We do love a good parade in this country, any excuse to get the flags and bunting out. Arsenal obliged with the FA Cup win on Sunday and the estimated 250,000 who turned out to welcome the team home produced an astonishing online photo album for the occasion; a sea of red and white photos that captured the day on a wave of emotion.
It affected the players as well, the weekend’s triumph is to be the catalyst for more parades if Per Mertesacker gets his way. The German likes nothing more than being out in an open top bus around the streets of London,
“The targets for any football player is to get this atmosphere, to smell this atmosphere. It’s my first time in England and we have to enjoy it but it’s going to be a great ambition to come back here one day.
At one stage it’s enjoyable to be here and it’s a happy day for the fans and all the players together. It gives us more confidence to create more of that.”
For the next one, Mertesacker has asked if the route could take in Trafalgar Square as he has yet to find time to feed the pigeons.
The theme for the end of this season is one of progress. The theme for the summer is building on that progress with Arsène already benefiting from the depth of knowledge in the media about who to sign, their voluminous scouting reports no doubt winging their way to his desk as we speak. Arsenal suffers from a huge number of ITK’s, who in fact know nothing. They tell us Wenger has £70m at his disposal. Pish, says Neil Ashton, the Heil’s sagacious reporter; it’s £100m. The auctions have already begun.
Defining progress is tricky. We progressed because there is a squad which knows it can win trophies now, the FA Cup represents a step forward and it is impossible to produce an argument which says to the contrary. The Premier League is harder to judge. Closer to the top of the table, three wins away from the title. It’s progress despite scoring less than the previous season and finishing fourth, the same as before. The same problems exist, not able to take points of any sort anywhere in the top five; steps backward in the manner of those defeats.
But progress can’t be measured until the end of next season. One step forward this year means little or nothing if it is followed by two steps back next.
Ivan Gazidis summed up where we stand now; it’s a platform upon which to build, something tangible upon which to grip as they enter what will be one of Arsène’s busiest summers. Fabianski is leaving, confirmed in the immediate aftermath of the win at Wembley whilst Bacary Sagna seems likely to follow suit despite wavering on the emotion of the occasion. As much as the plaintive cries might desire him to stay, his public negotiating stance remains that he and the club are poles apart when it comes to a new deal. For progress to be made, replacing those two will be imperative to give a sense of depth to the squad, to give a feeling that the win at Wembley is the basis for a brighter future. Gazidis noted,
“Tomorrow we start work again and we’ve got to use this to progress the club, to take it forward. This was a very big step, to have the players understand what it takes to come through that kind of adversity, to get over the line whatever it took is a big step and now we need to take the next step.
It was very big. It really colours the season. You come out and think we were seven points away from winning the double and that gives you encouragement to move forward and make the improvements we have to make. We know we’re still a work in progress but this is a big step, a big platform and we can build on this, and we will.”
Brave words considering what happened last summer, you just hope that the lessons were learned. Arsenal’s transfer business is conducted behind closed doors in their minds but the reality is that like any other club, they cannot control leaks. The difference is that others embrace that nuance and direct, to some extent, the narrative. Perceptionally more than Arsenal do in any case.
In equal measure, Wenger amuses and frustrates at these times. Toying with the press like a kitten with a ball of wool is all well and good but it means the stories get written for him. In a media age, the club needs to be more pro-active in putting its message across; “We are not close to signing anyone” says the same as “We are working on several deals that we hope to complete in the coming weeks” but the latter is more positive in its declaration. Replacing “We are away on tour so there will be no signings made in the next fortnight” with “We are away but behind the scenes we continue to work on deals” sounds more pro-active, a change from the club’s usual defensive posture. They might be platitudes but they keep the window ticking over, the latter examples give the sense of activity because the former makes it sound like the ‘transfer team’ are sitting around, feet on their desks, puffing on cigars rolled on the thighs of Cuban women. In fact it sounds like they are rolling the cigars on the thighs of Cuban women rather than working on the detail of any transfer.
One positive addition to the squad would go a long way to embedding that into the psyche. Of course it won’t be enough for the extreme views but it will be enough to carry the majority through the weeks of the World Cup and player holidays upon the end of their Brazilian sojourns. The club has an incredible platform upon which to build. The ‘feelgood’ factor, the goodwill, these will last for weeks, if not longer. Let’s not waste it, eh?