A season of promise has not delivered the silverware but several players have grabbed their opportunity to establish themselves firmly in the first team squad. Having spent a considerable amount of time injured during his time at the club – he is the longest serving player currently at Arsenal – Johan Djourou is one of those who can look back on this season with some satisfaction.
In an interview with The Guardian this morning, he has spoken of the disappointment and the reasons for failure to land any silverware. They are similar to those espoused by his manager, suggesting that the squad are fully aware of their limitations.
There is a problem with lack of delivery in English football, most notably the national team’s Golden Generation failed miserably to deliver. It has re-emphasised the impatience connected with the Premier League era of modern football. That is not lost on the Swiss international,
You can say that Arsenal have lacked a championship mentality because we haven’t got winners, who have won many cups, but that’s a thing you build. And in this group we definitely have the ability to become that.
It’s not far away, that’s the whole thing...People have to remember that it’s a foundation of work and not everything works as soon as they want.
Equally, Djourou offers a ray of light that this setback is not a permanent barrier to success in the future for those that remain beyond the summer.
The Invincibles team was a project that was not made in one year. It was piece by piece by piece.
We have to keep the faith in this project and we just want to win to show the world that the boss is right. It takes a lot of courage to keep going with your own way.
It would be easy to argue that Djourou is merely saying this as he is benefitting from Wenger’s belief in the youthful players. Whilst that is true, Djourou has offered enough this season to prove that he is worthy of his first team place.
The comparison with The Invincibles is one that is quickly dimissed. To do so is to miss Djourou’s point. He is not comparing the squad to those players at the peak of their powers but in the seasons leading up to it. The dreaded word is potential, a signal for disparagement from those who believe only in the here and now, irrespective of the cost.
The balance has to be struck. Wenger is almost living on a pendulum, seeing the perfect mix as he swings past, the extremes of youth and experience. If he could pluck one or two more to add experience to the squad, then potential would be realised as a whole, ceasing to be a curse.
This was acknowledged by the manager when commenting about Lehmann coming to the club recently. Re-signing the German and Sol Campbell has been beneficial is the mental aspect to a degree but both were too old to be considered anything other than temporary solutions. That Campbell played more often and Lehmann at all, shows how bad the injury situation has been at times.
Even so, signing experience is almost as risky as the other end of the spectrum. Fine defender as he is (and was), William Gallas showed a temperament that was suspect under pressure, his ego in the way of leadership.
The captaincy is poisoned chalice at Arsenal. Recent permanent holders of the position have been severely criticised for their leadership. Gallas, Fàbregas, Henry; individually fantastic players, questionable leadership. Or is it that simple with the Spaniard?
It has been an easy and almost lazy accusation to make this season, that he is distracted by the previous summer shenanigans. No evidence of this is offered nor can it be, simply a false presumption that has taken hold. Perhaps in Fàbregas’ case, it is nothing more than a player who leads by example being injured and pre-occupied by that?
The problem is that the romantic image of a captain at Arsenal is formed by the likes of McLintock and Adams. Boisterous characters, vocal to their colleagues. Typically British. This generation is different, needing less of the ‘They don’t like it up ’em‘ attitude to get them going, more of a firm and steadying character upon which to draw strength.
That does not need to be a captain though. A leader in the middle of the pitch, one to lift Fàbregas when he needs it, one to compliment the Spaniard’s captaincy. That is the experience Arsenal need this summer.