Upon the vast body of Arsenal support there are a few moles some of which when picked at or scratched may prove to be malignant. You and I know which are the most suppurating and pestilential and have learned through bitter experience to simply stay away from their written bile. There are other bloggers and tweeters and I don’t doubt, Facebookerers who, whilst not in the revolting masochistic anti-support category, can’t quite bring themselves to wholeheartedly enjoy their football . They seem to want to, they are finding some positives from the season and probably roared as loudly as any of us when the four and half hours of injury time at St James’ Park were finally over and Howard Webb at last exercised the pea in his whistle to bring the curtain down on our 2012/13 campaign. I’ve skimmed through a few of their public pronouncements and whilst not actually horrified have been reasonably depressed by their insipid, grudgingly nit picking, response to our players and their herculean effort in turning around a season which went from negative spiral to top of the form table.
The constant bleat is fed to them by the media and repeatedly regurgitated. Could do better. Should do better. Will need to improve next season. Can you picture Christmas morning when these ingrates were children? Imagine their poor long suffering parents scrimping and saving all year to buy them some special gift only for the ungrateful wretches to tear off the wrapping paper, turn the new toy slowly in their chubby little fingers and force a reluctant smile. Then in response to the hopeful parental enquiry “Well, do you like it?” they reply after a long pause “Hmm. Yes. I suppose so. But really, next year I think you could get me a slightly bigger one”.
Their reaction has been such a pointless, joyless way to suck the pleasure out of what was by any reckoning a remarkable run to the hallowed top four which so many thought beyond us. Why bother following a sport at all if you cannot be unequivocal in your enjoyment of the really exciting and good bits? It’s like not enjoying your favourite chocolate bar because they changed the colour of the wrapper.
We need to improve. That’s the mantra. Fourth is all well and good but not good enough. This also is the root of the transfer tattle tree which grows and flourishes, watered by the dedicated sports media which is in itself an enormous financial concern and therefore has to have a narrative that runs throughout the close season. I’ll tell you what. Let us just for a moment pause from pouring scorn on these hapless and sad individuals and their blogs. Let’s treat them with pity instead and see if we cannot find some common ground. You see, I think we share more than may at first seem apparent. Just because we can revel in the fantastic thrilling photo finish which secured not only the much sought after TFF but also caused the bells of St Totteringham to be rung all around the world, doesn’t mean that we can’t want or hope for more. It just makes us happier and more mentally stable human beings. When presented with a reason to celebrate we celebrate. When the quiet evening of reflection displaces the afternoon of unbridled joy we are perfectly capable of looking with an unjaundiced eye to the future and saying to ourselves “Boy that was good. But just imagine if it got even better“.
What the poor doleful semi-supporters often misunderstand is that here on the positive side of the tracks we don’t want to settle for fourth any more than they do. Just like them we actually want to win every single game and tournament in which the team is involved. Heck I want our players to win every tackle, sprint, free kick and throw in. I hate not being the best. I’m perfectly capable of understanding the glaringly obvious reasons why we haven’t been the best for a little while just as I can see how close to the shirt tails of the best we have managed to cling. We need to improve to close the gap. We definitely need to be better next season to become the best. The yawning chasm which seems to separate us from the dismally pessimistic is that I (and I suspect you too) can see that improvement is not just eminently possible but has already begun.
In a way the campaign for next season started in the Allianz Arena. Our record since then has been more than impressive. It has been nothing short of phenomenal. I firmly believe that even if we only took our form since March into the 2013/14 campaign we would be challenging for the title come the following May. If you say that Arsenal needed to improve you have no choice but to accept that they did improve. You cannot recognise an indifferent sequence of results earlier in the season without acknowledging the superb run which succeeded that sequence. The change for the better has without question already started. What makes me even more positive is that other reasons for optimism on top of that which we have already achieved are so easily identified. And no I’m not talking about a fantasy shopping list of new players to come in and sweep all before them. Without even considering transfers I can foresee many reasons why I don’t just think we can get better I believe firmly we will get better. Here are a few for you to chew over.
Olivier Giroud. Remember how I waxed lyrical about his dream of a ‘beautiful adventure’ with Arsenal? I said on this very site that I’d seen in his attempt at the spectacular a hint of what OG could be about. He nearly did it against Sunderland way back and he very nearly did it again against Newcastle in the dying seconds with an attempt at an impudent finish which was touched over the bar by Steve Harper. We have all seen Olivier’s work rate, team play, assists as well as his goals; sometimes brave, sometimes predatory. What I think we will see in his second season is a more relaxed player who will start scoring with some of those audacious long shots and delicate chips. Then we shall have the kind of striker defenders detest. One who can produce the spectacular, the unexpected. Frightened, unsure and prone to over reaction opposition defences will struggle with him and leave holes for the multitude of proven goal scorers the squad now boasts.
Jack Wilshere. We all saw the potential. Remember his performance against Barcelona? You have to be honest and say this season has been a time of rehabilitation for young Jack. He is coming back after a very long time with no football, an absence from competitive sport which came at a crucial stage in his development. Just like Aaron before him he needs time to get back into the groove. Next season he will, I predict with utmost confidence, contribute far more to the team than he has been able to do in recent months. Another huge improvement for the strength of the squad and far better than a new signing because his team mates already know him and his game.
Santi Cazorla. It is easy to forget that this was Santi’s first premier league season. And of course his first at the club. Such was the breathtaking vision and skill that he brought to our midfield at times you could be forgiven for assuming he’d always been there. Think back to other Arsenal greats and remember how they blossomed in their second seasons. Imagine all that talent, experience and ability now part of a team filled not with strangers but with guys he knows, with players who’s movement and strengths he can anticipate. It is a mouthwatering prospect.
Peren Kosielnysacker. We have seen a proper central defensive partnership bloom before us in these past months. That implies no disrespect whatsoever to any other defenders at the club because I believe this particular footballing relationship is all about chemistry and I think these two guys have it. They dovetail seamlessly, the are for me, the perfect fit. When you play alongside someone you trust and who compliments your natural game, as Kos and Per undoubtedly do, it can only make you more confident, more certain of your own game and as more matches pass that partnership simply gets better and better. Imagine our defence improving on the post Bayern run next season. Heck, how will anyone ever score against us from open play?
Lukas Podolski. Poldi apparently played with a niggling injury all season which is why we only saw him in fits and starts. A frustrating time for any player but also a deceptive time for us supporters. We obviously only saw glimpses of a huge talent and a player who in his pomp is, I believe, made for the premiership. He has all the skills, all the experience, can tackle, dribble and score and plays in more than one position. Sounds like an Arsenal star to me. So once more, remember his goal against West Ham, look to the future and imagine a fully fit Lukas Podolski doing it week in week out. Now go and wipe your chin.
I could go on with this, new faces bedded in, young players more experienced and so forth, but I’ll leave you to suggest your own favourites. I will just finish on this note. While we are discussing the ways in which this squad will improve next season, imagine this scenario. Imagine if Aaron James Ramsay continues to improve at the same rate over the next six months as he has over the previous six months. Honestly, I can’t. Not because I don’t think he will continue to grow and improve but because I cannot imagine how good a player that would leave us with. It defies imagination. If he simply remained at the same level he’s playing at now he’d be one of the first names on the team sheet but if he carries on his upward trajectory I do not think there is any limit to how far this young man can go nor to what he can achieve.
Of course over previous seasons we would expect several of these players to simply be poached by the financially doped teams around us. Now however, we are led to believe the purse strings are to be loosened. Let us please not blow it on trying to compete with the Oil Barons for other players. Let us rather use our new financial muscle to keep the stars we’ve already got and at long last reap the rewards of our investments.