For Arsenal it has been an off-season of doing nothing. And Greg Francis is not happy about it. In fact, you could say he’s a bit angry
WARNING: This could get long. When asked to write this, my initial thought was dread. So I’ve decided to use it as a cathartic experience to let out all my frustrations and try and clear my mind in order to look forward to Saturday.
EIGHTY-SEVEN days!…Not that I’m counting or anything.
Yes, that’s right, 87 long, hope-filled and ultimately disappointing days since that nerve-wracking, yet thrilling 1-0 result at St James Park, where we successfully secured the 4th place ‘trophy’ for another year. It was a heady day for many reasons.
This was a team who had suffered the ignominy of being bundled out of both Cup competitions by lower league opposition. Then in March we suffered a 2-1 loss to our North London neighbours. It was our third loss in four matches. This left us staring down the barrel for a second consecutive year, of needing to close a significant points gap on the run home, in order to once again achieve Champions League football for the 15th straight year. At the time of that loss, AVB made his now infamous ‘we are on an upward spiral of confidence, while they are on a downward spiral of negativity’ comments. Bless him. You could tell it was his first year in the job and he clearly hadn’t educated himself on recent history. This spurred (no pun intended) the team on to an unbeaten run of 10 straight matches, taking 27 out of 30 possible points, and we closed the gap to once again celebrate St Totteringham’s day on the final day of the season. It was a great way to end an utterly miserable season – probably the worst in Wenger’s reign. While most mock the 4th place ‘Trophy’ claims, it is critically important to a top club – just ask Liverpool and Luiz Suarez.
Now I realise this isn’t a review of 2012/13 season, but I felt it was important to reflect on that roller coaster of a year, in to provide some context on how frustrated Arsenal supporters are feeling right now. It also sheds some light on the almost unbelievable situation, whereby I spent more money on a litre of milk this morning, than Arsenal have spent on strengthening the squad in the past 87 days, since we limped over the line into 4th. Despite being relieved to have got out of jail once again, the fans were well aware it required another Tottenham choke of sorts, and it didn’t mask the fact that we finished 16 points off the Champions. Yes – the Champions who won the League on the back of our former captains goals. The season before it was a 19 point gap to the Champions. This was also a team that took only 2 out of a possible 18 points versus the other top 3 sides. Arsenal fans don’t have grand expectations of winning the League every year, but at the minimum expect a challenge – at least be in with a sniff come March. We understand how tough that task now is with the ‘oil money’ sloshing around the League, but we simply don’t accept being out of the race in November/December. That’s just not good enough for a club with our resources.
As the season was being concluded, the club announced multiple new commercial sponsorship deals which heralded in the final stages of the ‘stadium project’, thus transforming the Arsenal into a modern-day ‘super club’ with significant income streams. The contracts were in place and we were swimming in cash. To be precise it was reported this week that Arsenal have nearly as much cash-on-hand than all of the other 19 Premier League clubs combined, with a balance also around 60 million higher than the biggest European clubs. It was time to compete with the big boys and spend-up large on the cream of European talent. Europe was bankrupt, we were loaded, and we had the lure of Champions League football – what could possibly go wrong? Ummm….
Even the clubs CEO announced to the world that Arsenal’s new financial fire-power meant we could afford to pay big transfer fees and wages of 200K per week on the right player. This added further fuel to fan expectations of a ‘club-defining’ summer. Plus, for the first time in years, we felt the star players would be arriving, NOT leaving, after the Cesc, Nasri, Van Persie debacles of recent summers. Even the most cynical Arsenal fans were positive – everyone felt the same. The excitement was palpable. It was time to put the foot down and use our much superior financial resources to put daylight between us and our beloved North London neighbours. Stop the coming from behind and scraping into 4th and genuinely build a squad that could challenge for the title.
EIGHTY-SEVEN days later……Crickets……Tumbleweed…..more Crickets……and a big fat dark hole of NOTHING!
While Tottenham have gone out and spent near 50 million on some quality additions in Soldado,Paulinho and former Arsenal target Capoue. That palpable excitement has since been replaced with anger…and It’s turning nasty.
Actually, I tell a lie. We’ve signed an injury prone French kid on a free transfer from Ligue 2, who has played around 20 senior games and is reportedly now injured. Yes – that’s right. You actually couldn’t make it up.
Arsenal have actually been extremely active in the transfer market. Unfortunately, these were all sales/loans of what the Arsenal fans had rather cruelly nicknamed ‘the deadwood’. Players who were either no longer good enough, or were never good enough to begin with. They had been signed-on under Wenger’s somewhat socialist pay scale, where most players earned similar wages, and for some, this was well above their market rate. This meant players like Squillaci, Arshavin, Chamakh, Djourou, Park, Bendtner, Denilson, Santos et al were clogging up the wage bill & were no longer considered good enough for the first team. Arsenal have actually been ruthless – contracts canceled and paid-out in some cases, just in order to offload. We’ve also sold the enigma that was Gervinho to Roma. He was a player more famous for his forehead, but actually had some great skill, albeit with fragile confidence and would probably suit the less physical Serie A. I personally never forgave him for missing an open goal tap-in versus Bradford in the Cup – his strike nearly hit the corner post and we went on to lose the match on penalties. Our back-up keeper Vito Mannone was also sold to Sunderland.
So where does that leave us with just 3 days until the new season starts?? Probably around 9 senior players lighter and around 10 million pounds richer. The only club in the League which has not actually spent a single pound.
I’m not going to go into transfer specifics, as in my opinion at this stage there’s no point. We were promised by the CEO – ‘we will get our business done early this year’ – again these proved hollow claims. The ‘thinness’ of the senior squad is glaringly obvious, and for a club that regularly suffers horror and unfortunate runs of injuries, with many serial victims, the risks are abundantly clear. Mikel Arteta was basically wheeled out on crutches for the final game of the season last year due to a lack of quality back-up in that position. The one back-up we had – Francis Coquelin – has since been shipped out on loan. Yes we’ve been linked to high profile players. Jovetic was heavily linked early, well he will now be running out for Man City on Saturday. Higuain was seemingly all but done, but Wenger famously switched focus to Suarez when Madrid, quite rightly, asked for a higher fee knowing Napoli were ready to pounce. Throw in the early 20 million Rooney bid, the debacle over the supposed 40 million release clause for Suarez, the rumoured meeting of Fellaini’s release clause, and well, you get the picture. Lots of bluster and seemingly ‘being seen’ to be busy and active. All of this doesn’t matter one bit. The only thing that matters is getting the deals over the line and seeing the players paraded in an Arsenal shirt.
Rumours are rife. Wenger is doing his famous dithering, changing his mind on targets and valuations. Apparent tensions between the board and Wenger over signings. Who knows if they are true, but it really has turned into a debacle. This is probably what happens when one man holds so much power, and it would seem goes un-challenged. Although Fergie never seemed to have a problem getting the players he desired. Christ, he even had the cheek to pick up the phone and talked Wenger into selling him our Captain and probably last existing world class player. Wenger delivered Fergie his final title in that phone call.
There’s absolutely no excuses. There are plenty of quality players out there who would strengthen the squad. We had bids rejected in the January window for David Villa and Etienne Capoue. Wenger decided four months later that neither were now good enough. Both have now moved for a relative pittance. There seems to be no plan, no strategy, and it would seem the powers that be are dusting off the trolley in preparation for the supermarket sweep on September 2nd. Admittedly, there’s still time to turn it around, obviously not in time to hit the season running with a fully integrated squad, but there is time. Rabbits and hats spring to mind.
We still have the core of a very good squad. A decent starting eleven. We are the only team that beat the European Champions at their home this year – keeping them scoreless in the process. However, as mentioned earlier, this was also a squad that lost to a team four divisions lower. Team morale seems at an all-time high right now, although, rather unusually many players have gone public over the summer voicing their desire for big name signings, so hopefully they aren’t feeling as disappointed as the fans are right now.
The existing squad has a good mix of youthful talent and experience/leadership – which has probably been a lacking ingredient in Wenger’s squads over the past 5 years. Players like Podolski, Giroud and the magical Cazorla will be even better in their second seasons. Walcott looks to be finally developing into the star we thought he might be when signed all those years ago – his finishing is now top notch. A fully fit Jack Wilshere could be as good as anyone, and Ramsey is showing signs of returning to the player United battled with us to try and sign. That awful leg break at Stoke destroyed 2 years of his young career. Our defence was excellent in the second half of last season, with Koscielny showing signs of potentially being one of the best centre backs in the League. His partnership with Mertesacker is excellent. We are potentially a Suarez and a Gustavo away from having a team that could make a title push, but It’s the overall depth to challenge on four front’s which is most concerning.
If you’re still reading this and I’m guessing most won’t be, thanks for sticking with me. I do strangely feel better for getting all that off my chest. Despite the frustrations, the questioning of ambition and the nagging suspicion that come next May we’ll be once again battling it out for fourth with our friends up the road, I for one can’t wait for Saturday! Time to forget about the silly season and watch some football again.
As always – Up The Arsenal.
P.s Hey Arsene – Spend Some F**king Money!
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