We’ve had some fascinating discussions this week on a variety of themes, most recently the fans’ role in lifting the team over the final hurdle to greatness and the story of our outgoing players in the transfer market. The latter got me thinking, not about those who have gone to pastures new but rather those who have joined us.
The whole vexatious topic of transfers can become a little toxic. I have had to unfollow people on Twitter in January just because they insist on babbling with incoherent breathless prose day after day about this rumour, that target, this price or that wage demand. Was it like this before the window? I wonder if it isn’t more to do with the internet, social networks and blogs and the utter desperation of Sky, Talkspite and the back page print journos to remain relevant in a swiftly changing media environment rather than the effect of the dreaded window itself.
My thoughts are fairly well known and usually proved wrong. I don’t like it when new players come in. It unsettles me, takes me too long to think of them as our own and I believe unsettles the squad and takes too long for new partnerships to become effective on the pitch. It was a whole season before I could really see Sol Campbell as one of our own and not some mercenary Spud in an Arsenal shirt. I cannot begin to tell you how bewildered I was when Bruce Rioch signed the Ice Man for a ridiculously high £7.5 million. It just wasn’t the Arsenal way. International superstars who would in Rioch’s words “..clearly indicate our ambition, intention and determination to compete with any club for the very best players.” were not what we were used to and I, foolish and, let’s not shy from the truth, weird as I was, didn’t like it.
The only mitigation I can offer for my seemingly bizarre antipathy to new arrivals is the close season of 2003. A legend was leaving us. David Seaman, who pulled off what Peter Schmeichel famously dubbed “the best save I’ve ever seen” to see us through to the FA Cup final where he would lift the jug eared old trophy, was retiring. Arsene Wenger had inherited the famous defence and there were some who had wondered what he would do when their creaking old legs and arms were no longer up to the task. Apart from Martin Keown, David Seaman was the last of that exulted old guard and he needed replacing. Who did Le Prof bring in to replace him? An erratic German keeper with a reputation for unreliability, unpredictability and downright madness. He’d failed at A.C. Milan and had just spent an entirely unhappy final season with Dortmund where (according to Wiki) he “currently still holds the record for most red cards for any player of Borussia Dortmund”.
Apart from a couple of unknown Swiss centre backs, some kid on a free from Barca and a young French left back that crazy keeper represented our only big business in the transfer market. My mitigation for not liking too much transfer activity and simultaneously for trusting Arsene Wenger’s judgement over my own is the simple fact that Mad Jens completely failed to play on the losing side in any Premiership match in the following season. We had our most successful ever time at the top after an extremely quiet summer of transfers.
Look, I’m laying all my cards on the table like this because I want you to understand the pathological depths of my transfer psychosis. If anyone can be upset at Dennis Bergkamp coming to play for their club then they need help, right?
Well you’ll be happy to know that help has arrived. A strange thing has been happening this season. I have of course been on edge over all the new faces joining us, trying to imagine them as our own when I’m not even sure how to pronounce their surnames is hard for me. Santi is unquestionably an extraordinary footballer but I don’t know him quite well enough yet. Next year it’ll be fine. I’m warming to Lukas, he works so hard and has a left foot that Thor could use if he ever lost his favourite tool, while Nacho is a surreal creature who just suddenly materialised at left back out of nowhere. But the something I referred to just back there, the something that has happened to me started 88 minutes into our match against The Orcs at the Brittania on August 26th 2012. With the score at nil nil and chances hard to come by, tenacious work on the corner of our box from Alex Oxelaide-Chamberlain and a quick pass forward set our new and largely unknown centre forward loping down the left wing in pursuit. The ever willing Aaron Ramsay was charging up the, middle in support and with the right weight on the pass would have been in a very strong scoring position. But then it happened. Out of absolutely nowhere and without bothering to so much as take a touch never mind think about a pass, Olivier Giroud, still some thirty yards from goal and near the touchline unleashed a terrifying dipping shot which would have snapped the Mordor keeper in half if it had hit him. OK so the shot missed the target by a fraction, Arsene got off the bench and signalled his displeasure, the commentators pointed out how well placed Ramsay was and we came home with a well earned point but no more.
But I was captivated by that moment. The audacity, the confidence, the technique. Name three other attributes you want more in your centre forward. Go on. Name them. As it turned out that wouldn’t be the first time Olivier (or Larry as he should surely be known) missed by a scintilla or fluffed his lines in front of goal and the anti Arsenal press had their all too predictable field day making negative comparisons with his predecessor and labelling him a flop and generally trying to turn us against the new boy and thus rob him of our vocal or written support. I think his Arsenal career would have started very differently and brought many more if different pressures had that goal gone in. I think he’d have settled more quickly and people would have forgiven him for not being Thierry/Denis/Persie all rolled into one.
But of course the goals started to come. He opened his account against Coventry in the widdley diddley cup and gave us this fantastic quote “This goal has taken the pressure off me. It’s done, I have my first goal. But it has to be the start of a beautiful adventure.” And I started to love him just a little bit. “But it has to be the start of a beautiful adventure.” Perfect. I’ve been accused of being a bit of a romantic where football is concerned and maybe that is true but like Larry I believe a player’s career and relationship with us should be just that. Wasn’t Thierry’s Arsenal career a beautiful adventure? How else would you describe it? I like that bit of poetry in Giroud’s make up. It complements his physical prowess rather neatly.
After scoring in the prem in October he put away four in November. The Fulham game was a high water mark in his burgeoning Arsenal career, not just the goals but his all round play started making us sit up and take notice, and it is his assists as much as his goals that excites me. As I suggested earlier it takes time for partnerships to form and for players to get to know each other. We have seen Olivier play deft passes for others to run on to but more than that we’ve seen him play mind bogglingly accurate audacious flicks over defenders and into the path of the on-running Arsenal player. It takes time for those around him to even realise those passes are possible never mind likely to come. It takes a while for the all round aspect of his game to be picked up on by his team mates. I’ve noticed lately Theo and Lukas seem more aware of where to be when he goes up for a header and to keep running when he receives the ball, back to goal, expecting the pass to come. I think he’ll score plenty for us. But more than that I think Theo and Lukas will score more because of him.
I also have to confess that for the first time ever I have taken to a bought in transfer window player. A man who should have taken a season to win me round had me in that one sparkling moment of near brilliance back in August. There’s just something very Arsenal about him.