Our summers are nothing if not dramatic. I’ve been largely ignoring it for the past few weeks – ever since van Persie’s original statement I’ve felt a little jaded by the whole thing, and haven’t had the desire to track it, or write about it, on a daily basis. Kudos to those who manage to blog without a break – goodness knows I needed one.
But now, it has happened. Our captain, our best player, the talisman of our football club, has left. And not just anywhere – to one of our fiercest rivals, certainly the club with which our manager has had the strongest and most long-lasting rivalry. It is a momentous day, and not for the right reasons.
Despite all of that, I feel strangely cold about the whole situation. Since his dreadfully worded plea to get the fans on his side, I, along with many of you, had accepted that is was only a matter of time before he left. With Juventus the only destination that wouldn’t sting, it became about getting the best deal possible. When the Italian club dropped out of the running, it became clear that United were a more realistic prospect than we had guessed at the outset. I don’t know whether that preparation softened the blow, or whether the fee we’ve managed to extract has helped (it certainly seems that we have been compensated for where he is going) but somehow I’m shrugging and looking forward to Saturday.
That isn’t to say that this doesn’t hurt from a football point of view. It does – we’ve lost one of the world’s best players, who has been performing at the peak of his powers for eighteen months. Those who write him off based on his injury record are wrong on two counts – firstly he has been fit enough for long enough to suggest that he will be fine next season, and secondly, he actually isn’t injury prone. Yes, you read that correctly.
Van Persie isn’t injury prone. He has been the victim of a number of poor challenges, which have caused a variety of impact injuries. Crucially, it hasn’t been the same body part each time – he isn’t a Michael Owen, who is only a few games away from twanging what remains of his hamstring. I’d actually compare him to Gael Clichy, who suffered a myriad of bad injuries early in his career, all through sheer dumb luck. Once that luck turned, his availability became constant, and the same is true of the Dutchman. So prepare yourself to see him play plenty of matches next season.
I’m sure many of you are angry right now. But frankly, if your ire isn’t aimed squarely at the player, it is misdirected. All his claims to be ‘always Arsenal’ are laughable – he has merrily gone to a hated rival, something a true Gunner would never do. I can understand his reasons, perhaps you can too. But he isn’t a Gunner.
My advice? Move on. We’ve signed three very exciting players this summer, and I think two more will come in before the end of August, especially if Alex Song does boost the coffers further with a move to Spain. We’ve survived big name departures before. We will again. I know we seem to be saying that a lot (which is an entirely different discussion), but we always survive.
As for van Persie? Could have been a legend, but is no more. Was a good player for us, a good captain too, but ultimately chose to throw loyalty back in the faces of those who showed it to him in spades.
Time to move on from all that. We are tantalisingly close to the start of a new season, and despite the events of this week, I am more optimistic than I have been in years. Every year, I make a few predictions at this time, and last year‘s actually turned out to be pretty decent. So here we go again:
League Position – 3rd
I think we’ll finish behind the same two sides again this season – both Manchester clubs. However, there is a big difference – I think we’ll be closer to them, and further ahead of the rest. I’d go as far as to say we’ll be in the title hunt until March at the earliest, but ultimately fall short, perhaps by 7-9 points. I’m going with City to retain, with Spurs (yes, Spurs) finishing fourth. Chelsea are my tip to struggle this time around – I don’t think Di Matteo is the man to lead them over a whole season. Liverpool will take time to adapt to Rodgers.
Arsenal Players to Watch
Vermaelen – it might seem strange to pick one of our best players as one to watch this year, but I really think Vermaelen, complete with armband, will step up in a big way. Outshone by Koscielny last season, I fully expect him to take to leadership like a duck to water, and be one of the very best around.
Ramsey – this time last season, young Ramsey was placed under ridiculous pressure. Only a matter of months after recovering from a career threatening injury, he was asked to do too much in the absence of our missing midfield, and never really recovered. By the end of the season, physical fatigue had added to emotional strain, factors that too few fans accounted for. But his character is strong, he never stops trying and he never hides. Unless less scrutiny, I expect him to resume the giant strides he was making before that Stoke oaf came along.
Cazorla – seriously, just watch the guy, enjoy, and try to work out exactly how we got him on the cheap.
Gervinho – talent isn’t a problem, confidence is. But Gervinho has been showing great signs in pre-season, and is another I expect to raise his level this year.
Wilshere – this time last season I predicted a tricky campaign for Wilshere. Expectations were insanely high, such is the talent of the kid, and his nationality meant the pressure would be intensified. I said at the time that his first dip in form would be greeted with derision from the areas of the press who believed he had been hyped up far enough. This all still stands, but his long term injury almost guarantees that his early form will be patchy. He also doesn’t have the benefit of pre-season, and will return in the Autumn a step or two behind the rest. Keep expectations reasonable.
Diaby – such a talent when fit. Never fit for long enough. I would love nothing more than to see Diaby string 20 games together, to remind us how good he can be as much as anything. But I just don’t think he will – he has practically had to relearn how to walk after the consistent problems caused by that Dan Smith ‘tackle’, and that doesn’t lend itself to staying healthy under pressure.
Can we win a trophy this season? Yes, if luck falls our way. It will be a domestic cup if we get one, and you always need a little bit of luck to capture one of those.
Our defence will be much improved. Vermaelen + Koscielny + Mertesacker + Sagna + Gibbs + Santos + Bould. I like that.
Overall, I’m really quite optimistic. I’m sure many will consider that misguided, but for some reason I just think we’ll surprise people this year. What do you think?