2010 UEFA Champions League: Will the 13th Time Be Lucky for Arsenal?
At 5:30am this morning, I changed a tyre. This was no regular flat tyre, it was ripped by the side and leaking air out by the seams. I was amazed at how easy it was to do it given that I haven't had to change a tyre in the last five or six years. That's the same length of time it has been since Arsenal last won a trophy and depending on how you see it, that barren run is surely bound to end sometime soon or could go on for at least another half-decade.
Tomorrow evening, Arsenal will entertain Braga FC at the Emirates Stadium in London to kick start the clubs 13th consecutive season in the Champions' League. In the last 11 of those 13 seasons, Arsenal has made it past the first group stage of the tournament. I believe this is an achievement that to a large extent has been overlooked as the vast majority of the footballing world only consider success to be the winning of trophies and do not place as much value on consistency in challenging for honours as a measure.
In the last few years, Arsenal have operated in a manner which at best can be described as frugal, opting to invest in talented youth with a balance provided by the occasional marquee signing to give the team the right age mix and balance in terms of ambition and experience. This has not always gone down well with some sections of the supporters and has often drawn criticism from outsiders who simply could not understand why Arsenal would not sign more prominent and experienced players. The question I always ask is this - How much more experience do you need to add to the current squad?
Nearly half of our first team (12 in total) not including the departees from last season (Campbell, Gallas and Silvestre) have played in the World Cup. Our entire forward line excluding Nicklas Bendtner who scored against Cameroon at the World Cup has played in at least one major Cup final. Denilson and Abou Diaby were continental champions at youth level while Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin have both been part of Championship winning sides and have also played in major European finals.
Going into further details will simply bore readers and is rather unnecessary as I am of the opinion that the excuse that the squad is inexperienced is inexcusable. In fact, not once have I ever heard Arsene Wenger hide under that shadow. On the other hand, he always talks up his team, speaking of his belief in both their potential and ability to deliver on the big stage. Occasionally, he has taken a gamble on talent which has left him sorely burned at the fingers. The names Francis Jeffers and Amaury Bischoff come quickly to mind. Arsenal fans have more recently been used to disappointments often at the last hurdle after huge expectations had been built all season long. I recall Wenger's quotes at the beginning of last season. Speaking to BBC Sport, he said;
"I envisage only one order, that is Arsenal finishing on top and all the rest can do what they want. To rate our potential, look at our pre-season games. We are a team who has a way to play and we are a team who are ready to fight. Let's have a go. Let's not talk too much. We know that people are sceptical about us but I let people talk. Let's win the games."
Arsenal started brightly with impressive wins against Everton and Portsmouth but lengthy injuries for key players took their toll and a late capitulation at the tail end of the season saw Arsenal finish third in the title race and crash out of both domestic cup competitions rather lamely shortly before a brilliant Lionel Messi performance snuffed out Arsenal's remaining hopes of silverware at the end of another disappointing season.
This season Arsenal has it all to play for. There are critics to disprove, fans to appease and as it currently stands, trophies to win. Personally, I feel that there is a sense of hunger in and around the club for the long wait for silverware to end with Arsène Wenger recently admitting that he has suffered "sleepless nights" over Arsenal's failure to win the Champions League. He said;
"Certainly, you always do a little bit. It goes through your head if you have something important to do tomorrow. It goes through your head the day before a game and the day after a game. Yes, it is missing and we will try to get that right. You are more worried about others than yourselves and you want to do well for people who love the club. For the players, for the fans who love the club."
Still he is positive that this wait will end soon as he continued;
"We are equipped to win the Champions League. We have a good mixture of quality and more experience. You know when you see our team play that they are not tender any more."
That is Arsene's answer. It is up to the team to deliver. Paul Robinson's rash tackle on Abou Diaby last Saturday will see him sidelined for at least the next two games as he joins Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie and long term absentees Aaron Ramsey and Emmanuel Frimpong on the treatment table. The return to fitness of Samir Nasri is a sure boost which could be greatly enhanced should Thomas Vermaelen be given the all clear to play.
There is little else left to be said as the rest of the talking should be done on the football pitch.
Till next time
Victoria Concordia Crescit!
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