Not even the rain could dampen the celebrations, complete with the obligatory Jack Wilshere taunting of Tottenham. Outraged of Tonbridge Wells vilified the midfielder for his cruel taunting of the Middlesex pub team, who were holding their own open-top bus parade at the same time having won the AIA Cup against Sydney hours before Arsenal triumphed at Wembley.
Wilshere has ruined Arsenal parade, so the narrative goes, with his “expletive-filled” and “foul-mouthed” outburst. While the rest of football goes for an acid bath and scrubs itself clean of all known germs, Jack’s rating with his own supporters went through the roof, if social media is anything to go by. It was a moment that ‘endeared’ himself further into Arsenal hearts and is best summed up by – and I genuinely forget who said it, sorry – “If he was a Chelsea or United player, I would hate him for it but they would love to have one of their own say something similar“.
Which is very true. I don’t recall anything similar from the parades I watched in the late-80s and early-90s. Mind you, I don’t remember them taking place in the rain either. There was no online coverage for the world to share in those days. The national news would carry a snapshot of the day in the “And finally…” spot normally reserved for a septuagenarian tap-dancing Esperanto-speaking Labrador’s. Now we have Britain’s Got Talentless People By The Bucketload for that and Arsenal Player for the parade coverage. Times change.
I’m not going to criticise Wilshere for his behaviour; I didn’t last year, in fact he didn’t even warrant a mention but this time, the constant sniping of the media irritates. It feels like the bigger problems are ignored with Leicester’s racist boot boy players and Sepp Blatter shoved to one side in the ambulance chase for ratings.
This summer is another of hope, fed by the cup triumph. According to reports this morning, Theo Walcott will sign ‘da ting’ but suggestions that it will be this month appear generous if his comments at the weekend are anything to go by, placing it further down the pecking order than having a tipple or two in celebration and playing for England. Not quite sure the latter’s more important but each to his own.
It could be a relatively quiet summer or that’s what the wilful misinterpretation of Arsène’s words would have you believe. Quite rightly, he has said he won’t be going after someone like Pogba when the fee quoted is £75m. Were we sitting in awe at a double-winning Invincibles 2 season – a rare moment when the sequel was better than the original – I might have a different view. The squad would be better developed in those circumstances to the point where a summer invested in one player with other smaller fish, is acceptable.
But we’re not in that position. Talk before and after the final was about catching Chelsea; it was a twelve-point gap this time, a fair reflection of how Arsenal didn’t perform in the opening weeks of the season. Eight points were dropped by the time the two sides met at Stamford Bridge; it was eleven when the final whistle blew. From that point, they pretty much traded blows points-wise and that’s the story, where the hope can be drawn that these cup wins are genuinely stepping-stones to better things.
The fly in the ointment is that there are three other teams with the same genuine aspirations. Arsène believed Liverpool and Spurs could win the title but the reality is that is pandering to their delusions. United and City will invest heavily in the summer to launch their own title challenges. Whether that is money well spent only becomes clear at the end of the season, even if we do get a very good hint along the way.
Arsenal have the third-best squad in the country at the moment. The Premier League table doesn’t lie, there’s no point in making spurious arguments to the contrary. Retaining the FA Cup shows they have the winning habit, a desire to win silverware and the manner of victory underlines that. It doesn’t mean we’re better than Manchester City even if four points out of six might point to it. Over the course of the season, they were more consistent and when you talk of titles, that’s the missing ingredient for Arsenal.
It’s also the difference between now and two years ago. Remember when the club was crowned Calendar Year Champions, a title invented to signal how the good the squad then was? They obviously suffered a trophy-hangover as it all fell apart as soon as that cup was hoisted.
And that’s what Arsène has to conquer. Arsenal have become very good at playing very well over anything from a couple of months to half-a-season. It’s the patchy form beforehand that needs to be eradicated. A significant part of that is investing to ensure that the squad is properly staffed, not fitting square full backs into round central defensive roles but buying the right cover, if not upgrading.
It’s not a popular view to have but the brutal truth of football is that there is nearly always a better player out there. The key is whether they will improve the team. It’s harsh but that’s how football has always been. It’s not new to this era so there’s no point in trying to state otherwise. The problem is that you’re not allowed to at Arsenal any more. In those circumstances, the argument is always reduced to your opinion of the manager in a footballing equivalent of Godwin’s Law.
An example of that comes with Francis Coquelin. Arsène got lucky when he recalled his compatriot from his Charlton loan spell but that’s now dressed as a masterplan. Of course it wasn’t. But that’s not to say he didn’t deserve a bit of luck, so much of football success depends on such moments when the fates turn in your favour; why should Arsène be any different but please don’t try to tell us that he meant it.
But the question is whether Coquelin is Mr Right or Mr Right Now? The XI was desperate for a defensive midfielder, he arrived took his chance. That does entitle him to some loyalty but not at the expense of improvement. If anything happens to him, we have no genuine cover in the squad, capable of fulfilling the same role. As much as I like Mikel Arteta, he isn’t young enough to be as industrious so investment is needed. There’s nothing wrong with competition either; it ensures that Coquelin doesn’t go Alex Song on us as well as ensuring new arrivals know they have a fight on their hands for a place in the starting XI.
For Arsène, the decision is about balance. How to balance rewarding those players who won the FA Cup and recovered the Premier League to third through loyalty with the need to for the club to improve, to do better in Europe, become the first club to win a hat-trick of FA Cup wins and to challenge for the title. Or all three.
Not an easy task at all.