Arsenal: Lukas Podolski, Robin Van Persie and the New Era
The feeling of hope that welled up, vaulting as high as imaginable—the idea that, at last, Arsenal were poised to end their season-long draught through the early acquisition of Lukas Podolski, a move that, for once, signaled intent from the management—came crashing down, as fast as (or faster than) the time it took Robin van Persie to puncture those feelings when he scribbled his 321 words, advising Arsenal fans that he'll surely leave, but not for the most obvious and popular reason that’ll jump into everyone's head.
The drought had lasted a perfect season, the mystical and symbolic number seven.
The lean years would end, yielding to a new dispensation of favorable outcomes, victories in cup competitions, happier runs in the Champions League, even a Premiership title or two in the next couple of years. These only gained force when Arsenal acted decisively again and signed Olivier Giroud.
True, the feeling of greed remained for some, who, having had the pair in their grasp, proceeded to despise the two gifted players.
Podolski isn't Shinji Kagawa, the quality of the last having appreciated considerably by reason of being signed by Manchester United. Had Arsenal signed him, the reverse would be the case, not equal as he is to that most coveted young player in Europe: Mario Götze.
Of Olivier Giroud, a similar sentiment: this surely must be the second coming (even third, according to the most exuberant and cynical) of Marouane Chamakh. Forgotten is the fact that what is now dung, a byword, was the reason Arsenal's 2010-11 season acquired a modicum of competitiveness early on.
The judgment before the ball has been kicked, before any facts have presented themselves for examination, cross-examination and summation, is typical of the irrational bunch who are part and parcel of any group of fans.
Beyond this though—these malcontents, that is—was this real and palpable sense of expectation, the visceral sense that can be intuited when events are about to change. If a nagging sense of discomfort remained with the Van Persie contract situation, ardent fans comforted themselves with the idea of the intrinsic goodness of man (and woman):
Surely, Van Persie would remember his own six years of barrenness, when he spent most of his time on the injury table. He'd remember the unerring faith his mentor and manager had placed in him all these years.
Surely, he'd not think that just one decent season for the club that had stood by him and nurtured him was enough recompense for those lean and barren years when he happily collected his checks and banked them, despite not really contributing much to the club's quest for trophies.
Surely, he'd not go the way of Samir Nasri, who put in half a season of decent effort and then took off, leaving parting shots to the effect that the club is merely a schoolyard for boys, a place real men don't hang around or cling to. Robin van Persie would sign a new deal.
Such was the hope, and sentiments from the man's entire family—wife, mother and father—seemed to justify this hope. And if the deciding factor in the signing of the contract (or not) was the show of intent, then Arsenal had spoken loud and clear in two gifted players.
Quickly the cliché changed.
Now it was that Arsenal had acquired two good (even great) strikers for a three-prong attack (!) next season. Where will Van Persie play was as frequently asked as where is Podolski to be better employed. And now with Giroud, who would be the point man, who the supplier, who the decoy?
The three-prong attack that may or may not be. Photos courtesy of Arsenal.com.
And just as the balloon swelled to a beautiful and buoyant proportion, then...psst: Van Persie put a pin to it.
And now, dejection has returned to the Grove (or the Emirates).
The idea that Arsenal will surely be competitive in the coming season has receded, just like a dream is wont when its vividness at waking recedes pretty quickly; the sure to become the non-too-sure, the seemingly concrete to the transient, escaping the reaching fingers or the searching mind.
Suddenly, events turned from richness to uncertainty, from depth to the shallow. For in Podolski and Giroud, Arsenal have a fine pair of unbroken horses, and everyone knows how unforgiving the English Premier League's terrain can be.
Few foreign factors find it easy in their first season. Even the great Robert Pires didn't look as promising at first. The legendary Thierry Henry took time to acclimate.
It isn't that this concern hadn't been there all along when the pair had been secured. It was, but only at a subterranean level.
The combination of Van Persie, Theo Walcott (whom everyone expected would follow Van Persie and sign a new contract), Gervinho (having nailed down his own first season), Tomas Rosicky, et al, would soften the impact of the breaking-in period for the pair of new players.
What's more, having just secured Olivier Giroud, the atmosphere at Arsenal was charged with the expectation of another signing, that of Yann M'Villa.
Good omens were alive at the Groves. But just as suddenly as the Van Persie letter, the M'Villa signing evaporated. Right now, none is sure that any new additions are to be made, despite the tantalizing option existing out there.
As a result, the old feeling of dread that has foreshadowed Arsenal’s seasons in the past few years has returned. It has to, inevitably, in the face of other clubs’ activities in the transfer market.
Chelsea, for example, are looking like title challengers again, even before the ball has been kicked. Manchester United haven't been silent either, and the cash-cows across the street from them will soon jump into the pool with an almighty splash.
And a number of fans—those always in the know—have declared this lack of spending the bane of Arsenal. They combine this with their quick solution: sack Wenger.
Amidst all of this is the question regarding what the nature of Lukas Podolski’s (or of Olivier Giroud’s) impact is going to be. Where is he going to play? At which position will he be most useful?
Numbers, of course, crop up all over the places: 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1. Everybody, you see, knows how to read numbers, just like every Tom, Dick, and Harry manager imagines them to be the locus of the Holy Grail of success.
Podolski (and Giroud for the matter) will do well.
Events as they stand, though, (heralding the inevitable exit of Van Persie, although he could yet surprise by a u-turn) point to a middling season for Arsenal ahead—middling, that is, according to their normal standard, meaning they may likely retain their place in the top four, a term that drives some fans crazy (even if these same fans nearly blew their top last season when it appeared as though Arsenal would miss out of top four finish).
But unless, another notable purchase is made, at least to soften the effect of Van Persie's departure, I don't see that Arsenal are winning anything next season, but I'd be glad to eat my words.
The new era, I'd dub the Podolski era. As to what exactly this entails, I cannot say. Nor do I want to indulge myself here in speculating about where exactly he could be better played.
If Van Persie stays (and I hope he does), it could yet be the Van Persie era. He could still make himself a legend at Arsenal like his compatriot, Dennis Bergkamp, instead of a byword, which he seems intent on making himself to Arsenal fans.
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