the zest of the performance, and the ‘positive vibes’ that Wenger was talking about, it made all the whole talk about needing a takeover look quite laughable.
Keep It Rollin’
4 games into the season, Arsenal are sitting pretty, level on points with table toppers Liverpool. The EPL is looking more competitive than ever, at all ends of the table. Man United and Chelski have struggled at times, even contriving to lose matches. Tottenham have had a poor start, and Jol might have been the first manager to be sacked this season. And as their luck holds, their next match is against the might Gunners!
The biggest derby in England is crucial for both teams. The scum need points, and they will probably give us our sternest test of the season so far. Or maybe they will just roll over and let us pick up our three points. At any rate, it should be an enjoyable affair, and one that will hopefully drown out the last weak voice that dares to suggest that our Champions League position is in danger. And if we manage to maintain our current quality of play, then there is every chance that we will remind the world how to win in style. For that is the Arsenal Way!