By Drewza on 23 May 2013
Everybody’s writing reviews of the season.
I can’t. For reasons that are difficult to explain, and probably shouldn’t be, the end of the season brought with it an almost instant case of what the Professor (African Arsenal colleague, Prof Grey, that is) calls a touch of Thierry Ennui.
Ah yes, the fatal allure of the Blues. Les Bleus. Ennui has a way of tugging you down by little threads until you’re pinned like Gulliver.
Sunday’s game for me was never in doubt. Only the scoreline was. I just wondered how big our margin of victory would be against the clip-winged Magpies. And so while other Arsenal fans went hurtling down Squeaky Bum’s Slippery Slope, I for the most part stayed uncharacteristically calm. I never for a moment thought we’d lose, or draw for that matter. Yes, it got a bit jangly when we were hanging on to our 1-0 lead, but somehow I didn’t doubt.
This is not to congratulate my fan fortitude or to suggest any percipience on my part. It is simply to describe how getting 4th, at least, seemed to be written. I had peeped at the embargoed copy of Arsenal’s 4th placed fate.
But it was later, perhaps even a disorienting sense of unease rising in the moments after the game had ended, that the ennui hit, a feeling growing (part fear and loathing, part anger) that Arsenal’s famous run-in in the last 3 months would have needed to start at least 3 months before that. And why the hell didn’t it start earlier? How long did it take us ‘to settle’?
I had a mental picture of another run-in, in the 800m final at the London Olympics, when South Africa’s Caster Semenya started at the back of the field, appearing to coast at first, then woke up, stormed past most of the field, and came second. It was as if she so dreaded the invasive scrutiny of her gender that would come from winning that she hung back, fearful of gold.
“The 21 year-old had effectively left herself with no chance after choosing to stay off the early pace,” the London Telegraph said of Semenya’s chase for what seemed automatic Gold.
“It was a calamitous misjudgment. By the time she decided to try to take closer order on the second lap, after lying in last place over the first circuit, it was too little, too late.
She burst past Russian Ekaterina Poistogova and Kenya’s reigning champion Pamela Jelimo on the home straight to take the runner-up spot, but [the winner] Savinova had already flown.”
I don’t want to say Arsenal’s storming for 4th is too little too late, but you’d have to say, like Semenya’s start, the Arsenal during this just finished season were masters of vacillation in the early part of the campaign and in so many games that they flannelled in the first half.
And so, reviews of individual players who should be getting better marks for Attainment are diluted by an almost consistent display of indecisiveness and vapidity in the first 45 minutes of games in the first half of the season.
That was a long sentence. But I understand it. The problem is I can’t deal with it. All I can say is, Arsène Wenger and the team will have to – get good scores on the first 9 -switching from gold to golf – so that the run-in towards the clubhouse actually counts.
Get onto the pace, stay in the mix, finish strong.
Last Sunday morning, before the final game of the season, I heard one of South Africa’s finest commentators, Moeletsi Mbeki, brother and sometimes fiercest critic of the former President Thabo Mbeki, answer his moderator, Professor Grey in a political discussion about the African National Congress: “South African’s don’t like history,” he said. He chuckled. The audience laughed.
It was funny when he said it – apposite. South Africans, it’s true, can hardly deal with the past. They can’t look History in the eye and smile. To do so, for too many, would betray an intimacy with the past that is, if you’ll forgive the phrase, best forgotten.
We choose to forget.
And so, if this Arsenal team, that has the quality to win, wants to do so next season, then in the quiet reflections of their well-paid summer break and in the July return to London Colney they may wish to ponder the significance of setting an early pace, having the iron to keep it, and then bust the opposition on the home stretch.
They may wish to reflect that to win there can be no cloying apprehension. They must not at the outset fear the clutch of gold.
Even as I write that, I feel one of the Lilliputian threads of Thierry Ennui snap and release… and from my prone position surrounded by yapping tormentors of a season now done, I look up, just.
Yes. I even feel I might look forward.
by Nuru on 21 May 2013
It’s on the record: we are ambitious for more than the chance to challenge in the Champions League.
Arsène Wenger has been talking about building on this squad. He’s talked about our incredible run-in for the last 3 months to overhaul our north London competitors, but from now on it can’t all be parochial thoughts about getting one over the neighbours. Now it’s about strengthening for greater things.
Arsène Wenger has been as clear as Arsène Wenger can be on this score, with the usual caveats, of course.
“We won every away game [in the last 3 months] so it’s a good springboard for next season, to transfer that belief into the start of next season. That means we need stability and to strengthen our group if possible.”
You’ll notice how he pulls back on the reins at the last moment. If possible.
Well, it is possible. Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis has made the strongest possible affirmation of our intent.
“It is important to reiterate that for everyone at the Club, qualification for the Champions League is not our ultimate ambition. Our majority owner Mr Kroenke has made it clear that while it’s an achievement to make the Champions League our ultimate objective is to win the major trophies. We all share that clear ambition and will be driving the Club forward to achieve it.”
He says it’s not only possible, it’s important, you see.
And clearly the coach and chief exec have been strategizing:
“Arsène and I have already been planning what we need to do to strengthen so we are better placed next season.
“One thing is certain. The Club is in a very strong position to move forward and our form of losing just one of our last 16 Premier League matches shows that we have a solid foundation on which to build for success.”
When a CEO speaks about “strong position” he is not talking about false nines or defensive improvements, you can bet. He is speaking about, or he should be, finance. Arsenal has the money available to build for success. Even in the most diabolic corporate-speak it’s surely not possible to draw any other conclusions.
Even the manager must have seen how difficult it is to attain real success when you are quality-deficient in some areas of the squad. Sure, the consistency this group of players has produced, since defeats to Bayern and Spurs in particular, has shown we have the mettle. Strong attitude is the forge for consistency. But into the mix, we need some pure, specialist skill and quality. That doesn’t come if you’re working only with base metals. The squad needs tempering.
And this is where Wenger prevaricates. It’s part of his DNA. When he speaks about strengthening, he’d rather not spend too much:
“There are many clubs out there with a lot of money so the competition is very hard. There’s not as much talent as money today in football.”
It’s almost impossible to argue for this or against this. It is very Wengeresque.
Every year there is a whole heap of talent out there. It’s just that the power balance shifts around a bit – the German clubs rising, Real Madrid ebbing and so on… But there is talent, and some of it is available at the market price.
Over the course of the summer we will surely be speaking about where that talent comes from. But it’s there, no doubt, certainly enough for us to strengthen the squad and challenge for titles.
Even Theo Walcott spoke of it and if he does you can guarantee it’s a theme among the players too.
“We want to be challenging for the title. That is our next goal.”
We all know he’s not likely to go out and splash the cash, but with the board willing and, as Gazidis has said, Stan Kroenke steeling our intent for trophies, this is surely the time for Arsène Wenger to spend on quality.
If we want success, we must dress for it.
By Prof Grey on 19 May 2013
It feels like that – the end of an era.
How long is a generation exactly? Twenty years? If so, then a generation has just passed.
Twenty years ago the Premiership was just getting going, in its second year. The massive global product that it now is was just an apple in the eyes of its founding fathers.
United had just won their first league title under Ferguson, who then won twelve of the next twenty. Beckham made his debut that season, as did Paul Scholes.
This weekend both of them made their final appearances as professional footballers, as did Jamie Carragher after over 500 games for Liverpool FC.
What great players; what legends – for their loyalty and their professionalism, and all the pleasure they gave their adoring fans.
Maybe it was the relief at holding on to our slender lead at St James Park, and, thereby, securing yet another St Totteringham’s Day.
Thursday is Spursday.
Thank gawd for that.
But perhaps the lump in my throat was prompted not just by the sight of that great manager, Sir Alex, saying farewell to United travelling supporters at the Hawthorns, but a sense of time passing.
Twenty years: a whole generation.
What of the next?
My sense is that we are in a good position if not to dominate then to be an even more influential force than before.
Many of the ingredients are in place: financial sustainability, with debts paid; a sparkling new stadium; a strong global brand, with room to grow; a great history with proud traditions; and a very capable group of young players both in the first team squad and the youth teams.
And the Manager? Does he still have the appetite and the fresh ideas?
I think he knows he has to innovate, that he may have got a bit stuck in his ways.
Does that mean he will abandon his financial prudence and buy big in the summer? Probably not.
But I do think Wenger knows that we need to buy two or three high quality players. Clearly we can now afford to do so.
(More of that, no doubt, from all of us in the coming days and weeks; the ‘who should go and who should come in’ debate that will help fill the three month void).
So today is both an end and a beginning.
That it should be marked with the classic Arsenal scoreline is, surely, how it should be.
One-Nil to The Arsenal – in a thoroughly undistinguished game in which we played in a tense and constrained fashion, as if weighed down by the expectations and needs of the moment; how apt that our most consistent, most focused player, Koscielny, should score the goal, finishing like Gerd Muller rather than like a centre half.
That’s all we needed and, therefore, all we wanted.
We got it. Now, lets look ahead. For a new era beckons.
By Drewza on 19 May 2013
“I would like to say that, no matter what happens on Sunday, I will keep a fantastic memory of this team because they have been focused.”
The manager’s words almost seemed like a valediction.
Somebody, you feel, will be saying goodbye to the Arsenal. But who? Bacary Sagna is the most likely to leave, and I genuinely hope he doesn’t.
The apprehension around an occasion like the one at St. James this afternoon is as much a longing for something familiar like 4th place and the exciting regularity of Champions League football next season, as it is about the bitter-sweet departures that happen as one project ends and another begins.
Yet Arsenal, with a 9-game run unbeaten, and a certain steel that has been forged in the team since Bayern Munich, more than ever needs continuity. We are part of a project that extends to next season – and the prospect of real success in 2014.
And that is where the anxiety comes. Can we sustain this project and push on?
The view from inside is always a bit different from the one we fans have as we follow the intermittent line of a team’s progress: the awful exciting build-up to games, the two-hours of heightened emotion as the contest unfolds, or unravels, and the aftermath made tangier by the questionable worth of Twitter and Internet.
Wenger said: “They have gone through some difficult periods but they have always remained united and focused, with a great desire to do well. On that front it was a fantastic experience to work with this team.”
“When we were under severe pressure, they didn’t talk and worked very hard together in a united way and that’s why I really want them to be rewarded.”
So do we all.
I would echo Wenger’s sentiments. It’s been a hell of a ride, but as the season has worn on, the players have really earned the fans respect – mine anyway.
Today, I suspect, it will be a manager’s game – an Arsenal coach who has been infuriating at points this season but who has also rediscovered his mojo in the latter stages, against Alan Pardew who, let it be said, is the least likeable of all the managers. He has a crop of some of the finest players in the league and, until last week, was fighting relegation. He’s a difficult manager to play against because he seems to have so many issues. Any man who feels the need to explain a joke is not someone you can trust.
So, we go into this game wary of the damage Newcastle can do. Their midfield under any other gaffer would be sumptuous. But Pardew’s made it staccatic and sullen with bursts of real power. We’ll have to be careful – just as we will against the blessed skills of Papa Demba Cissé, a baby-faced sniper if ever there was one.
Wenger versus Pardew.
In the world of Arsenal the angry protests against Wenger have subsided of late. The boss appears to have emerged from the buffeting stronger than ever, or at least stronger than he was this time last season. His reputation is coming back. So are his tactical skills.
The half time rocket against Wigan brought a new weapon to his flagging Arsenal. But every game he seems to make one blooper. Last week’s seemed to be his substitution of Jack Wilshere. With Mikel Arteta out of the running, and the strong possibility of Jack Wilshere coming in carrying an injury, I really do worry. It increases our midfield uncertainty, and in a way I wish Wenger wouldn’t risk it. I wish the boss would just make some other ‘healthy’ option – even if it’s bringing Vermaelen into a defensive midfield role, or Coquelin.
But this is all speculative.
For now it remains to us here at the African Arsenal to wish the team the best of luck. We know it will be a great game. We hope we’ll triumph against the Toons.
Come on, you Gunners!
By Prof Grey on 18 May 2013
I like Wednesdays. Especially during the latter part of the season – February to May. I teach a postgrad class on human rights law at 4pm that usually goes until around 6.45pm.
Most years the class is full of interesting young people; generally a good spread nationality wise: one or two Germans or Dutch; maybe one Brit; some years, a Canadian or American or two; and always around 50% Africans from elsewhere on the continent – this year for example, a Kenyan, a Nigerian and the mandatory Zimbabwean – with perhaps just 25% South Africans.
I’ll get home sometime between 7 and 7.30 and then, since Wednesdays tend to be a big day in parliament for their political journalist mother, I will often do supper for the kids – a simple pasta dish or stir fry (the limits of my culinary skills).
With luck, everything’s done and dusted in time for the start of the Champions’ league games, whether at 9.45pm or, even if the European Clocks have gone forward for spring, from mid-March on, 8.45pm.
Half the time, of course, Arsenal will have played on the Tuesday night; but half the time they haven’t, and I can settle into watching the game.
Thursdays just aren’t the same. Wednesdays without Arsenal in the Champions’ League just won’t be the same.
It will be a pity. It will be vexing.
So come on Arsenal, don’t mess it up tomorrow!
Though as I said the other day, it’s galling that coming fourth should matter so much.
I bumped into my old acquaintance Will yesterday, the man who now owns Carlucci’s cafe just beneath the face of Table Mountain, and who married into the famous ANC family the Wolpes (as in Harold Wolpe, the great socialist educationalist, who was in exile in North London along with more famous ANC names such as Joe Slovo).
Despite being in Cape Town for more than twenty years, he has not lost his strong Norff London accent. He summed things up neatly, with his usual crispness:
“Fawff! Fuckin’ Fawff! You gotta be kidding me. The Arsenal? I mean, fawff, fuckin’ Fawff – The Arsenal?”
Precisely. So, Come on The Arsenal! Cos’ I really don’t like Thursday nights.
By Drewza on 17 May 2013
This morning the air is cool. In Cape Town you can feel it in your fingertips and toes. Change is in the air. Winter is coming in.
Up there where the club is, it’s the opposite. Sleeves disappear. English bellies gleam like advertisements for Omo in the stands: washed whiter. Tans happen in Essex.
The end of the season and the start of another – but this time there are greater sweeping changes, almost everywhere except at the Arsenal, you feel. It’s been a crazy week, well, fortnight.
First it was S’Alex retiring at one Manchester club. Not to be outdone, the other Mancunian club holistically removed their nearly eponymous manager Mancini, and then his first-name namesake at nearby Wigan, another Roberto, got dropped out of the Premier League via relegation. 3 managers shifted up, out and downwards in the space of a week and another, execrated at Chelsea, stubbornly gave his haters a European cup they wanted but didn’t want from him. Ha!
There’s many ways to kill a cat.
As if that was not enough, of course there were rumours running amok that Arsene Wenger would be off to Paris St. Germain. Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood scotched that one. So did the boss himself. But now Lady Arse runs an ‘exclusive’ that the 77 year old chairman is leaving AFC. Retiring. Ah well, he’s rich enough. And if the manager is to spend on players this summer, perhaps there’ll be less of a dividend for the board and more to lavish on key signings. Well, one can only speculate.
Who’s next to move?
David Beckham is retiring. And his stellar brand, unlike his playing skills, shows no sign of abating. Posh and Becks not only turned scandals into sterling (and dollars and francs and yen), they also managed to rise meteorically in their chosen careers, when he was no longer even playing football very well and she couldn’t sing. I always enjoyed Beckham, actually, like a billion others around the world. Kicking an Argentinian, dispensing Greece with a glorious free kick, his famous bends and even more famous model spreads. He did something for the kanga too. And when English football as a rule bored the pants off people like me, Beckham made it brighter, more impassioned, patriotic – as we like it in Africa. But football is such an odd thing. Becks’ blazing exit far and away eclipses his teammate Paul Scholes’ retirement this week. Yet the latter is far and away the better player.
But where was I? Oh yes… our end of season. You can see I am avoiding thinking about this one. The moment I imagine the trip to Newcastle my diaphragm tightens. We must win.
Happily, Giroud will be back. The coach has not said whether he’ll start or not. Based on Podolski’s brace, he might start with the German rather than the Frenchman. It depends how Alsace Arsène is feeling and which side of the border he falls.
He chose to remind us how painful it was to lose a 35-goal-a-season scorer but pointed out that with Walcott (14), Cazorla (12) and Podolski and Giroud both on 11 goals this season, we have been able to spread the scoring around. Well, all right. But it should be abundantly clear that Man U on the basis of their steal from us won the league by a country mile weeks ago and we are here still trying to snuck into a CL spot. The big picture needs to be rectified in the summer.
Wenger is also confident we have cover for the injured Arteta up at St. James Park. Do we? Jack Wilshere will come in, but he hasn’t exactly dazzled lately, and that must in large part be due to the fact that he will require a “minor op” on his ankle. Will he manage against the enforcement of Tiote etc? We’ll have to wait and see. Coquelin must surely be a potent option.
Whatever the formation in Arteta’s absence, we will need the same kind of defensive cover from our forwards that we got against Wigan.
In other news, Alex and Theo get England call-ups against Ireland and Brazil. Well done. I expect we’ll see them both on Sunday. And, I have to say, I am expecting Gervinho to give the Magpies a run-around.
This may also be Bacary Sagna’s last game for the Arsenal. Man, I shall miss our Full Bacary. Yes, he’s had a dip in form this season, but if you’d broken your leg twice, maybe you would have dipped too. I have no doubt that he will strengthen over the summer and regain his confidence his Fullness. I only hope it’s with us.
Sagna himself has said nothing’s wrapped up, even though he is teased by the team every time he gets into the dressing room about leaving for PSG. He told Le 10 Sport in France:
“Right now I don’t know what will happen.
PSG has never contacted me personally. I don’t close any doors, though. I could very well continue here or go elsewhere. I don’t know, and besides nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future.
Monaco? I have read about it, but I don’t have any news.
I’ll finish the season and then see. I am not closing any doors – not to PSG, not to Monaco nor to Arsenal.”
Sagna has also been linked with l’Anzhi Makhachkala. But let’s see, uh? Just as there are stories doing the rounds about Cazorla being tempted to Man City just because Pellegrini, touted as the new Etihad manager, would like to see his ex-Malaga player join the ranks.
According to the Daily Star, Pellegrini has handed Man City a list of 5 players he’d like – Angel di Maria, Jesus Navas and Geoffrey Kondogbia, with Malaga star Isco as a top priority, and Marco Reus from Borussia. There’s no mention of Cazorla.
My bet is, Santi’s going nowhere.
But still, there is a feeling of change in the air. Dare I say, from Arsenal’s point of view, exciting change! Only get 4th place, and with any luck, 3rd and we are poised for an exciting season next… But for now, a wholesome spanking of the Magpies or any old tidy win, will do very nicely thank you.
Come on, Arsenal.
By Drewza on 16 May 2013
Our fight for 4th place gets a bit interesting, if that’s your thing, with the possibility of us grabbing 3rd on Sunday.
And there is that possibility, if Chelsea lose or get a draw against Everton and we, naturally we have to, win our match up at Newcastle.
If Chelsea were to draw 0-0 and we win 2-1 we would be level on points, goal difference and goals scored. And that would mean, say the Premier League, a play-off for 3rd, probably soon after the 19th. A tie, in other words, would mean the league goes into extra time, which is not great news for Professor Grey, who just wants the season to end.
If Chelsea were to finish 1-1 against the Toffees and we beat the Magpies 3-2, we’d still be level on point, goal difference and goals scored. We just need to improve our goal difference by 2. So the permutations would go on and on excrementally incrementally: Chelsea 2-2, Arsenal 4-3, etc.
“If at the end of the season,” the Premier League rules state, “the question of qualification for other competitions cannot be determined because two or more clubs are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, the clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding league matches on neutral grounds, the format, timing and venue of which shall be determined by the board.”
The issue then would be, when?
But all this is academic for the moment. A win against the Magpies, now safe from relegation, would do the trick and earn us a spot with the champions of Europe next team. Quite apart from the revenue and prestige and players that we have access to with a Champions League placement, we need this, from a purely selfish point of view, to avoid Thursday Night Fever in the Europa League.
Some clubs are used to Europa. Some fans are used to it. But you don’t want to be traipsing around Europe for a whole season dealing with a dozen muck-raking teams from here, there and everywhere. What that would do for our squad, I don’t know. It’s a scenario too ghastly to contemplate. And I can’t understand Arsenal fans who think we somehow deserve a Europa spell.
Speaking of which, Chelsea snuck another cup in the Europe last night as Branislav Ivanovic scored a last-gasp goal against Benfica. Twice in a row, on different levels, they’ve got lucky.
I’d say Rafa Benitez won the UEFA Europa League trophy for them. But do you think their fans are grateful for small mercies? Not a chance. In Amsterdam last night – not that I watched much; I skimmed through moments of the game – some idiots unfurled their “We Want Mourinho” banners as a form of protest. At a European cup final!
Excellent. Or, as the tired old adage goes: beware what you wish for. You might just get it. I hope they do. I hope they get him and then he and John Terry beat each other stupid on the training ground and Branislav Ivanovic, after a summer in Ibiza, suddenly turns rabid from the Suarez slaver and passes it on to Mourinho in a dressing room love-tussle.
Having read that last paragraph, I realise it may not be so fanciful after all.
But moving on: Sunday and Newcastle. That’s the focus right now. And after the great performances by the whole team and especially Cazorla, Walcott, Ramsey and Szczesny we’ll be looking to step up against the Magpies. The best would be to give them a hammering. Suddenly I am thinking of Thomas Vermaelen and his heroic late winner a year ago, and I wonder if he might get more playing time on Sunday.
But more on this in the coming 3 days. The season’s end is upon us, just as Arsenal is laying down a platform for the next.