A Season of High Expectation

“People say we are young players but we’ve had a lot of experience and we’ve had ups and downs…we can learn from that. Getting into Semi-Finals will spur us onto greater things and we know not to make the same mistakes again. We will certainly learn from last season.” Theo Walcott

Many other factors (not just lack of experience) have stopped us doing better, but I feel this group can and is ready to produce. A lot rests on them of course, but the experience Theo talks about is there.

Starting with the League Cup final defeat to Chelsea, they’ve endured disappointment after disappointment – the terrible refereeing decisions that helped Liverpool get by us in the CL (Kolo and Phil didn’t help matters), the Eduardo injury, the defection of key players (only to regret leaving), the Gallas witch hunt. We’ve seen changes at Board level. We’ve seen fans turn against their own players, fans call for Arsene’s dismissal, fans have shown their impatience and true colors. It’s been a traumatic recent past for Arsenal Football Club. Arsene doesn’t get enough credit for his thick skin or for his focus.

Despite the doom and gloom that lingers from recent seasons we have to be thankful. Unlike Chelsea we have an effective youth program. Unlike United we don’t pretend that our large debt is less important than winning. Imagine what that club’s fans would be like if Rooney had to miss an entire season, if Ferdinand was missing for the final third of the season, causing them to fall short of their targets. The debt would suddenly be important again.

There is obvious disappointment among everyone affiliated with Arsenal that we haven’t won a trophy since Patrick’s last kick for the club. That’s natural, especially as we’d just come from a period of “winning trophies for fun” as Robin has put it. But we’ve got to accept that a host of players in their prime were winning those trophies. Since that final, we’ve developed a group that will win many trophies before they reach their own prime.

Some blame Wenger and his spending habits/transfer policy for the trophy drought. Some believe allegations that the club puts on a face of having cash to spend on players when it really doesn’t. Whichever you believe it’s important to note that these players have reached the Champions League semi-final without their best performers – Gallas, Cesc, Eduardo, Clichy (even if he was a big disappointment last season), and the cup tied Arshavin would have at least made Manchester United work a little harder for the right to go to Rome.

So the new season is upon us. At the time of writing, only ex-Ajax captain Thomas Vermaelen has been added to the squad. The well chronicled departures of Toure and Adebayor may or may not be addressed with replacements but as always, that is Arsene’s decision.

Our first match is a decent test against Everton, one of the clubs that many feel could finish above us – Manchester City, Aston Villa, and maybe another depending on form and who you believe are seen as capable (if not overdue) to crash the gates of The Big Four. As I’ve said before, don’t be surprised if the club that falls first is not Arsenal. Frankly, I find it wishful thinking if not spiteful that so many “experts” continually deem us as less equipped to maintain our standing than the pretenders, the would be gate crashers like Villa who barely won a match in their last 15 last season. Nor am I impressed by Manchester City’s millions. Everton don’t scare me. No team does.

It’s ironic that Everton could be the destination of the next player sold. Philippe Senderos has not lived up to expectation. At the time of writing, reports suggest that he is in talks with Everton and that a move is imminent. It’s been suggested that if Senderos is sold, we’ll be poised to bring in one or two additions. No matter what Arsene chooses to do, we’ll need to be more supportive of the team than we were last season.

Defensively, we haven’t been as impressive as I’d like but I feel that we’re good enough, just. The back four haven’t got any weaker in my view. Of course I’m betting that Vermaelen can’t be worse than Kolo had been in his last two seasons with us. There were times when he was well below average. Clichy bottomed out last season. He was shockingly unlike himself. Gallas is under less pressure (at least for now) and if he can continue the form displayed before season ending injury, we’ll be fine. Djourou has expressed that he feels ready for a breakthrough season. I am looking closely at how that develops. He can become a key player for us if it happens. Sagna has shown stellar form in the past. He approached repeating that form last season but there was still room for improvement. Silvestre has enough left in the tank to provide decent cover but to rely on him for more than that could be risky. Gibbs has a season of responsibility and heartache under his belt. The quality is there. If he plays well enough to push an in form Clichy, we’re sorted. Eboue at RB is not a terrible option if Sagna goes down. Almunia can make a difference, but will he be the difference. Fabianski has to improve on that display in the FA Cup semi-final if he wants to be taken seriously.

In midfield is where we’ve missed replacements from The Invincibles era the most. No Patrick – nearly impossible to replace, mind – no Pires, Ljungberg, Edu, or Parlour. Cesc has been a wonderful player but regaining his proper form is obviously a key. I commented recently that perhaps he, Flamini, Hleb, and Rosicky will never be able to perform consistently at their best level without each other. I hope I am wrong, but they haven’t proven otherwise. Denilson is a very useful player – OPTA proves it – but he’ll have to improve his final ball and his goals tally to complement his fantastic statistics. Alex Song is an under-rated player. His versatility and power make him one of the most important players in our team. I look forward to further improvement on what was a season that shut up a lot of people last term. Diaby is running out of time but if he can stay healthy, perhaps the 4-3-3 will suit him better. Nasri is a very good player from whom we saw flashes last season. Once healthy, he could do even better than just glimpses of his undoubted ability. A full season to build on will help. Ramsey and Wilshere will be used depending on the opponent, tactics, and whether or not Arsene sees a need. I won’t expect too much from either player but they are both capable of helping the cause, especially Lil’ Jack. The kid is special.

We don’t lack forwards. Robin has the most Arsenal appearances among the strikers, but it is Andrey Arshavin whose name will probably be first on the team sheet. I get a rush when I think of how many goals can come from Eduardo, Robin, and Andrey. In Theo, Nicklas Bendtner, and Carlos Vela we have effective options up front. The key will be quick transition going forward much like it was with the last Arsenal team that “won trophies for fun”.

Winning trophies for fun may look unlikely to most people and I understand that, but I expect big things of many players this season. I suspect that they expect big things of themselves.

I expect silverware.


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