Arsenal FC: Bold Predictions for the Upcoming Season
The negativity surrounding Arsenal these days is sickening, upsetting and repulsive!!
There, I said it...
Last season's meltdown left me as badly scarred as anyone else. But I couldn't agree more when Arsene Wenger said we were "really close."
Yes, I know we finished 12 points behind the champions in the Premier League, but I believe that Emmanuel Eboue's clumsy challenge on Luis Suarez in the thirty-fifth (!!) minute of injury time was the turning point. We then drew with Spurs from a winning position, and lost to Bolton in one of the most abject Arsenal performances one will ever see. Seven points thrown away out of a possible nine.
Our Carling Cup final loss will haunt me till my last breath. No number of future trophies will heal that wound. The sheer perfection of that final act is still vivid in my mind.
And as for the Champions League robbery, sorry defeat, at Barca, well let me not express myself too openly about those classless lowlifes, because I may be reported.
Anyway, that was in the past. Each new season brings with it renewed hope and optimism. That's the beauty of sport. Real, yet transient. I, more than most others, believe in the Boss, and am convinced that he will deliver the glory that his and the Club's principled style of operation deserves.
Having gazed into my imaginary crystal ball, here are 16 primarily positive predictions for Arsenal's 2011-12 season...
1. Arsene Wenger Will Sign 3 More Players Before 31 August 2011
Having already done some excellent business via the acquisitions of Gervinho and Jenkinson, Wenger will add to that by bringing in two quality players and one youngster before August bids us goodbye. Expect Mata plus one of Jagielka, Cahill or Samba, and either Joel Campbell or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to arrive at the Emirates in the next 27 days.
2. Cesc Fabregas Will Be Sold to Barcelona
This is as difficult for me to type as it will be for most Arsenal fans to read. But Cesc will go. There is no way we would still be at the negotiating table unless we had decided and committed to sell him.
Barcelona have behaved in the worst possible way and used every dirty trick in the book, openly disrespecting Arsenal and publicly undervaluing Cesc. And yet, negotiations are still in progress. I believe he will go, and I feel certain that Arsenal will get a raw deal.
I would so love to get this one wrong, though...
3. Samir Nasri Will Sign a Long-Term Contract and Stay at Arsenal
This has been another baffling transfer saga for us fans. Having burnt his fingers earlier with Flamini, one felt that there was no way Wenger would allow another important player to wind down his contract and leave on a free. But contrary to all apparent logic, Wenger seems prepared to forego £22 million of Etihad Airways's burgeoning bank balance. Or so we think.
I believe the dispute with Nasri is not about money, but about status. He wants to play in Cesc's position, and is waiting for him to be sold to Barca. I predict that as soon as Cesc departs, Super Sam will sign on the dotted line.
4. Arsenal Will Be Undefeated in August
With a fixture list that reads Newcastle (A), Liverpool (H), Man United (A) and a double leg Champions League qualifier against Italian side Udinese to boot, I've stuck my neck out on this one. But I feel that without the burden of expectation, Arsenal will fly off the blocks, and surprise one and all in the season's opening fixtures. And expect Tomas Rosicky to be on fire.
5. Arsenal Will Be Knocked out in the Early Rounds of the Carling Cup
Deep down, Arsene Wenger does not rate the Carling Cup as anything more than a run out for fringe and youth team players. Having flirted with it last year and failed at the last hurdle, he will revert to his earlier policy. And I fear the youngsters may be handed an unfavorable draw and make an early exit.
6. There Will Be a Major Shake-Up at Board Level
Having waited and watched for a while, it is now time for 'Silent' Stan Kroenke to stamp his authority on the Club. I fear the time is up for a few Board veterans. As with everything, the old must give way to the new, and this churn will bring a kind of freshness and dynamism to the way the Club is run.
7. Alisher Usmanov Will Be Kicked out of Arsenal
After spending a few years trying to make a nuisance of himself, Alisher Usmanov will finally run out of patience, collect a cool £14,000 per share from Mr. Kroenke and be gone from our lives for ever.
Good riddance to bad rubbish. On yer bike, mate...
And David Dein, how could you??
8. Arsenal Will Reach the Champions League Final
It is often and correctly said that this is the trophy that Arsenal are most likely to win, and having drawn Barcelona in the early knock-out stages for the past two editions of the tournament, I believe that fortune will favor us this season. A majority of our squad is reaching its ideal age, with plenty of tournament experience.
See you in Munich...
9. Arsenal Will Not Concede More Than 15 Percent of Goals Via Set-Pieces
I can see even the most hardcore Arsenal fans shaking their heads and saying, "what a buffoon."
I am convinced that the team and the coaching staff have taken a long, hard look at this issue over the summer, and several hours of practice have gone into getting things right. Additionally, the team will be a lot more alert when defending set-pieces, and the growing stature of Wojciech Szczesny will prove to be a major asset.
Bring it on, Rory Delap...
10. Robin Van Persie Will Finish Top of the Premier League Goal-Scoring Chart
What I'm really saying here is that Robin van Persie will not suffer any major injury. Because if fit, he is the most lethal striker around. Yes. The most lethal striker. Twenty-seven goals in 33 starts in the last two seasons. Show me a better ratio in the Premier League, and I'll accept I'm wrong.
I agree that his fitness history is a worry, but that's my bold prediction. If I'm right, look out, defenses...
11. Jack Wilshere Will Be Player of the Year
If Cesc is sold, as I predict he will be, Jack will take centre stage. He will see more of the ball. It will be his responsibility to create chances, as opposed to last season, when he sat back and participated more in the build-up play.
Of course, he has the ability to be the very best. His pass to Gervinho for Arsenal's first goal against Cologne was very Cesc-like. As the season progresses, my hope is that Diaby slots in alongside Song, allowing Jack the freedom to find space and take up more advanced positions, which is where he will really come into his own.
The floor is yours, Mr. Wilshere.
12. Our Goalkeeping Problems Will Be a Thing of the Past
As I look around various blogs and websites, it surprises me that Arsenal's goalkeeping "issues" are still a subject of debate and humor. Ever since Wojciech Szczesny became the unofficial No. 1, and even for a couple of months before that (when Fabianski began to demonstrate that he actually is a 'keeper), I don't think Arsenal's goalies made a single major error.
I'm cool with opponents underestimating our goalkeepers. But by season's end, they will know that Szczesny, in particular, is the real deal. In fact, if I were to go out on a limb, I would add that by May 2012, Wojciech Szczesny will be rated as one of the top five or 10 goal keepers in the world. No prizes for guessing who'll be laughing then!!
13. Abou Diaby Will Finally Realize His Massive Potential
Of all the slides in this piece, I have to admit that this one is based more on hope than expectation.
I have been a huge admirer of Diaby since the day he joined the Club. He appeared out of nowhere, largely unheard of, and quickly assumed the title of heir apparent to Patrick Vieira (along with Tony Adams, one of my two favorite Arsenal players).
Season after season, he has flattered to deceive. Season after season, he has put on a midfield masterclass, immediately followed by the most abject of performances. He has speed, skill, height, strength and the ability to score and make goals. But he also has the infuriating ability to give the ball away when under no pressure whatsoever.
In recent times, Diaby has gone so far off the radar that his name doesn't even get mentioned when potential Arsenal formations are discussed. I'm hoping that the absence of expectation allows him to release the shackles, play with freedom and panache, and impose himself as I know he can.
14. at Least One Major Title Will Be Ours
And it isn't going to be the Carling Cup (refer to slide 5).
There's obviously no rational explanation behind my assertion, and there never can be in the competitions Arsenal are in. Call me old-fashioned, but you can't keep good men down forever. Arsenal is a club that has been run in the right way, with proper financial principles and always dignified in its external dealings. The team plays football like it should be played (except when defending set-pieces).
I believe enough in karma and in the law of averages to say with a reasonable amount of confidence that the drought will finally end. Amen!!
15. Arsene Wenger Will Be "the Man" Again
Arsenal fans who have booed Arsene Wenger over the past few months ought to be ashamed of themselves. Here is a man who has almost single-handedly kept Arsenal at Europe's top table for the better part of 15 years. Here is someone who has delivered consistent excellence, in spite of the severe financial burden brought about by a change of stadium. And in the face of competition that has access to disproportionate resources.
Here is a visionary who has put together, four or five times, a squad of some of the best young talent there is. Here is a tactician who has achieved a feat of invincibility that has not been paralleled in a century. Here is a leader who has put Arsenal at the very pinnacle of world sport (http://onforb.es/mX9qqV). And above all else, here is a pure genius who has served up an almost intoxicating brew of football week in and week out, year after year. And yet he gets booed.
I know that today, winning is everything. But winning does not only mean winning trophies. Today, winning also means establishing a strong enough base for the Club to remain sustainable and solvent in the long-term. Winning also means providing consistent excellence, unlike the yoyo-ing Liverpools and Spurs of this league. Winning also means playing the game the right way, and doing your business off the field with integrity and class. And in that sense, Wenger is definitely winning.
But for all those Arsenal fans who believe that winning can only be in the form of titles, fear not. A trophy is on its way. And this season, I certainly don't mean the Emirates Cup.
16. Spurs Will Finish Outside the Top 6
As a parting shot, I'm sorry, I couldn't resist this. The pure pleasure of creating this slide has made my week...
Wouldn't it be lovely??