This isn’t quite going to the script, is it?
There was a moment yesterday that left me open-mouthed. Listening to the game on Five Live (a preferable option to most Sky commentators), with around ten minutes to go, our 1-0 lead over Spurs was being described as the ‘surprise of the season’, as if we were some plucky club leading a Premiership giant in the cup, hanging on by the tips of our fingernails. If that doesn’t speak of a narrative, I’m not sure what does.
Reality does not always sit in line with the populist story. In this case, Spurs were supposedly going to rampage through the league with their battery of new signings, putting in a serious title challenge while leaving Arsenal in their wake (stop me when you’ve heard this before). At the same time, a club that has finished above them for 16 successive years despite many such tales and premonitions, and put ten goals past them in the preceding two equivalent fixtures, had absolutely no chance of winning a home game.
The script was pre-written, just as it was against Fenerbahce, a tie some were almost willing us to lose so that they could fill their boots with juicy attacks and conclusions of dire failure and incompetence. This time, it was all about the fabled power shift, and how the transfer tactics of the two clubs (opposites as they have been so far this summer) fell completely and utterly in the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ bracket. In fairness, Wenger did set himself up for a fall a little in his press conference on Friday, when he spoke of how only the actions on the pitch really mattered. Had we lost the game, those words may have come back to haunt him.
But we did not lose the game, nor did we deserve to. The final moments may have been gritty, determined and tight, but the first seventy saw us in complete control. The game could have been over by half time and 1-0 flattered Spurs at the break, Giroud’s neat finish after a fine team move showing the value of having players on the same wavelength, with an understanding that only continuity can bring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not using the game as evidence that signings should not have been made by now, but as Wenger himself said, throwing a collection of fresh signings straight into a team does not always make for a cohesive display.
Once again, Giroud led the line magnificently, and the midfield were terrific, including Flamini, who hustled, harried and most importantly led once he came on for his second club debut. Wenger again referenced the fact that players are too often judged based solely on their price after the game, joking that he wished Flamini has cost £25m to satisfy some quarters.
A fair point indeed – Flamini may not have been the most inspiring signing at first glance, but a 29 year old player with a big heart in a position we needed more numbers in is a bit of a no brainer, particularly when you can capture him on a free. For me, the discontent was never really about Flamini in any case, but the fear that his signing meant that the chequebook was closed, and the squad gaps would be filled only with stopgap solutions. A welcome signing if it supports others, less so if it the only business conducted.
Today, of course, we will see what the summer leaves us with, as the transfer window finally closes. I’m not going to speculate on the action we may do, I don’t have any insider knowledge of any kind and doubt I would share it anyway if I did, but it is likely to be busy for a lot of clubs and worth keeping an eye on. Some staggering names have been mentioned but the nature of the beast means I’m not getting excited until official announcements are made. That is the plan, anyway.
But, as Wenger said, the most important thing is what happens on the pitch, and since the Villa aberration, the players have responded magnificently, with four impressive and deserved wins moving us into September in pretty good shape. Of course, it was always reasonable to think we would start the season well, despite what large sections of the press told us. This is, after all, the same crop of players that ended last season so strongly, and with no major departures in the summer, there was no reason to think we wouldn’t hit the ground running once again. The worry has always been what happens in November when we’re short of 5-6 players through injury, a concern that could still do with being alleviated today. We shall see.
But yesterday was not about transfers (except to laugh at the mediocrity of some of that shower’s recruits). It was about showing our neighbours that they can’t just expect to waltz past us because they’ve been flashing their knickers around Europe all summer like Jodie Marsh on holiday. Our belts might be tighter and our lips more sealed, but class will out.
North London is red. As always.