It has been nearly six months since I last wrote in here. Back in February, the combination of a busy job, a blossoming side project, and becoming a parent for the third time meant that something had to take a back seat. Sadly I missed out on writing about another entertaining Spurs collapse, but feel free to read back to pretty much any other March-May period in recent years and you’ll get a similar gist.
Once the season ended, and the summer rolled around, I took a more deliberate step away. You see, I just can’t get involved in the summer madness anymore – I used to, but back then there were short news bulletins, and it seemed that you could trust what you were reading and hearing a lot more than you can now. I hesitate to say that misinformation (or bullshit, depending on your point of view) has become an artform, but it is certainly more prevalent than at any other time I am aware of. Sky Sports News, and their collection of slimy used car dealers masquerading as transfer ‘experts’, is not for me.
Put simply, I didn’t want to get involved in it. I have no interest in judging our squad in June, or in commenting on a transfer rumour that is likely planted by agents, embellished by journalists struggling to fill columns, and developed by all of us, scratching around for the crumbs of another potential arrival. That isn’t to say all people should switch off – I just know it would drive me potty if I didn’t.
But we are now only around 24 hours away from our opening match, so judging the action (or inaction) of the summer is a lot fairer. I know the transfer window has a couple of weeks left to run, but we’ve got tough (and key) games between now and then, and we should be going into those games with a squad full of confidence and promise.
So are we?
Well, for me there is good news and bad news. The bad news is obvious – we haven’t signed anyone despite some pretty obvious deficiencies in the squad, exposed with painful clarity at times last season. Well, I say we haven’t signed anyone – we did pick up Yaya Sanogo, but despite the raw talent he has, he’ll do well to overcome the confidence shaker of being the poster boy for all that is wrong with our transfer policy. Fine as a supplementary ‘oh good, we’re still thinking long-term as well as short-term‘ signing, but not as an isolated arrival.
The good bit is that we haven’t lost a first team regular. Gervinho was the closest, but compared to recent seasons we have a settled squad, and any decent additions would be exactly that, rather than replacements for the stars on their way out. In the last ten years, we have only had a summer without a top name departure three times, and on both other occasions we went on to have excellent campaigns.
One of those was actually the summer of 2003, which led to the Invincibles season, and believe it or not, we were actually being written off before that campaign because we had ‘only’ signed one first team player (Lehmann). But the difference of that era is that we hadn’t sold major players in the preceding four summers either, so the squad was already loaded with players of the highest calibre.
We have a good set of talent in the present day, and some of them (Ramsey and Giroud in particular) go into the season in fine form. But all over the park, we are a single injury away from a panic. It isn’t that we would have to rely on someone substandard, but in some cases we would struggle to figure out who is even capable of playing in that position in the first place. Ultimately, we may start the season well, thanks to the form, experience and ability of the top players at the club, but injuries in the wrong place (an inevitability) could bring the house crashing down.
So how will we do?
I realise I’m sitting on the fence a little, so here is my prediction.
We will finish fourth. Exciting, huh?
Not the most thrilling or groundbreaking prediction, I grant you, but I can’t see any other outcome. City, United and Chelsea are likely to be vying for the title, and if, as I suspect, Spurs lose Bale, they won’t be half the team this time around – he single-handedly won them so many games at the end of last season and they won’t get that back. As for Liverpool, they are in their usual state of disarray.
I would not be surprised if there were ten points above us to third, and ten points below us to fifth. I can see the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ being further apart than ever, with us squarely in between them.
I’m loathed to predict a cup run, because I feel that is something you do when you realise the league isn’t going to go your way and you’re scrabbling around for an alternative hope to cling to, i.e. the sort of thing Spurs and Liverpool do. Maybe I’ll say we can surprise a few in the Champions League this season, although we have to get past a tricky (and tiring) qualifier first.
The great frustration is that it feels like we could join the elite trio and really challenge for honours if only we used the resources at our disposal to plug the gaps in the squad that are obvious to all. Although Wenger has signed his share of flops over the last few years, he has also made some fantastic value-for-money signings in key positions. Three more of those and I’d be really optimistic going into the new season. Of course, we may still do that before the end of August but I highly doubt we’ll get more than one more arrival.
I like to be optimistic going into a new season. Everyone starts again, players can step up, anything is possible. I think most fans feel the same way – there is a certain thrill of believing that this year could be a magical one. But while I’m excited to have Arsenal back, I’m not expecting us to be pulling up any trees. Three months have passed since our victory over Newcastle (still isn’t 1-1, by the way), and we’ve been maddeningly inactive. I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of transfers but it is the same for everyone, and most others seem to find a way to get it done.
Overall, this feels like a massive missed opportunity. We looked such a unit at the end of last season and we’ve lost no one of great note in the summer. A few arrivals and we’d be drooling at the prospect of what we could achieve. Instead, it all feels a bit flat. I suspect if results go against us early, that apathetic mood will quickly turn to ire in the stands, and it will not be pretty.
All we can hope is that we are surprised, and the ‘super quality’ within the squad steps up and backs the faith Wenger has so clearly loaded them with. For everyone’s sake.