Morning all, the weekend is upon us and the new season a day closer than yesterday. Saturday means a new playlist and this morning’s, Beggar Man, is found in the right sidebar on Dad’s Jukebox with the archives here.
It’s the time of year when rumour is treated as fact instead of the cynicism they deserve. Petr Cech inched closer to joining Arsenal and at this rate he should cover the ten miles between Stamford Bridge and The Emirates by the start of the season. Which season, I’m not sure. Reports suggest that he may sign this weekend, others that it will be another weekend or indeed another lifetime.
Other deals on the horizon include the appearance of William Carvalho on the rumour mill with Arsenal’s £28m bid short of his release clause so to give some credibility to the story, the £8m or so needed will come in the form of add-ons. Jackson Martinez meanwhile has become so fed up with waiting for Arsenal’s bid that he attended last night’s End of Season bash at The Emirates, cornering Ivan Gazidis in the car park to find out what was going on, leaving none the wiser as the club’s intentions. Ivan is nothing if not the consummate football politician and savvy to the Colombian wearing a wire to catch Arsenal out for tapping up.
There’s no doubt transfers are a ‘rum do’ and to this day, it still amazes me that George Graham – and the by then retired Brian Clough – were the only ones caught out by the FA’s investigations into football corruption two decades ago. That had an enormous impact on Arsenal, ending an era although Graham’s time at the club was ending anyway with the manager losing his way on the pitch as well as off it. Five months after his dismissal, the earth shifted under Arsenal irrevocably. That twenty years after the event shows the impact the signing of one player had on the club, shaping its path as much as Arsène Wenger would begin to a year later.
Dennis Bergkamp‘s arrival at Arsenal heralded the way out of the darkness on the pitch but a lot of credit sits with Bruce Rioch as is pointed out in Chas Newkey-Burden’s piece in FourFourTwo, shaping the player who shone over the next decade. It isn’t just for ninety minutes that the impact is felt; the players benefitted as Adrian Clarke points out in his appreciation of the Dutchman. And yes, the best individual moment of his Arsenal career is celebrated this weekend.
Whilst the actions on the pitch are what ultimately shape a players’ place in history, the work on the training ground is their legacy. It’s why Thierry Henry‘s observation that Alexis Sanchez has the ‘X Factor’ strikes a chord. Someone who appreciated Bergkamp’s more than most, underlines what a title-winning side needs. We can talk about the luck and injuries but a fully fit squad needs an individual who takes the play to another level or provides that spark when it the gloom is setting in. Wenger is fortunate to have two at the moment, Mesut Özil’s languid style is more akin to that of Bergkamp whilst Alexis takes the individuality of his vision, fusing it into his energetic displays.
The bigger question in the modern game is whether either stays as long as the Dutchman. It isn’t a one-way street, the success the club enjoyed during Wenger’s first decade carries players through and encourages them, drives them forward to maintain the winning habit. What would have happened had Arsenal won the Champions League during that time? Would The Invincibles have broken up so abruptly? Who knows how history would have been changed.
Successive FA Cups suggest that something is building at Arsenal, you get that feeling whenever trophies adorn the sideboard. Looking back, there’s a familiarity about where Arsenal sits as a club now. Not in terms of cash or anything as tangible as that, just that there is a squad building, a coming together of a set of players in the same way as thirty years ago. The quality is different of course and football is as a game but for two seasons, a feeling grew that George Graham was building a squad capable of winning trophies.
In the late 80s, English clubs didn’t have European temptations so the skew placed on trophies was different. The title was the prize to win, the FA Cup the second target and the League Cup was important, much more so than now. The equivalent back then was the Simod Cup as every self-respecting Chelsea fan will tell you. Two League Cup finals – one victorious when Charlie Nicholas forever rained on Ian Rush’s parade – and flirtations with the top of the table in 86/87 and 87/88 tempted us into believing anything was possible. A year later it was delivered.
The two finals were important, one proved they could win whilst losing the second fuelled the fire of winning trophies. Comparing different eras is almost pointless; football is different now from then, as it was then from before but the sense of building something around a squad remains similar. Graham built quietly – he didn’t have short windows to contend with – and took unassuming players for the most part. Alan Smith at £800k was expensive but everyone else was acquired for considerably less or brought through the ranks for nothing at all. They gelled in a way that there’s a sense that the XI is now.
It’s a tall order to say the squad will win the title, there are too many twists to be taken yet and we’re playing football on paper at the moment. All that Arsène needs is to put himself into a position where he has the options. There will judging by the noise be activity and that only benefits the squad. They have the individuals to make the difference which the modern game needs, requires. It’s a team sport but one that constantly seeks the solo spark.
Is history building? Of course, it just depends on which one.