5 Justifications for Arsenal Fans' Excitement in the Face of the Coming Campaign
The palpable sense of excitement at Arsenal this summer contrasts starkly with the mood amongst fans last summer.
Then, real agony reigned among the Arsenal faithful as they watched other clubs (Manchester City, especially) bring in star after star to strengthen their squads while Arsenal dilly-dallied.
In the end, even the eleventh-hour rush to bring in Yossi Benayoun, Park Chu-Young, Andre Santos and Mikel Arteta did little to dispel the gloom that overcast the atmosphere at the club all summer long.
The pain of losing two of the club's best players was too real at the time. Moreover, Arsenal had already made a bad start to the season so that the feeling of doom was wholly justified.
If the feeling of doom was entirely justified then under the given circumstance, it is no less the case for the fans' present excitement.
Even the club manager, Arsene Wenger, feels confident that the club will challenge for titles this season.
Although, of course, one must be aware that no less should be expected of him when the press poses the inevitable question about the club's chances in the coming campaign.
In proclaiming his optimism, though—the reader would take note of the following—he tempers it in the light of the unpredictable nature of competition in sports:
We want to (compete for honours) and we have a desire to. We are up for it and what we want is to come out of the season and know we have given our best. I feel we did that last year, finishing third with the start we had.The first target is to do as well as we can in every single game and see where we stand at the end of the season, but of course we want to fight for the championship.
The justifications for this excitement can be several, but I underscore just five here.
The Decisiveness of Transfer Purchases
First, there is the timely fashion by which Wenger and the club have gone about transfer business this summer. This contrasts sharply with the events of last season, where the transfer saga of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas stretched too long and ultimately helped sink Arsenal's chances early on in the season.
If the reader argues that a parallel situation is still in play this summer (in the case of Robin van Persie), and that, even last season, Arsenal had made some early purchases (in the persons of Carl Jenkinson, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), then one could answer that the bona fides of the current purchases outweigh that of the trio of early purchases last summer.
In Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla, the sense is that Arsenal have made terrific purchases: players who can be classified as world-class or have the potential to be so.
The perception among fans and the media alike is that Arsenal go into the coming campaign better prepared than they were last season.
The psychological effect of the loss of Fabregas and Nasri was so devastating that even the players themselves, according to Laurent Koscielny, started to doubt Arsene Wenger:
The start of the season was catastrophic. We lost key players from our system. There was late recruitment of new players and the mayonnaise needed time to ‘take’...It can happen that a small grain of sand jams the engine and after that you start to doubt your own qualities, the club, the coach and everything else. We needed to sort that out. Everyone got down to doing just that, the coach, the club.
Under that circumstance, and given the loss of key players to injury and suspension during the early matches of last season, it wasn't surprising that the team would succumb to the kind of catastrophic beginning that it had—a situation that prompted a whole swathe of fans to demand for the sacking of Wenger.
This summer the club is not totally free of injuries, but I doubt that anyone imagines that the club will have a similar beginning to this season.
Yes, Van Persie's situation is as-yet unresolved; and yes, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere are out. Mikel Arteta and probably Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain—who got an ankle knock from the Cologne friendly—might not be fully fit at the beginning of this campaign. Nobody—I should hazard to say—thinks that Arsenal will endure such a forgettable start to the season as happened in the last campaign.
Nor that the team will be as unfortunate with injury at it did last season.
What the early purchases have highlighted, then, is the sense of decisiveness—a factor that has allowed Arsenal to be better prepared for the coming campaign than was the case last season.
The Squad Looks Stronger
There is, secondly, the sense that the present squad go into the coming campaign much stronger than last season's squad.
When Arsenal played Manchester United last August in the infamous 8-2 routing, the team that took to the field that day wasn't more than a second XI of sorts: even if, certainly, members of the first XI gave it a semblance of credibility.
At that time, we didn't have Per Metersacker and Andre Santos for added depth in the defense, and the jury was still out on Laurent Koscielny.
And even if we argue that we will begin the campaign without the dependable Bacary Sagna, in the light of last season's calamitous start, the team is still considerably stronger.
If the sceptic is bound to contend that we could still lose Robin van Persie—a fact that negates the consolidation thereof—the general sense is that, this notwithstanding, Arsenal are still stronger than last season.
The front line appears to be much more potent: Theo Walcott, Gervinho, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, plus Andrei Arshavin, Park Chu-Young and Chamakh—even if albeit the fate of these three still lies in the balance.
In the midfield similarly, better options can be discerned, including: Santi Cazorla, Alex Song, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Francis Coquelin, etc.
Certainly, there's more cause for excitement than there was last season at a similar point in time.
There Is Continuity
The decisive purchases and the avoidance of significant losses is a major contributing factor to this excitement.
True, the club might yet lose the team's incomparable apex, yet this can't compare to the loss of what amounted to Arsenal's engine room last season.
A major reason why Arsenal have failed to win anything in the last seven years has been the continual need to rebuild the team, season after season, due to the loss of key players.
This fact and the need for its antithesis has resulted in my overuse of the word consolidation.
Continuity, I believe, is necessary for team cohesion: a factor negated by the constant loss of players. The situation, despite the Robin van Persie saga, is different this season.
The need for continuity is the reason the sale of Alex Song would not make sense, since in that case Arsenal would be weakening the squad rather than strengthening it.
The Carlos Tevez Factor
Last year we had Carlos for the last 10 games and it was important because he scored five or six goals, but he was not 100 percent. This year is the first time in four, maybe five years he has done a full preseason and for every player this is important.
Indeed, many credited the return of Tevez at the final half of the season with City's renascence, leading ultimately to their capture of the Premier League title.
I expect the return of Jack Wilshere to have a similar effect on Arsenal when he returns from injury some time around December: a return that will coincide with the gruesome period of the campaign.
Of course, there is the credible factor of loss of form that accompanies such a long layoff, but the return has to be a bonus rather than a detraction. A half-fit Wilshere is better than no Wilshere at all.
Similarly, the return of Abou Diaby can be counted as a huge advantage for Arsenal.
This certainly is better than the options in the midfield last season, where the loss of any of the options there was always problematic. This, despite the "if" that must always (at least at the moment) accompany the thought of Diaby.
This season, between the septet of Arteta, Song, Cazorla, Ramsey, Coquelin, Diaby and Rosicky (not counting Arshavin who could play in the middle as well), only the most acerbic cynic could deny that Arsenal have better options in the midfield this season.
A More Concrete Hope
There was hope last season, of course, for fans will always have hope—delusional or not—they will always fancy their team's chances to win any title or trophy available for the taking.
But last season's hope was rather...shall we say, "hopeful."
This summer's is more concrete.
The team is better prepared going into the campaign. We've added three fantastic players. Abou Diaby appears to have returned, finally. The squad is comparably stronger than last season's, and the atmosphere is more positive (amongst other things).
While, realistically, Arsenal might not win the league this time (Manchester City and United are arguably the two favorites to win it, while Chelsea can be considered as genuine threat), the fact that Arsenal can challenge for it is without doubt.
What's more, Arsenal can actually win something this time.