Nearly there folks. Another couple of days and football returns. I’ve not heard of any injury problems as a result of the irritating internationals, which is a refreshing change. The international breaks have in fact provided us with another indication that things may be a little different this time around. Of course we all knew that this season would be different. The squad having had time to grow into a settled, balanced unit and the success of the latter half of 12/13 were enough to tell anyone with half a brain that we would be a force to be reckoned with but the success of the transfer window really made that obvious even to those who didn’t want to see. I’m not talking about signing Mesut. We all know he needs a season to bed in just like anyone else would. No, I’m talking about the fact that we didn’t lose any players that we didn’t want to, that’s the real story of the summer and we are reaping the rewards.
The biggest surprise for me so far this season is for once we have had a brief glimpse up the skirt of lady luck which flirtatious harlot has rejected us time and again in recent years. The internationals usually arrive in perfect time to either disrupt a nascent run of good results or to injure a couple of key players. This season we have staggered a little towards them like a boxer, ahead on points but having taken a couple on the jaw and in need of the old sponge and spit bucket. We were hanging on for the bell. The breaks came just when a squad, which had performed miracles given a terrible injury situation, most needed them. More than that we had players who needed a couple of weeks to get back to fitness and shake off sickness. Aaron Ramsay, surely the pre-eminently pivotal member of our squad and the one who most needed to recharge his batteries even experienced a mild tightening of his hamstring, just enough to make him miss the Wales game – disappointing for him but vital for our hopes. Now we can look forward to Theo and Lukas coming back and to those who succumbed to the germs at Old Trafford regaining their bacteriological equilibrium. In short the timing of the break couldn’t have been much better.
So how did you spend it? I know some of you prefer the methadone of watching the international games to the cold turkey of just sitting it out and waiting for the real thing. I attempted to watch a bit of Italy versus Germany in solidarity with you but it was like being offered Vimto when you ordered Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Instead I filled the gaping hole in my sporting appetites with Dennis Bergkamp’s biography. It’s an easy read, more of a long interview than a biography, but nonetheless, like a proctologist’s photo album, contains a couple of choice passages. My eye was drawn to the part covering his early Arsenal career. I couldn’t help but wonder how it might inform our thoughts on the latest pretender to Dennis’ saintly crown. Mesut Özil could (just possibly) be the closest thing we’ve had to a Bergkampian signing for a little while. A recognised talent for both club and country, landing in North London when at the peak of his powers, seemingly in perfect time to add the vital spark to ignite the sleeping giant and propel it to great new heights. Well maybe.
The fact is we didn’t know if Dennis would work out or not and we don’t know if Mesut will. We didn’t know that Aaron would be the most important player at the club (although some suspected he might be pretty hot stuff) or that Per Mertesacker would prove to be the most significant signing in yonks. We don’t know. I don’t, journalists don’t and bloggers don’t. What we can do is to examine the experience of those who have gone before and in so doing be better able to speculate on the trials facing the present incumbents.
In his book, Dennis talks about the pressures on a newcomer to Arsenal and the special pressures an expectant crowd can bring to bear on a special player. He was surprised not to get more stick than he did, he felt the crowd cut him a lot of slack in his first few months as if they knew he could explode in precisely the way he did and were just hanging on crossing their fingers until he did. He also speaks about the way even the best players will play a little within themselves in the first few months at a new club. They don’t take the lead, don’t put themselves forward too much. Cautious about taking risks and making mistakes they play the safe passes instead, easing their way in.
Part of the problem is the players around them don’t realise how to play to the strengths of a truly world class number ten. When they began to realise Dennis’s whole game improved. He and others interviewed for the book speak with fond memories of my favourite Bergkamp moment, the assist for Freddie against Juventus. The thing that stuck out for me was the fact that all that jiggery pokery and, lets be frank, taking the piss out of some of Europe’s best defenders for all that time was done quite calmly and deliberately and for one simple reason. He was essentially twiddling his thumbs waiting for Freddie to jolly well wake up and make the damned run into the area. Watch it again and imagine Dennis thinking ‘ho hum, tiddly pom, come on Ljungberg make the run will you, I’m getting bored of this’. But he knew if he held the ball long enough someone would guess his intent and make the charge full in the knowledge that they’d receive the absolutely perfect pass no matter how he had to deliver it. That kind of mutual understanding and confidence in team mates takes time to build.
There are signs that Aaron is catching on. I cannot wait to see how Theo and in particular Lukas respond to Mesut’s place in the Arsenal set up, it will only take a couple of players to find his wavelength and for him to find the pace of the Premier League and we could well see a return to the mouthwatering assists to which we became used during Dennis’ reign. Of course if he doesn’t work out a quick glance at what Santi, Olivier and Jack are capable of still suggests this side are already able to produce some pretty blinding football