Well here we are people, on the cusp of a new start for the manager, the board and of course, us, the fans. Yesterday was important on so many levels. By finishing fourth, the manager has removed any relic of an excuse that could be pushed our way come August 31st. New commercial deals are so close you can taste the cash, the bank balance is publicly brimming and we have the core of a very strong squad already with us.
The Newcastle game boasted none of the drama we’d expected / dreaded in a final day of the season show down. However, that didn’t stop the whole occasion becoming a 2 hour nightmare. I watched the two games dual screen in a pub which boasted a larger Spurs population.
We knew what the script looked like for Spurs, they’d have trouble breaking down a dogged Sunderland, then magic man Gareth Bale would muster up some ‘at the death’ magic. Which he played out line for line.
Our game was a little more tense. Newcastle didn’t really put up much of a fight. However, we struggled to make an impact for large parts of the game. Podolski spurned a very simple chance when through on goal when he fired his shot into the retiring Steve Harper. There was a fair bit of possession but no bite from us. Theo couldn’t handle the double team action that was going on his side of the wing and Lukas didn’t give is an outlet.
Our chance dropped in the second half, from a corner, Podolski I think got a touch, it looped over Koscielny’s shoulder, he followed it eagle eyed and turned it into the net. A great goal.
There was no last surge from Newcatle. Theo made it through on goal but toe poked the ball past the keeper but found himself denied by a stubborn post. The team played out the last ten minutes with a maturity I’ve not seen in years. They were calm, they slowed play down and they made the whole ordeal a little calmer.
The spirit of the side was summed up by Laurent Koscielny who had an absolutely superb game. He lost his way earlier in the year, but there’s no doubt now that he is our lead centre back (arguably he was at the end of the last summer). He dominated at the back, he came up with the vital goal and he led by example.
I said last summer that the best signing was Steve Bould. A year on, we’ve seen the reverse of last season. It was the defence that proved pivotal. We’ve not taken fourth. Because of one man and his goals, we’ve taken it because the manager allowed more focus on the back four (in the end) and Bould delivered a defence that conceded 37 goals. That made us the second best defence inside one season. That’s an impact people. With the right movements this summer, we’ll have the best defence in the league. We’ve made serious inroads without a proper keeper. Wenger also has to take some serious credit. He dropped his captain and never let him back in. He also dropped his keeper and only let him get a chance through injury. Both moves proved decisive in turning around our season.
Another change in the team no one has mentioned all season that has played a huge role in us becoming more solid as a unit has been the departure of Alex Song. He’s moved on and we’ve now fitted out the midfield with two players who are prepared to track back and take responsibility. How many cheap freekicks do we give away these days? How often is that gap in front of the back four left empty? Not often. We’re defending as a collective these days. I’ve said for years, you don’t need to have 4 world class defenders to have a world class unit. Now, I’m not saying we’re a world class unit by a long shot, but we’ve made serious inroads this season and proof of concept is the 24% reduction in goals conceded. Players have been made accountable.
Up front, the goals were shared out and we matched what we achieved last season, however, it’s apparent we need to build in that area. We’re not clinical enough and we lack a player with the dominance to lead against world class teams. That position will be filled this summer and I think there’s a very high chance it’ll be filled with an important name. That’s unlikely to be Lewandowski as he’s rumoured to be close to Bayern and I’ve not heard anyone mention Jovetic… but they’re looking at someone outside Sanogo. Will it be Wayne Rooney? The club are interested, but you have to ask yourself a few serious questions here. Firstly, his attitude has been appalling at United this season, some seriously shameful rumours floating around about his behaviour. If Ferguson can’t control him, what hope does Wenger have? His physicality has pulled him through his mid-twenties… but what happens going forward? Does his lifestyle catch up with him now? Is that a £30m risk we can afford to take?
I think the club are going to go all out now to make an impact in the transfer market. Expect to see a keeper, a centre back, a midfielder with bite, maybe a creative player and definitely a world class striker. The perfect storm has arrived. We have lots of cash in the bank, we have new commercials on the horizon, a manager wanting a new deal and all the clubs around us are going through managerial changes. This is our summer to shine and everything I’m getting from the club says that we’re going for it.
The major difficulty we’re going to have is that we’re not selling players a success machine. We’re selling them a project. A new type of project, but it’s not the finished article. If we want to land Cesc, we’ll have to convince him of our ambition by making an ambitious signing. It might be really tough, players might not fancy us… but I can guarantee you we’re already out there trying for players who are on a different planet to the types of players we’ve looked at in the past.
… but what about Spurs?
Well yesterday’s result was a baseball bat to the back of the legs if ever I’ve seen one. For me, it’s almost curtains for Spurs in regards to moving up a level in the eyes of world football. That was their one opportunity, which to be honest, if they’d have taken, would have killed them next year anyway.
Here’s why Spurs are unlikely to trouble us next season. Firstly, Arsenal won’t have a summer like they had last year. We won’t lose two key players this year. The only people moving will be the players who haven’t really done it this year (Vermaelen, Gervinho, Chamakh the deadwood if we can find them a home). We’ll have a settled squad in that sense. The base has been set.
There is no chance Arsenal won’t invest this summer either. We’ll never make that mistake moving forward. So we’ll not only have a settled squad by August 31st, we should have one that is buzzing with excitement for the first time in 10 or so years. That’s a major step change forward.
Thirdly, I’m guessing… and this is a guess. We’re unlikely to have a start as pathetic as tepid as last years.
Finally, it’s unlikely Bale will stay at Spurs and even if he does, will he have the season he’s had this year? Everything he’s touched has turned to gold this year. If you take his form out the equation, Spurs have quite an average squad. Think of how lucky their run in has been. They’ve been dominated by poor teams and been Baled out everytime. Not just that, the deflected goals, the inexplicable collapses… they’ve had a very lucky run in and they didn’t deserve top four in the end.
Then look at the revenue gap. We’ll be a full £100m better off than them by the end of next season. That’s an unbelievable power grip we’ll have on them. They’re trying to pull together this new stadium, but I haven’t read anything about a loan being secured? We picked up ours for what, 3%? They’ll have to pick theirs up for at least double. How will they fund it with the inflated wages of modern football and without consistent Champions League revenue? They won’t be able to… it’d be too much of a risk
*Not to mention the new Premier League wage rule will scupper any rapid growth plans they might have (only being able to add £4m to your wage bill each summer. Getting from £90m to £150m will take a while).
Arsenal’s long term planning has started to bear fruit after nearly a decade. How will Spurs manage a transition like that? It feels like an impossibility.
Now, credit where credit is due. Making top four from where we were has been a massive achievement. 12 wins out of 16 is absolutely massive. Wenger has pulled it out of the bag at the death again. However, those who think 4th place with our resource is worth crowing about are really missing the point of being a big club. Wenger has had cash to invest over the last four years and he’s failed to do so. He’s been treading water and survived. This season has to be the last time he does that. This was the closest in a while. What made this seasons escape all the more impressive is that we didn’t do it with the stars he’s done it with of seasons past. The clubs management won’t want to go through that again and I’m pretty sure Arsene won’t want to go through that again. It’s time to face up to facts. Big clubs sign big players. You can still do things the right way… but a simple look around Europe shows you that even clubs like Dortmund spend big if they need to.
The club won’t put us through that again. They know there’s a huge opportunity this summer. The United team you saw draw 5-5 with WBA is a sign of things to come under them. City, Bayern and Chelsea can’t buy all the players in Europe. Spain don’t have the money they used to… and you’d have to be brave as a foreigner to set up home in a country that’s on the verge of bankruptcy… we all saw what the EU sanctioned against the people of Cyprus… footballers and their wealth will be easy pickings for the Spanish Government should things get desperate.
Arsenal is about to get exciting people. I truly believe that. If they don’t, well, that’ll be because the manager doesn’t have a project he can sell to elite players, and that’s a story in itself. This has the foundations to be the best summer we’ve ever had, so lets be thankful to the players for busting a gut to make top four happen.
Before I leave this post, I just wanted to take time out to thank everyone who visits the site, posts a comment on the Facebook page and chats to me on Twitter. Writing for you all this season has been, in the main, an absolute pleasure. To have a comments section with such a rich variety of opinions that are made by so many people is quite a marvel when you consider most blogs barely register a single mention. I wouldn’t write everyday if it weren’t for the people that e-mail me at 11:00 to find out if I’m dead if I haven’t posted. I’m never dead people… just nursing a Peroni induced morning of hell.
Anyway, a massive, massive thanks for continuing to make Le Grove relevant amongst Arsenal fans… and, now, with the club. Long may it continue.
Here’s to a great summer of daily posts!
See you in the comments.