Morning Grovers, first up is a guest post from James, enjoy… I know I did. Match report at 0900!
Firstly let me start off by saying that the reason none of you have heard of me through Le Grove is that I used to blog here last year as ‘James’ and then the boss got wind of it and that was me gone, bye, bye Le Grove. Didn’t stop me reading the posts however, and I have continued to read this fantastic blog ever since. I won’t go into why I enjoy it so much, I’m sure we all share the same feelings, but what I do want to prattle on about is our team, Arsenal FC, and my history and feelings attached to this great club. That’s the point of this site, isn’t it? That we can discuss and debate all things red and white, all the anger, frustration, joy, glory (past glories at the moment), the rumours, our desires and aspirations for our team and of course why David Villa should be up front, Hangeland should be in defence with Cana (£5m??!! JEEEESSSUUS Arsene! Sunderland??!! Missed a trick there did we not?!) in that oh-so-important holding position next to captain Fab. And that’s what we’ll do til the end of time, wish for slightly more, always craving that big name signing, that Champions League win, that moment when we can say ‘yes, Arsene does actually know’, Hey! Denilson wasn’t so bad after all (after his £15m transfer to Real, Barca, Man City etc.), Little Jack Wilshere is the best English player since Rooney and Gazza, and when Project Youth revolutionises football with it’s phenomenal trophy return and inspires stricter rules on transfer fees, contracts and above all the total football mentality that Wenger (and us) so obviously want to reap the rewards from. But you can’t win anything with kids, remember?
So, what makes me passionate, irate, frustrated, shocked, amazed and glad to be a fan of this great club? What made me start supporting the Arsenal? Well if I tell you it was a choice between the Gunners or Everton then I think you can instantly see why. I’m 24 years old now and have been a fan since I was 7. My uncles were watching the Arsenal vs. Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup Final replay in 1993 and this, as far as I can remember, is the first game I ever saw. My uncle Patrick is a Toffee, uncle Chris is a Gooner. I think I was an easy target for my uncle Chris and the likes of Wright and Merson. Here were lots of people in red and white, jumping up and down, huge smiles, thousands of fans singing, waving scarves, and generally going mental over a silver cup. Being 7 and impressionable but also needing something to follow, I jumped on for the ride. Needless to say my uncle Patrick didn’t put up much of a fight for the Everton corner, I think he knew it was a lost cause. My Arsenal journey had begun and from then on I knew, even at a young age, that this was life, this was pretty damn important.
Around this time, and indeed throughout most of my school life, is when that other red team from up north won a lot. Kids all around me would suddenly turn up on non-uniform days dressed in the iconic SHARP shirt with CANTONA 7 emblazoned across their back. I felt proud not to support the team that everyone else did because, as was the usual playground jibes aimed at new, young Utd fans, they were glory supporters. Liverpool were also very much a force in my area and thus my hatred for these two giants of English football began. You see I live in Herefordshire which is on the Welsh borders and therefore our greatest footballing triumph is Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle in the 1972 FA Cup. Our nearest ‘big’ team was Villa and well, they’ve never set the world alight, leaving Liverpool and Man Utd as the ‘in’ teams.
Now, I can go on about every single iconic Arsenal moment I’ve ever had but then this post would be pages and pages and I can already feel this becoming a lengthy one without all that stuff. What I will say is that the first time Arsenal broke my heart was 1995, Nayim and all that. I don’t think I’ve cried as much over my team as that awful moment. I was an aspiring young goalie and Seaman was my hero back then because he was England’s number 1, safe hands, and everything was shattered in that lob from the half way line. Inconsolable. A family friend, also a Gooner, was so distraught that she wrote to David telling him how sorry she was about it all and that he shouldn’t take the blame or feel bad, it was just one of those things. He didn’t get back to her but I think she had some closure from it nonetheless. I’ll also never forget going to Highbury for the first time and being a guest of the great Bob Wilson, sitting in his seat along with my dad and Bob’s son, watching Arsenal vs. Derby when Anelka scored the only goal of the game. We had to go in through the big doors and in to the great marbled halls and wait while Bob came downstairs to give us our tickets. Just before he did the coach turned up and I had the privilege of seeing the whole team walk up the steps, in to the hall and walk right past me to the dressing rooms. I was in awe as Bergkamp smiled, Anelka glowered, Seaman chuckled and my dad got a great picture of Ray parlour’s gormless expression as he stuck a camera in his face, blinded by the flash.
As with all these moments, good or bad, you accept that they’re part of the whole experience and you move on to the next game, it never stops. I’m honoured to say that I’ve seen Bergkamp, Henry, Pires, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Adams, Fabregas, Ljungberg etc play some of the most astonishing football I’ve ever witnessed. Wenger came with his geeky professor look, challenged Utd and won, a mean feat in the late 90’s and 2000’s. It was quite clear that he had the measure of Fergie and not only that but his footballing philosophy was to change English football forever. The Invincibles were the ultimate, Wenger and Arsenal at their best. To win the league at the Spuds just made it that little bit sweeter. I remember going out and buying every single newspaper the day after we won the league and spending hours reading every single supplement, every utterance on the brilliance of that season. And therein lies the problem. Wenger had already proven in previous seasons that we had titles in us and come that remarkable season we had it all; the best team, the greatest player in the Premier League, if not the world, team spirit, a great captain, a new stadium on the way. This is where it began.
Only it didn’t. I’ve always said Wenger sells players at the right time, especially when you look at Vieira, Overmars, Henry, Anelka for example. But have we ever replaced Henry and Vieira? No. Have we recovered from being unbeatable to becoming distinctly average at times? Definitely not. It’s like England in 1966 and being the Champions of World football; nothing since. Faint glimpses of potential only for those hopes to be dashed by a cheeky wink or a petulant kick. The same with Arsenal; the perfect team, unbeaten in the toughest league in the world, total football at its best and since then one FA Cup win, on penalties, fantastic potential being pushed back each year, because this year is the year the players step up, and all the other noises we hear from the boss. And I believe, I really do, I have to, because I’ve followed this team for so long now that I crave the success, I want Wenger to be right, I want everyone to turn around and praise the way in which he’s crafted his team into champions, but my worry and frustration comes from that horrible feeling of when will this actually happen? I’ve watched improvements, I’ve witnessed the potential, I’m in awe of Arshavin, I’m left bewildered by our defending and I’m proud of Cesc’s unwavering loyalty to the club. But how long can we survive being on the cusp of greatness for this dynamic young Spaniard, or indeed anyone else, to stick around? One day he will go home, of that I feel there is no doubt, and he so longs to lift a trophy as captain of this great team, but he’s hungry and Spain has a lot of money now, he’s a Barca boy at heart, they’ve just won the treble and the 3 best players in world football all ply their trade in La Liga. His commitment to us is second to none, his desire the same, his long term career plans may become a little more hazy by the end of another trophy less season.
As a fickle football fan I want success and I want it now. I’m impatient as it is anyway and I feel that as a fan of a team who is considered one of the best in the country, nay Europe, that a trophy or 2 wouldn’t go amiss. I know its coming, I know the seeds are all planted and indeed most are blossoming, I can feel it, maybe even this year, but also as an impatient fan I know that we need more than that to get to trophy nirvana. Just 2 more signings and we could really do it. I look at Man City and I feel disgusted with their spending power, their astronomical wage packets and I worry about the future of the game. Their pursuit of Kaka was laughable, their purchase of Ade a relief for us yet clearly showing they’ve not got much of a clue, a clear indication that money talks. So we drove him out? Probable. But look at it this way, both he and Tevez have left the top four, Champions League football guaranteed (hopefully for us), to what? Yes, loadsa money. Ok, City have a master plan to break the top four hierarchy, to eclipse their red rivals on all fronts, and on the face of it they could do it, I mean you look at all their purchases so far and they’ve been very clever in that Barry (a snip at £12m, where were you Arsene? Oh that’s right, he’s on £110,00 p/w) Santa Cruz, Tevez, and Ade are all proven top flight players. All regular internationals and all well accustomed to playing at Bolton on a cold, windy Saturday lunchtime in December. And you look at their next targets; Terry, Lescott and Kolo and again the same experiences apply. Now, I’m not saying they will win anything or indeed break the top four this year, but it could happen in the next few seasons as they will inevitably keep buying until they do, and it worries me because while they are poaching off their nearest rivals and potentially making strides, Wenger will rightly be disgusted but stubbornly believing that perseverance is the key and that buying a quick fix, proven player to walk straight in to the team will upset the balance. I don’t know, but that’s what I reckon. My frustration here is to look at Arshavin, an awesome player, who walked into the team and created a huge buzz, a belief amongst all of us. I remember Euro 2008 and seeing him against Holland, being over-awed with his ability and now he plays for Arsenal, my team! We need more impact players like him to arrive and shake our system up a bit. We need muscle, tough tackles, a few more red cards, passion, grit and a player of the Gerrard, Scholes, Vieira, Keane school of thought where winning the ball and not letting the opposition through you is paramount. We have a leader in Cesc, we have a proven ball winner in…?
Anyway, I guess my point about this fantastically over-drawn post (and thanks for getting this far) is that I just love this club. I love the way we play, I believe Wenger is the greatest manager we’ve ever had and I dearly want him and the team to succeed. They deserve it, we deserve it and if it doesn’t happen soon then something has to change. I also believe that the boss is a stubborn bastard and it’s his way or the high way, and we all know where the board stand on that one. But then why go against him? He’s changed everything, and for the better. A catch 22 you could say. Either way, things have to change and despite our lack of transfer activity this summer I go in to the first weekend of the season believing that this really is our year. It has to be. I don’t want to feel like I did in 1995 again that’s for sure.