During moments of escalated distress in football, writers often find it helpful to take some distance from the kvetch-fest and start on their scrolls after some time has passed. Stretching both the words ‘football’ and ‘writer’ to their very limits, I’m writing this the morning after a twitter-fuelled air raid was made in the club’s direction; when even the most balanced and supportive fan’s radar went off-kilter; when Arsenal’s London locals and global diaspora were worryingly, and maybe justifiably, united in their condemnation. After all red-and-white castles have been verbally razed to the ground, an honest appraisal of the situation lies (as ever) between praise and pitchfork. The frustrating thing is, it’s been lying there for seasons on end now. Our squad may be different personnel-wise, but it seems as ‘better-than-the-rest-but-not-close-to-the-best’ as ever. As long as the Arsenal cookie keeps crumbling in that direction, the pitchfork’s case grows stronger.
Personally, my reaction to Arsenal’s non-activity is one of overwhelming bemusement. My Wenger-decoder is obviously as well-practised as the next fan’s, but I don’t think anyone can attach much sense to the disparity between his bark and bite after the Robin van Persie and Alex Song carnivals reached their conclusion. Giroud and Podolski went from augmenting our strike-force, to replacing van Persie’s departure. A midfield reinforcement was tacitly assumed to be coming in, but two weeks after Song went gallivanting to Catalonia, Wenger expressed satisfaction with the squad at his disposal. Standard media fluff to dole out, I realize that. But we must equally realize that our attempts to get Sahin on loan, and casual Essien-sniffing on deadline day, indicate that the squad is not as well-rounded as Arsene wibbles about in press conferences. Even in his own eyes.
So why didn’t we make the signings that even Wenger thought we needed? Rummaging through the cornucopia of opinions, there are a few which stand up to scrutiny. Maybe we genuinely didn’t find the proverbial ‘top, top, top’ player who could add to our squad while not costing the equivalent of a small nation’s GDP. I have inclination to balk at this reason, though; for a scouting team to have brought in excellent signings like Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla at dirt-cheap (relative to the market) prices, and feign inability to find a replacement for someone eminently replaceable like Song, doesn’t sound right. Maybe Arsene faced the oft-mentioned bottleneck from the Board, content with Champions League and hundred dollar bills to smoke up in. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but our failure to get Mata and Cazorla last summer was well-documented; we got the latter one year late only after Malaga’s financial shambles. It doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that the club collectively decided, like it has many times before, not to go down the ‘speculate to accumulate’ road.
As for fan perception about the squad, I think it’s negatively skewed owing to deadline-day lethargy. The most recent memories always hit the hardest; and while we haven’t strengthened, I don’t think we’ve weakened as much as media-hyperbole would have you believe. On paper, we’ve lost our top scorer and assister in the league from last season; but like the Henry departure in 2007, I expect the Ewing theory to come into full force and for the goals to be more equitably shared amongst our front-line. There are positive signs, albeit embryonic, of defensive stability finally coming into our system. I would say the squad is close to the same level of potency that it was last season, and while that is not something to rage over, the missed opportunities of plugging gaps will seem more and more costly with every poor performance.
We face Liverpool tomorrow, another team which has sizable holes in their squad and fans on barely restrained leashes after an iffy transfer window. It’s difficult to isolate the events of the last few days from the bigger picture, but our first eleven is arguably stronger than last year (first eleven, not the squad). So as far the title of this blog post goes, it’s chin up from me; but a cautious chin up. A chin which realizes that Arsenal’s parsimonious rain dance during every summer is getting harder and harder to understand and defend.
This post also appeared on BigFourZa.------------
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