So as the players begin to be put through their paces across the globe following various jaunts on expensive yachts, secret trips to the hair loss clinic and dinners with dodgy agents, the backpagebanter crew must now blow the dust from their keyboards, chill those beers and deflate the paddling pool in anticipation of another season supporting the Arsenal. Getting hold of the gang during the off-season certainly hasn’t been an easy task, with a few still traumatised from our final day heroics and others too busy riding the transfer bandwagon to care. Nevertheless, we finally all managed to sit down to laugh, joke, cry and reminisce about last season and, dare we say it now, look ahead to potential signings before the new season. Imagine being down the pub with just a load of rowdy Arsenal fans. . .
Team-Player Tom 11.24
It’s been a long while since the last ball was kicked in anger in the Premier League. Attempts to fill the void with other sports have been made – F1, tennis, rugby, cricket and even female football have been splashed across our screens and in some cases (honestly, mostly the first four) have provided some pretty decent entertainment. It’s also been nice to sit back and watch some sport without being subjected to nerve shattering levels of anxiety from start to finish as is the case every time the Gooners lace up for ninety minutes these days! However, just like Felix Baumgartner, Evil Knievel and other top-notch adrenaline junkies, I miss the thrill of match-day and August 17th just can’t come quick enough. Before looking ahead though, a moment’s reflection on what was a season of highs, lows and ultimately the lauded 4th place.
Being the endlessly optimistic kind of guy that I am, I’d rather focus on the strong finish and annual overtaking of the Hotspurs in the last chukka of the season. Decent football and goals galore against Swansea, Reading, Norwich and Wigan laid the foundations for tighter games against United and Newcastle and significantly paved a consistency that eluded the Arsenal in earlier parts of the season. In fact we kept five clean sheets in the last ten games of the season. Cazorla cemented himself as one of the Premier League’s most dazzling new starlets, whilst Olly G cemented himself as the best looking. Whether he will remain in contention for the starting strike force next season only time will tell, however his improved form after Christmas and a decent few goals in Indonesia should give him the confidence to be knocking on the door regardless of who may be coming in.
Whilst finishing fourth must be notched up as the season’s main achievement, individual accolades must go to the blossoming defensive pairing of big Per and Koscielny (who let’s hope hasn’t now ruled himself out for the start of the season), the resurgence of Theo after finally signing da ting and glimpses of a fully fit Jack. If I had to single out one performance it would have to be destruction of Bayern in their backyard. This was of course contributed to by sharing the moment with yourself Tom (along with some pretty suspect cocktails!) but overwhelmingly because of the impact the game had on the rest of Arsenal’s domestic campaign.
Downcast Dave 11.28
Well maybe it’s my age showing here and the typical grumpiness of old age, but I exchanged my rose-tinted glasses for a pair of proper sunglasses this summer, and let me tell you, it does not make for easy reading. Arsenal were all but out of any trophy interest by March and I occasionally cheered a RVP goal on the radio, forgetting we had sold him to United along with the League title. I fear too many of us bought the fourth place sideshow, while Wenger and his cronies got away with big pay packets and little results.
I feel I may have to take the middle ground here. It was indeed another season that promised so much, but in the end delivered just that little more than Gervinho from the wing. I don’t want to get into this debate about a so-called ‘fourth place trophy’. While it was hilarious to see that muppet of a Spurs fan jumping around thinking Newcastle had scored (thank you Sir Sugar), our trophy cabinet remains emptier than Gascoine’s drink cabinet!
That’s not to say there aren’t many great moments and games to look back on; not least the basket-ball-esque thriller at the Madejski which had us all jumping for joy and smacking the sofa in equal measure (highlights here if you still haven’t seen the goals!). In fact, to add to the farcical nature of the game, I seem to recall a certain Chamakh scoring that day . . . I do hope he is showing those replays to potential suitors this summer! The game did turn out to be a bit of an antic climax in the end, however, as we were beaten by lowly Bradford! I know, who?
My favourite goal of the season came courtesy of the jinking Theo Walcott against Newcastle. A goal out of the Lionel Messi textbook, as he somehow managed to weave his way past 3 Newcastle players to dink a delicate chip over the onrushing Tim Krul! Was he playing for an improved contract at that point? Quite possibly, but as you said Tom, he did “Sign Da Ting” eventually and finished top scorer with 21 goals!
For me, the season showed that we are learning to grind out and win the sort of matches that have upset us in the past. Where we have fallen short is a lack of firepower against the bigger teams. A notable absentee to that list was of course our ever un-reliant Robin, who I agree David, was somewhat difficult to watch in a United shirt. Still, the topic of lethal finishers does bring us round to the topic of this summer and who we might sign.
Team-Player Tom 11.40
It seems that after the rigours of studying for GCSE’s, today’s teenager likes to unwind by donning the guise of a high-flying agent and, complete with the best Ari Gold swagger they can muster, launch into a series on unfounded, unreliable and at time unreadable drivel regarding top transfer news. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining, but in the same way that you shouldn’t trust a skinny chef (or Joey Barton) these Twitter accounts should be given a wide berth and never ever repeated in general conversation for fear of looking a fool.
With that being said, this year it seems a number of journalists have jumped on the crazy train and it leaves us fans in a precarious predicament. Rooney, Suarez, Higuain, Fellaini and Fabregas are all examples of top-tier talent that have been touted about almost every tabloid for weeks. It’s exciting, it’s stimulating, but ultimately it’s pretty dangerous. Memories of Mata, Hazard and a host of other never-to-materialise names has made me wary of gossip.
Despite the limited traffic arriving at Ashburton Grove for the minute, the throngs of departing players is a big boost to the squad. Squillaci, Arshavin and Denilson represent a bonus to the wage kitty and with Santos heading back to South America and Bendtner heading anywhere that’ll have him, the spring clean could be almost complete. Wenger has a host of young players to develop and I look forward to them filling the squad spaces left by the dearly departed. Gnabry, Akpom and Eisfield are big talents and it would be nice to see them pushing for first team chances this term.
We do have the money this summer to address these issues, but will Wenger actually spend it that is the big question? As you say, there has been very little movement in but plenty of movement out, with Arsene offloading more deadwood than our local timber firm. But will we spend? While Wenger goes in hunt of a bargain, players are coming off the market quicker than he can invent excuses! Financial Fair Play my Arse(ne)!
We all know that “like a new signing” Jack Wilshere is on the Asia tour and ready to get a good pre-season under his belt, but I still don’t think our problems can be fixed without an influx of quality signings. We have been linked with every Tom (neither of you of course), Dick (Suarez) and Harry (?) this summer as you just suggested, but nobody can really guess who is coming in! It’s very much the silly season at Arsenal. If you believe the press, Higuain has undergone more medicals than most players do in their lifetime!
In the meantime Wenger has lost out on his Villa in Spain, with that one very much a SaNOGO (apologies!) But truthfully, our only proper signing so far has been a French youth international with plenty of potential, but painfully little experience. A player in the mould of Fellaini would certainly offer Arsenal some physical presence in midfield, without sacrificing our attacking style, while Rooney would have a point to prove and works very hard for the team. There’s my penny’s worth on the matter despite saying I wouldn’t be drawn into it!
Team-Player Tom 11.44
Is that David ‘definitely signed a pre-contract in January’ Villa’s recent move to Athletico Madrid you are talking about there!
Ha, I do believe it is!
Downcast Dave 11.56
There are plenty of exciting young players coming through the ranks as you said Tom. I was disappointed to see so few of them given opportunities last season and perhaps that is a reflection of our desperation to claw points from every game. Certainly in the few sightings we have had during pre-season of the scrawny Zelalem, Chamberlain mark 2 – Serge Gnabry and Akpom, we have players who could probably offer more than Gervinho, Santos, Chamakh and Park with their eyes closed and I look forward to watching them next season almost as much as I do the though of seeing Wenger without that big coat! Quality signings then will not only help us in the short-term, but hopefully allow these youngsters to be given opportunities when games are comfortably in the bag. If not, I suppose we could always take up the option to resign Henry! How old is he now?
I think that’s the final whistle on proceedings chaps, and a positive note to end on there from our most pessimistic member! I think it’s pretty clear to us and most likely to Arsenal fans across the world that this transfer window will prove critical for the future of not only this club, but of Wenger, the board, and many of our star players. It may be that we are left sweating until the final day for the customary shot of Wenger with new players and their shirts, but as long as it happens I won’t complain.
Wherever we chose to spend the hefty amount of money we have accumulated from new sponsorship, extortionate ticket prices and selling our best players, I just hope we go into the market with a different tack than in previous seasons and sign proven (guaranteed or your money back) quality. So far, the noises from the club have been positive but there remains the sound of tumbleweed when Wenger is asked if we are close to signing anyone.
The boost of two or three big name signings would re-invigorate the supporters, players and staff alike. In a world where money talks and players are quick to switch their loyalty, it is refreshing to think that us fans still hold the key to a club’s success. The pre-season tours of Indonesia and Japan are testament to this, and Arsenal will no doubt have noticed the frustration and boos of many fans last season. The club have brought back the away kit that graced the Invincibles, so lets hope they follow suit when it comes to signing players in the market and gunning for glory!
Give us a follow for more Arsenal chat this summer @backpagebanter