In a long time, Arsenal have been shadows of their former selves.
We, the fans, have experienced some of the worst nail-biting situations during several summer transfer windows, with relentless news linking our best players to other clubs, most of which ending up being a painful reality as a host of our finest having ended up being sold to clubs both in England and abroad.
It all started with the departure of captain marvel – Patrick Vieira, who joined Juventus in 2005. Robert Pires followed in the summer of 2006, Ashley Cole was tapped-up by Chelsea then Thierry Henry left for Barca, Freddie Ljungberg was off and Sol Campbell decided to call it quits as well. Jens Lehmann left for his native Germany, Gilberto Silva too to Greece, then Kolo Toure. And so the ‘Invincibles’ team was no more! But the board and Arsene Wenger were not done yet!
Alexandar Hleb jetted off to Barcelona, Mathieu Flamini went to AC Milan, while Emmanuel Adebayor was sold to City and, most recently, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Robin van Persie were all sold! This left our team with bare bones and no flesh, as Wenger would hardly buy adequate replacements for the departed stars, often buying unknowns, mainly of less quality. Ones that would hardly compete with the top dogs in the league, with bottomless pockets and the willingness to spend, as opposed to the frugal and timid transfer approach of the Arsenal hierarchy.
We had painfully sunk into oblivion, become a laughing stock and absolute also-runs! Games against the big sides began to be looked at by them and pundits as foregone conclusions; and they were right! I remember after a Champions League encounter with United in which we lost 3-1 at The Emirates. Patrice Evra branded it a game ‘of men against boys’ with the latter a reference to Arsenal! This year, at Old Trafford, in which we lost 2-1, Sir Alex Ferguson referred to it in his pre-match conference as ‘hardish’, not ‘hard’, a painful trait for the die-hard Arsenal fan who had got used to winning things in the first few years of Wenger’s reign in charge.
This time though it looks different. In the days past, at this time of the season, a host of our players would be appearing in papers for all the wrong reasons, seemingly on the brink of leaving. Instead, we are more linked with players coming in than going out! Apart from Bacary Sagna, all of our star players look settled at the club, and there are no signs that the club intends to move any of them on. This means that we are not going to have the endless build-and-destroy culture we have witnessed at the club for the past seven or eight years. Arsenal now have the core of the team available, with only a few pieces in the jigsaw to make us a genuine force in the league next season. A striker, perhaps two, a defensive midfielder, a centre-back and maybe an experience goalkeeper, (though I still have massive faith in Wojciech Szczesny) could see us end our trophy drought next season.
Depending on which source you read, it appears as if Wenger has already made moves to strengthen his squad for next season as it has been reported that Stevan Jovetic and Gonzalo Higuain are all but signed. I actually think we would make a monstrous attack both in England and in Europe if Higuain and Jovetic join Arsenal this summer. The prospect of having them both on our books, alongside Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Yaya Sanogo (if he stays injury-free) and Jack Wilshere regains his fitness.
With Ferguson now gone (that will be an article for another day), I strongly feel we have real reason for optimism next season, with a real aim at the title for the first time in many years.
We need to keep our fingers crossed though and hope Wenger delivers in the summer.
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