Bonjourno Gooners. Welcome to Tuesday and all that Jazz.
Before we get on to all things Arsenal, can I just say how thoroughly tedious I am already finding the whole Jose Mourhino saga? Press conferences to explain what the world knew already, Chelski players talking up his impact, blah, blah frigging blah. I hope Mourhino does come back to Chelski and I hope he’s a miserable failure for going back. It would go some way to re-addressing the ridiculous karma imbalance that has existed by them winning both European trophies in two seasons, despite being pretty average as a team. Yeah, Jose to sign, then guide the team to no trophies and a seventh spot in the league please football gods.
Anyway, as the dust still settles on the football season, I find myself in a reflective and contemplative mood. So I thought I’d take a few days to run through how each component part of the team had performed in the season. But before I do that, I wanted to give some sort of short synopsis of the team as a whole, for today’s blog.
I think I’ve mentioned it before, but there has been quite a number of remarkable synergies between this season just finished and the season before last, even down to some of the performances. The start of the year was dominated by the loss of a big player, but whilst two years ago was about a player returning home, this season was about a player upping sticks for financial as much as footballing reasons. Nobody will tell me otherwise and I don’t care that the Dutch bloke did win a trophy. His selfish nature, THAT meeting of demands to Wenger and Gazidis, plus some of the sickening ‘boy inside me’ quotes have all led to the complete destruction of what we thought about a player. But hey, that’s just a small blot on our history and his existence in the footballing world is no longer too much of our concern.
That upheaval of one of the star players leaving had a knock on effect and meant the team had to rediscover a style without the main talisman that they all looked to. We’ve tended to always have players that have stood out as the one everyone looked to, from Henry, to Cesc, to that guy last season. but this season there was none, which meant the team had to share collective responsibility. I think it resulted in the stuttering and spluttering start that never really allowed us to get close to those at the top of the league. The players had to shoulder more as a unit and changing that mindset tool time. As a result, when you look at the season as a whole, we were probably playing catch up after the first few weeks of ‘finding ourselves’.
I have also seen symmetry in some of our performances too. The United away game may not have been as embarrassing as the 8-2 the previous season, but the manner of the defeat felt like it, as we were soundly beaten by United. The Spuds game at home was converse to this, but still had those parallels to it, as the team had to fight back from being behind early on to repeat the same heroics as the season before and win 5-2. We also saw some real abject performances like Norwich away and Swansea at home, coupled with cup exits that really shouldn’t have happened. It all felt rather too familiar for my liking.
Even the end of the season sprint to a Champions League finish had those similarities to last season. Since March we went on an incredible champions-style run to go from being ‘Mind the Gap’ style out of the Champions League spot, through to snatching it from our closest geographic rivals. Just like last season. The ringing of “It’s happened again, it’s happened again, Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again” is still reverberating around my brain and captures exactly why these last two seasons have felt almost identical.
Yet for all the symmetry, for all the relief of victory on the last day, the fact that we essentially find ourselves in almost the same position as last year doesn’t exactly leave me feeling happy about where we are at. It feels like all the mistakes of the season had to be re-lived for no reason whatsoever. It feels exactly like our club has felt over the last six or seven years; tread water and keep our powder dry whilst we pay off stadium debt. Just do enough to get over the line and keep that Champions League revenue coming in. Let’s be as competitive as we can afford to be for a few years until new commercial deals and revenue streams allow us to move on to the next level.
That’s not what I wanted, that’s not what you wanted, and I’m sure that’s not what Arsene wanted, but that is what we’ve got. So given that we’ve shopped on the cheap and just about done enough over the last few years, I guess we do have to pay tribute to Wenger for keeping the team in those top four positions. It’s not a trophy, it’s not a celebration to finish fourth, but it is an achievement given the financial constraints the club has put itself under – necessary or not.
I for one am glad we can see the back of this season with our spot at the top of Europe’s elite just two qualifying games away from being secure. With the new revenue streams coming into the club and the noises that everyone is hearing, it looks like the club are now finally preparing to show it’s hand, after many summers of hoarding.
When I was at Uni I played a board game of Risk with my chums that lasted five hours. We all played the game and kept trying to take territories off one-another for the duration, except for one of my mates, who kept accumulating his armies in a corner of the world without attacking or causing any risk to himself. Then, when the game was drawing to its inevitable conclusion, he made his move and swept through the board – finishing the other three of us off in about ten minutes. That’s what I hope Arsenal have been doing. I hope we’re now at the stage that we can sweep the board because of the self-imposed isolation when it comes to spending big in the transfer market.
The squad this season has not been good enough to challenge for the league. We haven’t even come close. But as the season drew towards its natural conclusion, the form of those players showed that we are not far from getting to where we want to be. I personally feel like a lot of players have grown in stature this season as it has progressed. Koscienly and Mertesacker, Ramsey, Walcott and, given that it took a few games for Giroud to get going, his goal tally was not that far off that 20 goal mark that seems to be the benchmark of every striker. As a collective we’ve shared the goals around and that has been good enough in my book. No more over-reliance and it also means there is no more ‘one star’ that we all fear losing this summer.
We’ve learned a lot about the composition of this squad. It’s not the most technically gifted or creative of Arsene’s teams down the years, but it does n’half graft, as the all action running of Ramsey and Arteta has proven. It’s a team that has less swagger and more sweat about it. The good news there is that I believe the latter is more difficult to embed into a team and the former is something that, with a couple of decent top quality signings, we can get to. And something tells me we will get this summer.
Right, that’s enough of me and my incessant ramblings for one day. Over the next few I’ll give you some thoughts on our different parts of the team, but for now I’ll take my leave.
Have a good’un Gooners.