The headlines lead you to believe that Arsenal have made first contact. This presumably is not the same first contact that was made by Arsène when his call rang through to Karim Benzema’s voicemail a while ago. And if they are making first contact, does it mean that Madrid ringtones are set to Re, Mi, Do, Do, So. And when they physically meet, will Dick and Florentino exchange Curwen hand signs in the footballing equivalent of a Masonic handshake?
A week of reflection in the build-up to The Emirates Cup following the successful tour matches in Singapore. Petr Cech likened the Arsenal dressing room to the one he left behind at Stamford Bridge,
There are a lot of things in common. What I’ve found is a group of players who work very hard and are focussed on what they are doing on the pitch to get ready. I’ve found the team spirit quite extraordinary. Everybody pulls in the same direction, which is why I believe we will have a successful season.
He was hardly likely to state there were massive deficiencies, was he? Cech spoke positively about the mix of youth and experience at the club, and the prospects for the new season being enhanced as a result. This summer has been quiet in terms of the transfer activity in direct contrast with the Mancunian clubs which is not a bad thing. United’s biggest problem in the early weeks of the season will be integrating the number of players into the XI.
With just Cech so far and maybe one other, Arsène’s task is simpler in that respect and that settled atmosphere has to be an advantage. Whether that materialises depends, as Cech put it, on what happens on the pitch. A good pre-season, especially for players like Walcott who have continually played catch-up with their fitness through the season, is vital.
Whilst the depth exists, there is room for improvement. As much as it relies on signings, I suspect nothing is likely to happen before departures are confirmed. Mathieu Flamini to Galatasaray gains ground with Arsenal set to become the first club to sell the player, with a fee of £2.5m quoted. There are others, notably Joel Campbell, who will follow, creating space in the wage bill for new arrivals.
Whether that is the ‘right’ way to do it is irrelevant. I’m not sure there is a right way, before you ask, but this is the model Arsenal have chosen to follow. Ivan Gazidis spoke of the past decade in Singapore, noting that there was no change to the self-sustaining model in the foreseeable future which allows us to adopt a moralistic stance against oil money and sugar daddies although if the recently mooted Nigerian takeover happens, we will be at the whim of the oil money of our sugar daddy quite literally.
Gazidis went on,
We all wanted to be doing better. We wanted to be delivering more to our fans. The football was always good and we maintained – even through those difficult periods – a high level of consistency year to year.
We’re the only club that stayed in the top four and in Europe throughout all of that time. So it’s not as if we fell off the face of the map but of course we always wanted to achieve more.
A mea culpa of sorts. It’s hard to argue with the consistency in finishing in the top four but whilst it’s easy to say the club were more ambitious during the time, there was little evidence of it. The only advantage of finishing consistently in the top four was financial; the footballing merit offered little considering the poor Champions League record of the last five or six years. Not in losing to the likes of Barcelona or Bayern but in the group stages, stumbling into second place to create those ties.
Little effort was put into the domestic cups during that time with the record of one FA Cup semi-final and two losing Carling Cup finals reflecting the second string sides fielded by Arsène. Having seen the euphoria around the consecutive FA Cup wins, I am sure that Arsenal – the manager and the board – would find it hard to argue against the notion that stronger sides winning the cup would have made for a happier place, by and large. It’s a spurious argument to say that these would be at the cost of a top four place; the two were, and are, not mutually exclusive.
The past though is the past and there it shall stay. As long as the club has learned the lessons of that time and puts them to good effect in the future, there is no reason to rake over it. Arsenal are in a good position; I have made no secret of my view that we could do with another specialist defensive midfielder and central striker.
Even without that pair, Arsenal are capable of a title challenge although more beholden to luck than without the investment but it’s not unusual to be looking at the prospect of going into the new season with a very good squad that is a player or two short of being excellent. It’s the Arsenal Way.