If this morning you don’t feel like jumping in a fountain with a bottle of your favourite tipple, when exactly do you enjoy being a football supporter? “Alexis 17” is about to become the most familiar sight around the stands of The Emirates.
After years of shopping in the footballing equivalent of your local pound shop, the unshackling of Arsenal’s finances has, on paper, not been wasted as the club announced they had completed the signing of Alexis Sánchez from Barcelona for an undisclosed fee that everyone tells us was anywhere between £30-35m. Not a bargain bin reserve signed from the Spanish champions, no callow youth looking to make a name for himself, Sánchez has proven himself at the top-level of the game and in joining Arsenal, shown he has the ambition to test himself at the highest level possible. Arsenal are preparing to mix with the big boys.
The obligatory quotes promised the earth and such was the diplomacy that a career at the United Nations awaits on his retirement,
“I’m so happy to be joining Arsenal. A club which has a great manager, a fantastic squad of players, huge support around the world and a great stadium. I’m looking forward to meeting my team-mates and playing for Arsenal in the Premier League and Champions League.
I will give my best and want to make all the supporters happy.”
Clearly no-one told him how demanding supporters are.
We’re not the only ones excited it by the signing. Mesut Özil tweeted the warmest of welcomes as Theo Walcott ran around like a giddy schoolboy jabbering his excitement over the winger’s arrival whilst in between sips of his celebratory Piña Colada, Arsène spoke of the depth and quality that Sánchez adds to the squad. Everybody’s a winner, smiles abundant; where’s the dark cloud?
The truth is there isn’t one; how can there be? It’s a great day, one where the spirit is lifted on so many levels. Having built a reputation of being a club where world-class players are made, we’ve signed two in a row. The ducks are lined up and someone has their eye in. More please, sir. More than that though, this is exactly the sort of deal that so often we, as supporters, have criticised the club for not doing. It’s early in the pre-season, the player will have time to train with the squad before the Champions League qualifier to the extent that the club have already announced his début at The Emirates Trophy; it’s a guaranteed sell-out even if the opposition is not the most exciting. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong but let’s be honest, anyone going is waiting to see a glimpse of Alexis Sánchez in an Arsenal shirt. There will be little surprise when the “Sold Out” sign goes up, if it hasn’t already.
No, this is a deal that so often has been missing; not just in the quality of the player but the fact that the club won’t have to wait for him to become familiar in his surroundings off the pitch. Yes, Sánchez will need time to adjust to the Premier League, we saw that with Özil, but we won’t have to wait four weeks for him to be comfortable with the style of play. He will have trained for a month before the first ball is kicked in anger at Wembley.
Having bumbled their way through many a summer before and attracted criticism for their antics around the globe, it’s only right this morning that the same people get the praise for getting the summer moving early, getting the player in when it matters. It is a business-like approach that I could get used to. Just sayin’ and all that; no time to rest on your laurels Messrs Gazidis and Law; a couple of other signings are needed to give the squad the depth required for the coming season. You carry on behind the scenes, we’ll enjoy the action up front. In case you are taking notes Ivan, compare the mood this summer to last.
Whilst there are slaps on the back, Puma almost got a doffed cap for the new kits. The home kit ticked the boxes, the third kit is actually half-decent, aimed at the leisure market as it is. Letting the side down is the traditionally non-traditional away kit; if only you had gone for a clear distinction between the top and sleeves; an entirely yellow body, clear demarcation for the blue sleeves rather than a superfluous blue bridge to the neckline. But for a first effort, a good start that shows a promising future.
Back to the signings. Talk immediately turned to Debuchy, of Khedira and Juanfran’s deputy at Atletico, Javi Manquillo. There is a buzz about the club, a sense of activity. It propels the feelgood factor along rather nicely. The latter is a curious link and seems as definite as Debuchy – if newspaper-speak can ever been taken as definite – raising the immediate prospect of Carl Jenkinson leaving for a loan spell somewhere unless he is going to be converted into a central defender.
Strengthening the squad does carry a health warning but one that isn’t immediately apparent. Expectations rise with the arrival of a player of Sanchez’s quality, building on from the victory in last season’s FA Cup Final. For many years, the burden of winning the first trophy hung around the necks of the squad; that’s been lifted, the next one is the Premier League title. The club is investing to make this a possibility; the players, the manager, they now have the burden of delivering or at the very least making a credible challenge. The downside is that if performances don’t match those – we’ll call them aspirations – coming down to earth is done not so much with a bang but a nuclear explosion.
Mikel Arteta picked up whatever gauntlet had been thrown down,
When you are under pressure and end up winning that first trophy for a long time it creates a bit of momentum, a bit of belief in what we do. We need to go to bigger challenges now because for this club the FA Cup is not enough.
We have been playing for three or four years together now so we have experience, and if we add in the right areas we have a great chance [of winning the title].
Challenge accepted, I think.
The Spaniard identified the contrary nature of the defeats at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and Eastlands, given the miserly approach to the rest of the season. Reflecting on that campaign, it is hard to escape the notion that the team were at the top of the table for so long thanks to the relative kindness of how the fixtures fell. The squad deserve immense credit for winning the games they were expected to in the opening half of the season but failing to take points at Old Trafford hinted that they were not ready to move up a level. If 2013/14 is the stepping stone it is supposed to be, Arsenal are in good shape for the coming season. It’s now a question of delivering.
We can dream of that for a while longer. In the meantime, stick your feet up, settle down and surf the web for the best that Arsenal’s latest hero has to offer. Salivate at the prospect of the coming season and just enjoy.