A Fan's View of Everything Arsenal (Part One)
I decided to ask some usual writers for Arsenal news to say what they think about the major topics going on about Arsenal at the moment. Apologies for the lateness of the posting of this article, the questions were all asked before the end of the summer transfer market.
Let’s start off asking, just for our readers, what is it about Arsenal that makes you a fan?
Owen: I'm an adopted Gunner, I supported Sunderland as a kid, in a family that followed Newcastle. We had season tickets at both clubs, so I was brought up watching Craig Russell bang the goals in for Sunderland at Roker Park and Kevin Keegan's 'Entertainers'.
I remember the first few games I went to saw Sunderland winning 5-0, 4-0, and then 5-0 again. So you could say I was brought up on attacking football, and less on the rivalries between clubs.
Really, the answer is simply the football and Arsene Wenger...since he's been at the club I've always followed the football. As I've gotten older I've followed more and more about the club; reading about its history, watching all the games, listening to player interviews and going to games when I can.
Over time I've become committed to the cause, and now I'm hooked...I follow everything Arsenal and have watched every game for the past six/seven years.
Jam: I've been a casual fan for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory of Arsenal was back in 1989 in that epic match at Anfield, I was very young then. To be honest I can’t remember watching the match, but I remember the Michael Thomas winner and people in my house going crazy.
I became a hardcore follower when Wenger came because for the first time in years there was a sense of seriousness and ambition about Arsenal that wasn't there for years. Arsenal was expected to challenge for the title year after year. Also, the quality of the players that came with Arsene Wenger was very high and nothing we've seen before. We went from boring, boring Arsenal....to sexy, free flowing Arsenal.
The summer has come with countless articles, players, and even fans claiming that this is a “make or break year” for Arsenal, and more importantly Arsene Wenger.With clubs like Man City and Tottenham buying new players left and right, and both off to a good start, it seems the big four is jeopardy of being rearranged this season.
Arsenal has been the club most commonly written off by the press. Do you feel these statements are true, and will being written off fuel Arsenal to victory or cause their downfall?
Owen: Both Manchester City and Tottenham have very good squads with good managers, but I don't see them breaking the 'Big Four' unless one of them has a bad season. If you look at last year Arsenal had a poor Premier League campaign and finished nine points ahead of fifth.
The top three finished with 90, 86, and 83 points. I think Arsenal will finish on something similar this season along with these three. Spurs and City finished with 51 and 50 points last year that means they'll have to make up 30 points to get into the top four.
Spurs lost 15 games last year, City lost 18, to break the 'Big Four' Spurs would have to replicate last year, but lose only five games, City would have to lose eight. That kind of improvement is unrealistic, they won't break the 'Big Four'...unless one of them falls off even worse than Arsenal did last year. I don't see it happening.
As for being written off, the same happened two seasons ago and Arsenal arguably should have won the title that season. A combination of bad luck and injuries cost the side, the younger players now have two years more experience...I don't think the same thing will happen again if they get into that position, and there is more depth in the squad.
When the going gets tough I honestly don't believe a player will think; “well a newspaper said this back in July, they must be right”, will they even remember? In those moments it's down to inner belief, character, and determination to win.
How the team reacts to challenges and difficulties this year will be the strongest indicator of if they can be champions. They have the quality, now they need the maturity.
Jam: Arsenal have been written off countless times before so nothings new this season. The media hates the stability (compared to other clubs esp. London clubs) at Arsenal since Wenger arrived back in 1996. They know that crisis stories sell papers well so they try very hard to blow up minor issues and put a negative spin on stories connected with the club.
Arsenal were written off this season and it will probably be the same next year. Every season the media nominates a particular club to knock Arsenal out the top four. Last year it was Aston Villa, the two years before that it was the Spuds and this year it’s Monopoly City.
They predicted all kinds of scenarios for Arsenal except relegation, but won't be surprised if they do. By the way, Tottenham haven’t signed new players....they just resigned their old players for more than they sold them. They must have pretty crappy accountants.
Arsenal has sold Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor this close-season. With new addition Thomas Vermaelen settling in flawlessly into the side, will Wenger add anyone in the dying days of the transfer season? If he fails to, will you be okay with the rest of the squad lasting till at least January?
Owen: The squad can always improve, looking at the 'Big Four' clubs then they are arguably all weaker in some respect this year. I would be unhappy if Wenger failed to add to his squad in the dying days of the window simply because injuries have cost us in the past few seasons.
The first team has always been competitive, it's Arsenal's inability to absorb injuries that separates them from the other 'Big Four' clubs over the past seasons.
Interestingly, his failure to add to the squad in previous years has meant players like Denilson, Song, Diaby, Walcott, Eboue and Bendtner have gained first team experience that now means we have a squad with a wealth of attacking options.
So I can understand Wenger's reluctance to add to the squad.
But the options behind Gallas and Vermaelen concern me, it was Toure & Gallas last year. The other 'Big Four' clubs all have excellent options at centre-back, Liverpool have Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Hyypia (since left). Chelski have Terry, Carvalho, Alex, Ivanovic, and Mancienne. Man Red have Ferdinand, Vidic, Evans, Brown, O'Shea, and Neville (if he has too).
Djourou has ability, but he hasn't progressed enough since he emerged as an option...he is still positionally suspect and gets caught with the ball over the top easily. He should have learnt that by now to be a legitimate option.
Silvestre is experienced but doesn't inspire confidence, and Senderos is a confidence player that needs a run in a team to establish his best form. As a backup option at Arsenal you need to walk into the team and perform, much like Vermaelen has since his move.
I know Song can cover at CB, and that does make me more comfortable...Wenger has also said he could play 4-4-2 at points in the season, so I guess Song could drop into a back four and we revert to a 4-4-2 with Denilson or Nasri alongside Fabregas.
That flexibility is good, but if an aging Gallas was out for four/five months, would I be happy? No...it's the kind of thing where we could handle a couple of games, but maybe not an extended run.
So I'd like a defensive player, ideally another player like Song who can cover as CB and CDM...but there aren't many about that would be happy to be a squad player and have the neccessary quality.
If he didn't add to the squad, we'd be thin defensively...and reliant on luck for injuries, provided our CB's didn't get injured then I think we'll be fine. But the problem is that our traditional tough point in the season is January.
The fixture schedule gets heavy, and we'll be without Song or Eboue because of the African Cup of Nations, and they are key squad players...so that could be another problem.
Jam: Let me rephrase you here: Arsenal has sold an average street whore and a player with two bouts of Malaria (I still love Toure, the guy is an absolute legend).
I think Wenger will get one player, possibly two if we're lucky. For me, its paramount Wenger buys a defensive midfielder and a striker or defender, with a defensive midfielder at the top of the list. Other than that, we're fine
In Arsenal’s more recent games Fabregas has become the work horse in the Arsenal midfield. Although he has preformed exceptionally with the task, one must wonder if he can keep up his form and carry the heavy workload for most of the season.
Do you think he can, and if so will this ultimately hurt Arsenal, or will they gain from his role this year?
Owen: Fabregas is the heart of the team and is growing into his role as captain. I think the good thing about his injury last year is that the team learnt to win without him, and I do think we've got options in midfield that mean we can rest Fabregas more this year than previously.
Especially when Nasri and Rosicky are back, both of these players were central midfielders before they came to Arsenal. We could have Nasri, Rosicky, Diaby, Denilson, and Ramsey that are legitimate options in central midfield...Denilson can even play behind the two central midfielders in Song's position in some games.
That rest will be key to our success this season, two years ago when Arsenal went into March as league leaders Fabregas' form dipped and the team struggled to win. I think we'll have the energy needed in our midfield the same stage of the season this year, and that's because of our attacking options.
In a wider sense, I think players respond to responsibility...the team will definitely gain from Fabregas and his influence on the side.
Jam: I think Fabregas is putting in some mature, intelligent performances and he's even back to his scoring ways of two years ago. I think when you play in the Premier league, you have to put in a shift in midfield to help-out defensively (look at GBH' Gerard and Frank 'give me 150K a week or I'll leave' Lampard).
I think Fabregas will excel this season, providing he stays injury free.
Not a week goes by without an article surfacing that claims Fabregas is off to Real Madrid, AC Milan, and most commonly Barcelona. Do you believe this distraction will cause a problem with his focus on the current campaign? And does this cause a distraction to the other players on the team week in and week out?
Owen: No...he knows he wants to stay and is loyal to Wenger. He's made no secret of his desire to return to Barcelona at some point in the future, but it'll be to replace Xavi.
We've got to remember that Xavi is only 29 and is a player that doesn't rely on pace, so he'll be at the top of football for years to come...He could easily be at the heart of Barcelona's side at 35, that's six more years.
That's a long time for Fabregas to remain at Arsenal, if we are as successful in that time as we could be...then he'll have a tough decision as to whether he stays or goes. When the time comes I'm sure he'll make the right decision for him...and if he chooses to go, we can't begrudge him that.
Jam: Fabregas is a professional so the answer is- NO he will not be distracted. Other players cannot use that as an excuse to under-perform, ask for pay increases or leave
Arsenal has been recently starting the “Arsenalisation” process at the Emirates Stadium. Do you think Arsenal are going to benefit from the more “home-like” atmosphere it is going to cause, and will this make Emirates Stadium a harder ground for other teams to win at?
Owen: It's a good start but I'm not sure that's the whole answer...you can put pictures up, give out scarfs, have a clock, and all that but the atmosphere is about people going along to a game and singing their hearts out. It's down to people, and prices are a barrier to entry to the kinds of people to the kind of people that are more passionate about the club.
The problem with attracting people with your brand of football is that you end up with a ground filled with a greater number of spectators rather than supporters. It's not a coincidence that some of the strongest and most vibrant crowds are in clubs that have smaller and more traditional grounds (“proper clubs”).
If you've been to somewhere like Portsmouth or Stoke City then you'll see what I mean, incredible atmospheres where the fans sing their hearts out win or lose.
It's a difficult problem to solve, there is no easy solution. If Wenger can crack it then the atmosphere would definitely help the team, that much is obvious.
Jam: I think it will help to better the atmosphere a little, but I don’t think it will make much difference. I think too many Arsenal fans go there to admire the structure of the place rather than being vocal. But it’s a new stadium so it will take time for the Emirates to get its own vibe, this is understandable. The Atmosphere is already great for the big games so it will be much noisier in the future.
Arsenal is one of few teams in the new era that is not consumed by money (at least not yet). Do you believe their strict policy for not over-paying for players and nurturing youth will prevail?
Owen: I'm not sure it's fair to say other clubs are concerned with money where Arsenal aren't. The club have taken huge outside investment (in the form of bank loans) and invested that into two things: Building a new stadium and transforming Highbury into a raft of luxury apartments.
That's different from what most other clubs have invested in, and it's required no change in ownership structure. Where other teams have spend millions assembling squads, Wenger and Arsenal have assembled infrastructure. Players will age while the stadium will still stand...the money generated in the future will be spent buying the best players on the planet.
Wenger has gone for the long-term, the policy of not over-paying for players and nurturing talent is necessary because of building the stadium. It's that simple.
Will it prevail? Well it relies heavily on Arsene Wenger...what if he dropped dead tomorrow? Arsenal would be in deep and serious trouble.
As long as Wenger is at the club then Arsenal will remain competitive, that means consistent Champions League football and a chance at the title if we get the required luck with injuries...Arsenal have the quality to beat any team on its day, so the Champions League trophy in the next two/three seasons is also a realistic prospect.
Will Arsenal dominant English and European football in the next five years? I'd say no...and the problem in the long-term is that at the moment we have a World Class manager, but he will be retired by the time the cash will be pouring into the club and make Arsenal competitive.
Who will be spending the money at Arsenal once Wenger is gone? That'll be the biggest determining factor in whether the policy can be deemed a success. It's a brave man that creates the platform for greatness and leaves the delivery to his successor...
Jam: Yes, it will prevail in the long run. I think football clubs must live within their means - must manage debt and only spend what they generate. I think Arsenal had no choice, but to youth and bargain deals. It would've been a disaster if Arsenal paid big sums for players to compete with the likes of Chelski and Man Utd. The club and especially Arsene Wenger should be applauded for building an amazing stadium while at the same time, somehow, challenging titles and almost winning a Champions League trophy.
Being an Arsenal fan, do you have an extra boost of self pride to know that most players that play at Arsenal have an undying love for the club? Fabregas, van Persie, and Walcott are just a few to name that have pledged their loyalty this season. What does this do for a club as a whole, both on and off the pitch?
Owen: In some respects pledges mean nothing, if Arsenal don't win any silverware this season the rumours will start again and the players will be unhappy. Look at Felipe Melo, he signed a new contract at Fiorentina this summer and a few weeks later he was at Juventus.
The good thing about players signing new contracts (rather than simply talking) is that it focused players on a goal, and removes doubt from their mind in the short-term. If you are coming into the last year of your contract then you will have concerns about your future, it's only natural.
Players want to be successful, if they commit to the club then they must believe that they'll achieve this success together. That's got to be a unifying factor on some level. I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make on a day-to-day basis, but the atmosphere will probably be more positive.
Jam: It is always great to hear such players have pledged their loyalty to the club that gave them a lot. I think it’s very important that Wenger keeps his best players this summer because Arsenal can't afford to lose any. Also, these players sell a lot of shirts, thus great for merchandising.
Furthermore, I know a lot of fans complain about the wage structure at Arsenal but I look at it positively really. Fab, Van Persie and Walcott can probably earn a lot of money elsewhere, but they chose to stay. This wage structure is a good way to weed out the mercenaries (i.e. Alex 'can’t shoot, won’t shoot' Hleb and Flamini).
Predictions are always a long shot, especially this early in the season and especially with Arsenal. However, after a string of fantastic early season performances against Everton, Celtic, and Portsmouth, what is in store for Arsenal this season, and is the year the trophies start coming back to the club?
Owen: I mentioned it before, but the season isn't defined about when a club is playing well...it's how the players react to difficult times and when they are not playing well. Arsenal have made a good start, but they haven't achieved anything yet...even if they get results over Man Red and Man City that doesn't really define the season.
There will be defining points that come later in the season, that'll tell us more about the two big trophies (Champions League and Premier League). I'm sure Wenger isn't really interested in winning the Carling Cup or the FA Cup, they are nice bonuses but at the end of the day the criticism doesn't end if they win it.
If Arsenal is to win a big trophy this year, they'll need luck along the way. It's about time we had some, with the manner we've been eliminated from the Champions League in recent years, as well as our Premier League problems.
We've made a good start in three games, but let’s not get too excited. There is a long way to go.
Jam: I’m very hopeful this season. We've started positively so the signs are good. It all depends on who we snap up when the window closes. We need to get players to bolster the squad in problem areas in defense and midfield as our players are quiet injury prone.
Prediction: If we get the right players in key positions, then I think we'll win the league this season. Arsenal can realistically make the champions league final but the competition is tough so anything can happen as there are a lot of top teams.
I'll finish by adding that we should not be scared anyone because I think the squad is strongest since the Invincible season. Its time for other teams to get worried because our players are coming up to the right ages collectively.
I'd like to thank both Jam and Owen for helping out, and if you would also like to be interviewed for topics in the future, please let me know.
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