It’s that time of the season again, and we have time this year for a pre-season piece on all twenty of the clubs in this season’s Premier League. First of all, since we’re doing this in alphabetical order, Arsenal, where the big question over the next nine months may turn out to be what they can do to end their run without a trophy and how long supporters’ patience with M. Wenger will last.
Perhaps the perpetual Champions League football of the last five years has had something of an anaesthetic effect. Perhaps everyone at Arsenal is still basking in the sheer luxuriousness of The Emirates Stadium. Perhaps, just perhaps, they’re just very good at keeping their apprehension quiet. It has, however, now been five seasons since Arsenal last won a major trophy and, however sumptuous their new surroundings may be, they have yet to christen it with some silverware. On the surface, though, 2010/11 has half a chance of being their season. The Champions League Four was finally broken up last season, but Arsenal weren’t, as many people had supposed they would be when the hegemony which defined the first decade of this century in English football finally cracked, the fall guys. That dubious “honour” fell, of course, to Liverpool instead and Arsenal will benefit from Champions League money again this season.
The Premier League, in spite of the near-constant squawking of the press, has had a quiet summer in the transfer market. Indeed, Arsenal’s most talked about involvement in it at the time of writing has been in fending off the overtures being hurled in the direction of Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona. In this respect, Barca are following a well worn trail in terms of the behaviour of the Spanish giants in the transfer market with what looks very much like an orchestrated, pre-meditated attack from all sides. The Spanish press have been writing stories that seem deliberately scripted to unsettle the player, and even Barcelona players have started getting involved with, for example, Xavi stating that:
If we don’t manage to get his signature this season then Arsenal only really have him on loan for a year – because there is nothing they can do to stop him joining next summer. Arsenal need to understand that they are only delaying the inevitable.
Xavi is not the only one doing it, either. We know that this sort of thing has become the modus operandi of Spanish clubs (and it’ll be a cold day in hell before this site tries to claim any sort of moral superiority on behalf of the Premier League), but it at least felt natural coming from Real Madrid. Barcelona have even more or less publicly acknowledged they are behaving like this and, for a club has a tendency to at least be perceived to assume a place somewhere near the top of the moral high ground, this whole tawdry game of kiss chase leaves a somewhat sour taste in the mouth.
Still, Fabregas remains, for the time being, an Arsenal player. The same cannot be said for Eduardo da Silva, who left for Shakhtar Donetsk a couple of weeks ago, though he doesn’t seem to have been the same player since returning from his broken leg, or William Gallas, who left as a free agent at the end of last season but has yet to secure himself a new contract anywhere. There is also talk that Tomas Rosicky, who has not completely lived up to his billing since signing for the club, could also be on his way. At present, only the Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh and the French defender Laurent Koscielny defender have arrived at the club. We can only assume at this point that further new signings will arrive before the start of the season.
Yet what may trouble Arsenal supporters the most in the build-up to the start of the new season is that one of the key positions on the pitch, that of the goalkeeper, still hasn’t really been successfully filled. Goalkeepers have long given the impression of being Arsene Wenger’s blind spot. Arsenal suffered somewhat last season for the shortcomings of Lukas Fabianski and Manuel Almunia and, while Almunia seems likely to be frozen out or sold during the summer, the calibre of replacements that Arsenal are currently being linked with – Mark Schwarzer, for example, was according to some reports the subject of a £3m offer earlier this summer, which seems somewhat crazy for a 37 year-old – don’t sound like Premier League or Champions League winning goalkeepers.
In other positions, unless experienced (and no doubt expensive) replacements can be found for those that are (or may be) departing, much will depend on younger players such as Emmanuel Frimpong, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. Wilshere in particular showed promise during his spell on loan at Bolton Wanderers last season and pre-season sightings of him thus far have been said to be encouraging. The one thing that these players have on their side is that their manager is remains probably the best in the business at bringing through youngsters. Expectations of them will be high, but Wenger remains a master at keeping the potential runaway egos of young players firmly on the ground. It may be too soon for them. It may not. And herein lies the inner debate for Arsenal supporters.
Five years is a long time without a trophy. We could say that a club of Arsenal’s dimensions has some degree of a reasonable expectation of success, although the philosophical questions that such a statement implies are numerous. There were some mumblings of disquiet regarding Arsene Wenger’s stewardship last season and, though it remains unlikely that he would leave the club this season, the question has to be asked of how long such patience, both in the stands and in the directors box, will last. The Premier League and the Champions League may prove to beyond them this season, but the FA Cup or the League Cup would at least mark a return to winning ways. Still, Arsenal remain on a firm financial footing while Manchester City continue to throw money on the wages and transfer fees bonfire and the ownership of Manchester United and Liverpool remain sources of something approaching civil war at both clubs. Perhaps the long game will pay off for Arsenal but, in a world in which instant gratification has become the norm, for how long will this patience continue?