There is something overwhelmingly positive about the start of a new football season. At the very core each fan nurtures a silent, unrelenting hope about their team’s chances, even if it is just a wish for improvements on mid/low-table standings in the previous seasons. For fans of the top teams, it brings forth a hope of glory and silverware, if not just a wish for being part of the race for victory at end of the season, of bragging rights over bitter rivals. I’m no different. But being an Arsenal fan, I also know what it’s like to have hopes dashed and beaten, of feeling the bitter pain of defeat and unfulfilled potential for 8 seasons. Then again, that’s the beauty of being a fan. You get to be with your team, experiencing all shades of the spectrum between soul-crushing losses and euphoric wins. You get to feel a part of a world-wide community all sharing a goal – their sheer, unwavering love for a team. I have no doubt that this coming season will have all those ingredients and more, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here is a realistic view of what I think we can expect from the Gunners.
Arsenal have done some solid business in the summer so far, but most of it has been overshadowed by the drama that still hangs over North London like a stubborn English rain-cloud and refuses to go away. The news is just in that Robin Van Persie, Arsenal’s captain and talisman last season is headed to Manchester. But not to the club we all thought. This season onwards RVP will wear the red and white of bitter rivals Manchester United. As much as I hated the way he went about things (Yes, I’m referring to THAT statement), Arsenal were always going to possess more quality with him in the team and I’m very sad (and frankly extremely pissed off) about the turn of events. At least we have 24 million to invest in some much needed defensive back-up. On the same note, I would love for Arshavin to stay and rediscover his scintillating form at Euro 2008 and the first few months of his Arsenal career. He would be another massive asset.
My strongest worries lie at the back. Defensively we’ve been weak and growing weaker since the departure of the players than formed the spine of the Invincibles. I love Szczesny and he’s got a lot of potential to be a top-class goal-keeper. He’s shown his raw abilities and athleticism on more occasions than one, but I still maintain that he’s not ready yet. We need two quality back-ups in defence if our current choices are out injured and I don’t mean the likes of Squillaci (Ironically the only Arsenal player to have won a Champions League medal) and Carl Jenkinson. The right-back position worries me until the Bac’s fit enough to return. We always miss him when he’s injured, with him also playing as important cover and support for Theo Walcott down that right flank. As much as I enjoyed the banter surrounding Jenkinson’s haircut last season, I’d want Bac and his flourescent locks any day, no disrespect to the young Englishman. On the left, Gibbs is definitely promising and I still like Santos. (and not just for his tweets – remember ‘gays’ anyone?) If he has a bit more consistent game-time, I feel he’s going to do a lot better for us this season, and add defensive stability to his attacking instincts. At the centre, we are stronger than we’ve been for a while, with the Verminator, Kos and Big Per, with Djourou as back-up. For me, the Steve Bould appointment has been one of our best this season, and I’m excited to see what he can bring to the woefully lacking defensive area of the Arsenal. Even 10-12 goals less conceded than 2011-2012 would be a solid improvement as would improvements in basics – tracking back, marking and aerial protection, especially during set-pieces.
Offensively, this is an exciting time for the club. If the pre-season taught us anything, it is that an attack formed of Chamakh and Gervinho is not going to accomplish anything. The Ivorian is still one of the best close dribblers of the ball if the goal versus FC Koln was anything to go by, but is exasperatingly lacking any sort of finishing in easy tap-in situations. (Again, refer to the chance he missed from a superb Arshavin assist in the Koln game) However, all the new boys impressed greatly and with Arteta already having a good understanding with Cazorla, there is a lot more creativity on offer in the midfield when Plan A isn’t working.
In Cazorla we also have a good set-piece specialist, especially corners, an area we were lacking in. His versatility and experience, along with that of Podolski and Giroud, adds needed dimensions and offers more options where formations and strategies are concerned, especially when you take into account the likes of our current players – the Ox, Ramsey, Song (provided he stays, which I hope he does!),Wilshere (I hope he can pick up where he left off), Walcott, Rosicky, Diaby etc. It means that the youngsters can learn from the considerable experience currently available at Arsenal. Mental resilience has been steadily improving over the last 2 seasons and has more impetus with the new additions, hopefully when it matters. Though we have to take into consideration the time it might take for the new and the old to settle into a comfortable pattern, we do possess the quality and depth needed to be more inventive than last year. Come Saturday, I see us playing the same Arsenal brand of football with more effectiveness and directness than the last few years, especially when we come up against teams that park the bus and frustrate all plans for our passing play. I see us (hopefully) defending with a bit more assurance and less avoidable mistakes.
On the whole, it is a season to look forward to. Lessons seem to have been learned from the disaster of last summer and there are positive changes, small as they may be; a subtle change in the atmosphere surrounding the club, even with all the negativity and nay-sayers. There is time yet for more new faces and equally needed departures. There is tremendous pressure on Le Prof and the team to perform (even more than before if that was even possible!) but there has been more ambition shown this summer and I can see this season being exciting, unpredictable and a different (read, better) kind of roller coaster than last season. Now that I’m going to be away from England for a few months at least, I’m going to miss being able to go to games and being a part of 60,000 chanting Gooners. I’m going to miss the anticipation and electric excitement of travelling on the Tube packed with singing fans, getting down at Holloway Road, walking the short distance to the Emirates and catching that special first glimpse of the Emirates. I’m even going to miss going down to my local pub and watching the footy there, with a pint of Rekordelig strawberry and lime cider. But I’m very excited about being part of a season that just feels that it’s going to be different than the last few. It does take that special something to transform talent and potential into trophies, and it certainly won’t be easy considering the might of City, Chelsea and the always lurking danger of Manchester United. But a challenge for any kind of silverware is more likely than last year. We have the chance and potential to start building a new-look winning Arsenal. You may or may not agree with me, but I leave you with the eternal hope of a Gooner Girl. Bring on the new season!