Arsene Knows, says the omnipresent banner hung in the first ring at the Emirates. The stadium itself knows less about winning than the illustrious manager: since the team moved from neighbouring Highbury to Ashburton Grove, there has been little in terms of joy.
Ok, the stadium itself is nice n’all that, and the youths are budding prospects who break into the national team at the tender age of 17 (Walcott) and 19 (Wilshere), even though the former seems to be regressing into a third division winger whose only skill, blinding speed aside, is to charge at anything in front of him like a bull who suddenly found himself in the midst of a Labour meeting.
Once again, putting aside the Fabregas soap opera, it seems like Arsenal fans like me are doomed to another frustrating year of watching Chelsea and Man Utd fight it out, with the usual fear of being pipped to third by Al-Manchesteriya Citiyya who still think they can field 40 players for one game.
Let’s face it: our defence is a nightmare. In goal, the choice is between two authentic flappers like Almunia and Fabianski. I’m surprised how Wenger has obstinately soldiered on with these two, instead of making a sensible approach for Cagliari’s Italian national, Federico Marchetti, who has been frozen out by his club. A few years ago, keepers like Hugo Lloris (nowadays at Lyon) were available for a cut price yet Wenger chose not to make an approach, preferring to go for homegrown talent. As a result, every time the ball approaches Almunia/Fabianski/Mannone (I forgot that Italian chappie) we are all forced to squirm our buttocks and hope for the best.
There were some pieces of good news: Gallas, Silvestre, Slowderos and Sol Campbell are no longer part of the Gunners side. I will not miss any of these four, in particular the petulant Gallas, who is still going round clubs asking for a salary nobody affords to offer to a 33 year old centre back who’s only just back from a nightmarish season and World Cup. So, if four pensioners leave the boat, you’d expect two replacements.
Laurent Koscielny’s debut last Sunday at Anfield left, er, much to be desired. Red card aside, the chap looks a bit shaky at the back, and I doubt he will hold the likes of Rooney or Drogba at bay. So, Mr Wenger, another centre-back would do nicely for a long season. Ideally around 1m90 tall with a penchant for ruthlessness.
There is thankfully less to complain about in attack. I think Maroune Chamakh will be a good signing – Wenger can choose his offensive players no doubt about that – and I’m particularly excited to see how he links up with Van Persie. If anything, Chamakh will keep Bendtner on the bench for some more time, and that’s a good way to limit damage. I expect the likes of Carlos Vela to step up his game. I expect Theo Walcott to learn something from international team mates like Ashley Young, James Milner, Shaun bloody Wright bloody Phillips: mate, don’t just run headfirst into your opponent, just… look around you. There’s another nine mates to pass to (no, I left out Almunia on purpose).
Before more bad luck (Nasri and Frimpong are the first two injuries, the latter seems quite bad) hits us – I’m seriously touching wood now – I hope this will be Robin van Persie’s season: time for him to pick up from where he left off almost a year ago when he was injured by a ridiculous tackle in a ridiculous international friendly. If the likes of Arshavin and Nasri keep up the level of service they showed last year, we’re in for a few fireworks.
My last note goes to Cesc Fabregas. Kid, you wanna leave? Just do so. A figure in the region of €40m and you can join all the other Barca superstars. Sincerely though, I hope you don’t go this year as it’s too late for Mr Wenger to find replacements. But otherwise, the team can live on with or without you, Vieira, Henry, Toure, Pires…
… or maybe not. At the end of the 2008-09 season, Arsene Wenger was confronted by angry shareholders demanding trophies. They were baffled again last year, even though the air seemed to have calmed again. The man is damn obstinate – there’s no better adjective – and will tolerate no lessons in transfer market, only that this time the fancy football is simply not enough. We need to win trophies, and winning trophies requires world class players. Koscielny and Chamakh might have fancy names but it’s just not enough.
But as the saying goes, Arsene knows. I hope.