Arsenal could hardly have had a worse start to the season than in 2011.
Between the traumatic last-minute loss of captain Cesc Fabregas and the infamous 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford, it seemed seven years without a trophy might be the least of Arsenal's problems.
And with Robin van Persie making it clear that he, too, has one foot out the door, it looked like the 2012/13 season would get off to a similar start.
But there are several reasons to expect a better year. Here are the three key changes at Arsenal going into the 2012 season.
1. Show Me the Money
Arsenal fans are used to seeing the transfer window open and shut with little to show for it, while rivals and neighbours buy talent and cover like there's no tomorrow (or like there's financial fair play rules in the imminent future).
Or at least, that is the perception—Arsène must spend!
It's an image that has been carefully cultivated by the Arsenal board, who are always quick to assure the press that Wenger has loads of money to spend—he just doesn't seem to want to. Fans are thus given the impression of a frustratingly tight-fisted boss, and the board goes largely unscathed by criticism.
But it's not strictly true. The past few seasons have seen quite a few expensive deals done: Arshavin, Nasri, Chamakh, Vermaelen and Gervinho among them.
Of course, whether the money was well spent is an entirely different matter.
But 2012/13 does promise to be different. Lukas Podolski, Oliver Giroud and Santi Cazorla all equal or surpassing the ambition and ability of Arshavin, Nasri and Chamakh—the sort of player who previously comprised the one single "big" signing of the year.
This is a departure quite clearly meant to signal a more ambitious approach to the team than has been policy in recent years. Moreover, the deals were done in a timely manner. Last season's last-minute shopping spree was similar to picking up Christmas presents in a gas station at midnight on the 24th.
And while the results turned out well (Arteta in particular asserting himself as vital to the team), it was not reassuring to fans that the Arsenal transfer team seemed about two months behind in their work. This season they seem on top of it, and that can only be a good thing.
2. Faith, or Complacency?
In an interview with FourFourTwo published in January 2012, Cesc Fabregas suggested that the demanding nature of Barcelona fans puts positive pressure on the players—something he never felt at Arsenal, where he found supporters perhaps too forgiving.
Of course it's important to have faith in your team. But Fabregas' comments seem to suggest that too forgiving an atmosphere can lead to player complacency.
Arsenal have at times over the past few difficult seasons seemed to lack a certain edge as a team. Sometimes this is portrayed as lack of character, sometimes lack of leadership, lack of fight or lack of experience.
The bottom line is that intangible "winning mentality" went missing somewhere between Highbury and the Emirates.
A combination of raised expectations from the crowd and the addition of hungry, talented players—not ready-made "winners" with giant egos, but players with the ability and craving to take their careers to the next level—will change that atmosphere in 2012/13.
3. Steve Bould
Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla are all impressive, important player signings.
But the most potentially effective personnel change at Arsenal this summer is on the sideline.
The appointment of Gunners legend Steve Bould as assistant manager does two crucial things—it places renewed emphasis on solid defending, and it injects new blood into a coaching setup that was threatening to ossify.
And while some fans have become so frustrated as to suggest Arsène Wenger should be sacked, a change in coaching staff is a more appropriate response to shake things up while keeping the same essential approach and philosophy.
Steve Bould, formerly of the Arsenal youth academy and a member of George Graham's famous back four, could be the biggest difference-maker in the Premier League this season.
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