When I finally stopped drinking the need to have a glass of liquid ever at hand remained with me. I used grapefruit or cranberry juice mixed with carbonated water. This provided a necessarily bitter beverage and a useful prop to ease me into my sobriety. Cigarette smokers have a variety of patches, gums and electronic devices while heroin addicts populate the chemist over the road on a regular basis in order to receive their methadone. After the final ball of the football season has been kicked the Arsenal addict is plunged into a state of cold turkey and must thrash about grasping at any straw to sustain themself. By far the most popular placebo is the nonsense of the transfer window but people can turn to international tournaments, videos of past matches and past masters, and some even use the age old remedy of alternative summer sports such as golf, cricket or tennis. For many, the closest they get to the real fix is the pre season friendly.
These are curious affairs. Their approach is greeted with a blend of anticipation and relieved enthusiasm. Like the first snowdrop they are a portent of the many coloured flowers to come and yet they are entirely meaningless. Glorified fitness sessions and marketing opportunities for the club, stop gap, proxy tournaments to alleviate the cravings of the fans. I enjoy them. Like the League Cup they are no pressure games. You want to see some nice football, a few goals and hopefully a win but you’re not heartbroken if none of these are forthcoming. The aspect of the warm up matches I most enjoy is the chance to see some of our youngsters rub shoulders with the heavyweights of the squad. Once the match is over I can fantasise as to which sparkling young talent might go on to become a world beater in red and white.
The problem is the young players all look so good, so promising and so splendid in their Arsenal strip that you want all of them to succeed. Some become a cause célèbre among the fans, Little Jack springs to mind and of course Señor Fàbregas Soler before him. The problem is for every Kieran Gibbs there are several Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’s, for each Cesc a plethora of Nacer Barazites. We as fans long to see them scale the heights, to strut their stuff in front of an adoring Emirates crowd before going on to lead their countries to the World Cup Final, but alas, it cannot always be so.
In fact now that Arsène has a little more spending power and the team he has been building achieves a certain maturity the route from youth team to first is an ever more perilous, and occasionally tortuous one. How does a player with the unquestioned gifts of Gedion Zelalem or Chris Willock hope to break into a side where Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere are already snarling, baring their teeth and tugging at the couple of bones Arsène has to throw to the four of them? When he brings in a brace of the best players in the world in successive transfer windows the likelihood of breaking into the team never mind holding down a place must seem a very distant if not an impossible proposition.
There are also problems about which a player and a club can do little. Beyond the competition for places, the huge stars already fighting to get their names into the starting line up there is the small matter of timing. Think about it. All players reach their maturity, the point at which they are physically and mentally able to best employ the blend of their natural gifts and their many years of patient tuition and coaching, at different times in their lives. You cannot take a nine year old boy and decide he’ll be ready at the age of nineteen and then spend the intervening ten years either promoting or buying players to some strict plan so that the boy’s best position becomes vacant on his birthday. You just can’t. The boy may be turn out to be a child star, ready at sixteen, he may not flower until a couple of loan spells have passed and he’s into his twenties. He might, for any of a number of reasons, never make the grade. And of course when he does get to the stage in his career when he’s ready, when he needs regular first team football he may have Mesut Özil and Jack Wilshere in front of him in the queue.
Timing, in this context, is an inexact science. Luck. There’s another one. Yet these two play such a huge role. We don’t have to look far for the evidence. Francis Coquelin came good just as injuries and form created the need to recall him from a loan spell. Carl Jenkinson went on loan just before our first choice right back got knacked in the back by Marko Arnautovic in yet another stupid piece of thuggery from Stoke City, while for all his enthusiasm Calum Chambers was looking a lot more like a centre half than a full back. Or maybe a central midfielder – I’m no expert. The point is this these planets aligned at a time which I feared was maybe a year too soon for young Héctor Bellerín to step up. The concatenation of circumstance may have left him diddled by the dastardly digit of destiny. I of course could not have been more wrong. Young Héctor was catapulted into a space which, it transpired, was precisely Héctor Bellerín shaped. In Theo’s absence and to complement Per’s languorous, considered game, we needed a super quick, ultra confident, highly skilled attacking full back on the right side of our defence. Having one as cool in the opposition area as his two goals suggest he is was another pile of cherries on top of an already over iced cake.
Did Arsène know? Could he have known? He knew a lot more than you me or any of the social media armchair experts out there. Of course he did. Arsène Wenger knows as much if not more about football and his players in particular than any person on the planet and yet I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that even he cannot cause the planets to align just to suit his own needs. He can’t have been timing Mikel’s injury and recovery, Flamini’s form, Chamber’s readiness, all to run on a perfect trajectory with Francis’ loan spells. He couldn’t have sat with a slide rule and an Etch A Sketch and plotted every possible permutation of injury, form, game time needed, loan spells and youth development involved in stocking the right back department so that Héctor stepped from the wings just as Mathieu was felled. Running a football club isn’t a tightly scripted theatrical production. Like the game on the field you can plan and practise but in the end improvisation and split second reactions in a fluid unpredictable environment can carry as much weight and have as great an influence over results.
What Arsène and his staff do is to keep all the plates spinning as best they can. Follow the youngsters development closely, train them with the first team, bring them up with all the right principles and in the right environment. Expose them to first team football in cup games and friendlies and send them on loan to get vital game time so that if the fates conspire to plunge them into the limelight they have the best possible chance to win the confidence of both team-mates and supporters and to carry themselves in a manner befitting a first team member of Arsenal football club.
What would have happened if Mathieu Debuchy had not been so badly hurt in that stupid incident? What if young Calum had been the perfect fit alongside big Per? Would Héctor have missed his chance? Not necessarily. I was musing about time travel the other day. I was trying to watch the test match at Lords and thinking to myself if I could have gone back in time and told Joe Root that he needed to stand farther back during Anderson’s first spell – just a couple of feet deeper than a regulation slip – because an Australian batsman was going to send an early chance fast and high, and it would be one of only two chances in the entire day then I could have helped avert the appalling Ashes disaster that was Thursday. Then I thought why stop there? That’s a bit like a man granted three wishes asking for a million pounds in his first wish and another million for his second. Surely I could do more to bring about a righteous and happy day for the cricket lovers of the world. It was then I realised of course that helping Root to take his catch was in fact all a time traveller could do. From the moment a shaky Australian team, low in confidence, lost an early wicket the whole of the future of the test might have been irrevocably altered. They may have come unravelled, England may have gone on to bowl them out cheaply and get in when the pitch so favoured batsmen. They may not. The next man in may have gone on to score three hundred and the outcome would have been much the same had I not meddled with history.
My point is that changing one of the variables in a sporting arena does not allow you to predict future outcomes with any degree of certainty. If Héctor hadn’t played for us last season at right back he may have come on as an auxiliary right winger – we’ve seen the boss do it with Kieran and Nacho so why not with Héctor and Mathieu? He may have set up the winner against Monaco that sent us through to the next stage of the Champions League. No one knows. He may have made gradual inroads to the first team and eventually usurped our French international in the fullness of time, going on to have a glittering career. He might have got Dan Smithed in his first game and Carl could have come back from West Ham and claimed the shirt himself. All the manager can do is assemble the squad get them all as ready as possible, keep them all as happy as possible and keep buggering on. He can develop players, he can buy players but he can’t control the positions of the planets.
I want to see Chuba Akpom play for our first team and become a world beater. Not because he scored a hat trick in a meaningless friendly but because he’s one of us. I want to see Gedion Zelalem become the next Mesut Özil and Serge Gnabry become the first name on the team sheet one day. None of this may come about. There may be another youngster I get all excited about in a couple of years and those three so full of promise may end up languishing at Ashton Gate or some other horrendous footballing backwater. Who knows? Chuba may follow Jack’s footsteps and become one of the best players in the league and still not be able to get a game because of a bought in world class talent blocking his path. He may be the next Thierry Henry, he may end up playing for Hereford. But I’ll tell you this. I’d rather see him, an Arsenal boy since he was six years old, more a part of the club than almost anyone else there, given his chance up front than any number of imported ready made superstars that the press and Twitter’s idiocracy wish to foist upon us.
100% agree Steww and another brilliant piece as usual. Ive always said that I would prefer to finish lower down the league if it guarenteed the development of our players. Chelsea have spent millions on their youth set up and as yet have had no sign of anyone anywhere near their first team.
As I said in an earlier post the distractions for the football addict are many nowadays compared to the complete switch from football season to cricket season when I was younger and the off season, just like the summer holidays seemed like several years.
Football has always been influenced by fine lines a goaline clearence, an injury at the wrong time or the ball hitting someone and going in. Remember the career of Gus Caeser top of every level he was at, but will always be infamous for a cup final performance and his shipping off to Scotland soon after.
The standard of our youth teams are going up and up and although players may have to be a little more patient nowadays, Arsene will give them their chance if their good enough but with the Squad so good character is now what they need.
A or B – yep, at the risk of sounding Brendonesque they need to show character. Remember also E Frimpong who looked like he might be about to become a first team player? It’s so hard to predict.
As far as todays game is concerned, I believe these are no longer no pressure games. While the more realistic amongst us are just excited to get our ARSENAL back, and compensate peformance with all the logistics surrounding the first game back on a tour, there are some who expect a cup final showing everytime. I see a comment at half time the other day saying ” well there’s 45 minutes of my life i’ll never get back”. After my initial annoyance I did calm myself down with the fact that I did know this person and know their passion for the club. Maybe in their excitment in the return of the team they forgot the circumstances.
If we don’t win today the knives will be out, players will be described as lazy and Arsene will be lambasted for not buying 25 galaticos.
Poor old frimmers, I loved him, he got sent off in his first game of the season in russia yesterday amongst some racial tension apparently. He was larger than life but I meant mental toughness rather than larger than life character
Perfect start to my Saturday. Good stuff, Stew.
if we win today it will be a “meaningless pre-season friendly” but if we lose it will be “clear sign that we are not good enough and need four, five, six new players and a new manager”.
As Liam Brady says about the youth at Arsenal, they all have the potential to be top players, some more than others of course, but one can never be 100% sure of who will or will not fulfill their potential, Jay Emmanuel-thomas was considered to be certain to be a star, Steve Bould really rated the lad, but it all went pear shaped for him, he just went off track. Before that Voltz was expected to be top level, that was till he froze on his debut and never managed to overcome the pressures of the expectations of playing for a club as big as Arsenal. We’ve had a few like Smith, Garry and Barazite who were heading for the big time till bad injuries stepped in and lets not forget the most tragic of all, Nicolo Galli, the young Italian center back who the likes of Brady, Howe and Wenger reckoned was destined to be one of the very best, lost his life in a road crash back in Italy, he had gone back to Italy to finish his studies and was on loan at Bologna and even made his Serie A debut at only 17 years old. He had the previous season won the FA Youth Cup with Arsenal.
Wenger even went as far as to state “I have no doubt in my mind that had he lived, he would have been captain of Arsenal and of Italy.”
With young players there are never any guarantees (of course there is little guarantees with older players too)
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Arsenal playing in red and white kit today
I see Flamini being linked with a move to Galatasary
Arsenal team v Everton: Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Chambers, Gibbs, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud
Szczesny, Debuchy, Gabriel, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Monreal, Flamini, Coquelin, Akpom, Iwobi
Lovely stuff as usual Stew,you know how I feel about Chuba,and it’s looking like AW feels the same way,in your piece you used the expression ‘I’m no expert’-I think the common theme on here is that none of think we are,just a bunch of fans who love watching the Arsenal wherever we are,there are an awful lot of experts out there though..
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I hear you Mel.
Walcott with a fine finish to make it 1-0. assist from Cazorla, with a great pass
HT: Arsenal 1-0 Everton
Almost total domination by Arsenal, without creating a lot of clear scoring chances.
Oxlade-chamberlain on for Wilshere at half time.
Cazorla makes it 2-0, a short corner, santi twisted and turned and slotted in at the near post from about fifteen yards out.
Ozil makes it 3-0, played a one two with Cazorla and slotted in very coolie indeed
Arteta on for the last 20 minutes, walcott off, I wonder what the AAA have to say now after all their talk about him being injured and having an injury set back a couple of days ago.
Oxlade-Chamberlain needlessly loses the ball putting our defense out of position and Barkley fires in a fine goal from edge of the area, 3-1.
Debuchy, Coquelin and Akpom on for Bellerin, Cazorla and Giroud
FT: Arsenal 3-1 Everton
good work out, on top most of the game, pity about letting in the goal, AFC could easily have scored six or seven today, dominated the game.
Arsenal’s starting 11 today
Jeorge Bird @jeorgebird 11m11 minutes ago
Jeff Reine-Adelaide makes his debut for Arsenal U21s v Bristol Rovers. Dragomir on the bench, but no Bielik. Mavididi put AFC 1-0 up.
lines up for the U21 friendly
Walïd Arsenal @1Walid1 4h4 hours ago
Walïd Arsenal retweeted Standard Sport
If West Ham are moving to Olympic Stadium, why don’t Spurs just go Upton Park till they sort the new stadium out?
Well I was wrong about us getting slaughtered if we lose apparently we get slaughtered whatever. Amazing there are idiots that believe only winning the second pre season friendly 3-1 in a green house atmosphere is justification for us to buy at least four players. I know I shouldn’t be surprised but there you go. At least before social media you could walk away from the knob in the pub but its difficult to get away from the uninformed nowadays. I sometimes long for the days when football was not popular
Bristol Rovers @Official_BRFC 3m3 minutes ago
Matt Macey is replaced by Deyan Iliev and receives a standing ovation from around The Mem #BristolRovers
a_o_b its no surprise that the idiots are calling for 4 new signings, seeing as TH14 quotes about AFC needing 4 signings is plastered all over newsnow, and we know the AAA don’t have an original thought of their own.
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FT: Bristol Rovers 0-1 Arsenal XI,
seemingly Kamara was very good at DM,
Pleguezuelo also very good at CB,
while new signing Reine-Adelaide on the wing beat his man at will
Wenger and Giroud’s after game comments
a bit of a shit storm coming James McClean’s way, for doing this during the playing of the english national anthem
Meaningless methadone it may have been and for the manager and team no doubt a low stakes game, where getting fit and building up gently for the rigours to come was the main priority. And yet Arsene would have known that it was also a game that the team was expected to win, and win well – and that the right result would do much to build momentum and confidence. It was a useful, risk free game for the critics too: a win would be treated as all that should have been expected and that counted for nothing, while a stumbling draw or embarrassing defeat sure signs that the team was lacking the key personel so obstinately ignored by the out of touch manager.
But as things turned out, something rather wonderful emerged from a game which certainly exceeded my expectations – and given that this was the third time in a row that this has happened it is perhaps time to start taking it seriously. In the final game of the 14/15 League season Arsenal needed a point to secure third place in the table, their charge towards second spot having been derailed by two disappointing home results (with no goals scored each time) and a lacklustre point at Old Trafford. West Brom at home was a nice way to finish the campaign, but there were plenty saying that if we couldn’t break down the Swansea and Sunderland defences we would struggle to do so against a Pulis team. To add to the interest the following week’s Cup Final ensured that players would be anxious to make a last claim on a starting spot, while also remaining injury free. Arsene rested Giroud and started with Walcott up front and in an astonishing display of free flowing football Arsenal scored four goals, with Theo bagging three. It was breath-taking and the WBA defence was shredded. Much the same happened at Wembley: once again Walcott started centrally; once again the team scored four with Walcott the first scorer.
Fast forward seven weeks or so to the game yesterday, and Walcott was again a central attacker, although this time paired with Giroud in what looked suspiciously like a 442. I have to say it didn’t come as a total surprise to see Theo open the scoring, but what was slightly unexpected was the fluency and sharpness of the team, who seemed to pick things up exactly as they had left them at Wembley. At times the Everton players looked compleley bemused by the speed and trickery of their opposition, and if you haven’t seen the game I urge you to find a recording of it somewhere. Cazorla, Ozil, Ramsey and Wilshere were unplayable, the stretching runs of Walcott almost impossible to predict. This was football of the highest order, football that no English club has produced for some time – and as I say, it was the third time in three games that it has happened. Yes, it was only a pre-season friendly (although before the game I was told Everton would provide a stern test). Yes, Aston Villa were poor (although before the Final I was told that they would be awkward opponents). Yes, the Baggies played as if they were already on the beach (although before the game I was told they would be resolute and well-organised). And yes, harder games lie ahead and we won’t always have it our own way (thanks for pointing that out because I would never have thought it, wet behind the ears that I am).
But given the evidence of yesterday, you would be foolish to think anything else than this side is transforming into something rather special who play football in a most unusual and next-level way. Any new signings will have to fit into this new evolving pattern – and, of course, help it evolve still further. These are exciting times to follow The Arsenal – and yes, it is only pre-season, but if you can’t be optimistic and excited in July, then you really have no business being a fan at all.
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That should have been the match review Tim. Brilliant. Of course my title was a little provocative. The result was only meaningless in terms of the Prem and the methadone was just for us spectators. For the team all preparation is important and good preparation can maintain the momentum of the latter half of last season.
Like you I enjoyed the game, but then I enjoy any good Arsenal performance.
Morning Stew and I see the long Summer break has not dulled your nib.
I wholeheartedly agree on the extra enjoyment that comes from seeing a young player making his debut, usually with a combination of teenage swagger meets Bambi, and watching him gradually develop into a regular. Its a rare one, getting rarer and for all the millions that PL clubs pour into youth development and their academies nowhere like the production line of future talent it was supposed to be.
Its just so much more dammed difficult now. Not only does technology allow us to see football and footballers from every corner of the planet 24/7 it allows clubs instant access in their incessant trawl for players and that extra 1% of quality that makes the difference, or could make the difference between first and second.
I think the other factor may be hunger, and whether youngsters brought up in the comparative comfort and security of the uk and through a PL acaademy is quite as desperate to succeed as a kid from a 3rd world slum?
I remember seeing Paul Merson when he was 16ish in a 5 a side indoor tournament and thinking he was brilliant, but he was nowhere the player Raphael Meade was at the same age.
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Stew and Andy: as ever you are both on the money. Love teen swagger meets Bambi, and currently no one does that better than our very own Chuba, although strangely a less than fully match fit Giroud does a passable imitation.
wow Tim that was such a good review its difficult to add anything to it…brilliant
Absolutely excellent and inspiring post Tim. I have only seen highlights and had no intention of seeing more, but your review has sufficiently tantalised me to go looking for more. I’m so excited about the upcoming season
Tim’s post is now the blog. Thanks Tim.
Sublime writing, Stewart.
Petr Cech is Arsene’s once a season blockbuster transfer. From here on out, unless a Thierry Henry or George Weah falls on his lap, I’m pretty sure he’ll be in the market for undervalued assets like Welbeck. Personally, I’d take nothing less than someone like James McCarthy from Everton.
We have Bielik developing to be the next top DM and we have plenty of youngsters in the pipeline like Campell, Wellington Silva, Jon Toral, Chuba Akpom and Carl Jenkinson still to push up to the first team. Plus why would we add to our squad when the likes of Theo, Oxlade Chamberlain, Jack, Ramsey and Ozil are just starting to hit their prime. Would love it if the WOBs could point what player is better than this lot.
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