Sportingo author Mark begins a series of mind-blowing predictions for next season, each more
questionable shocking than the last. First up is Arsenal’s renewed challenge after falling well behind Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool last season and finishing closer to Tottenham than the top.
There comes a point when you stop having seasons of transition and start growing or fading. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side have reached that point. When they clinched the title without losing a match in 2003/04, few people could have predicted that the next three seasons would produce just a single trophy. Aand that ,one could argue, was an undeserved FA Cup win over Manchester United on penalties.
The season promised much with a squad that included a wealth of young talent. However, due to injuries to key players, they were forced in at the deep end and as a result their season stumbled to an unsatisfactory end. In saying that, there were a great deal of individual successes. Cesc Fabregas grew into the player that many predicted he would – and still has time to develop into one of the greatest on the planet. Robin van Persie also earned deserved rave reviews before injury cut his season short, as it did for Thierry Henry. But more about him later.
Gael Clichy proved there is indeed life after Ashley Cole following the decision of the league’s most-hated player to move to Chelsea. Tomas Rosicky’s arrival went somewhat under the radar and he produced some fine performances and some fine goals. Man-mountain Johan Djourou went some way towards filling the defensive gaps, as did William Gallas before he, too, fell foul to injury. However, for me Kolo Toure was the club’s player of the season, and the Â£150,000 invested in securing the Ivorian must be one of the bargains of all-time.
All in all, what could have been a great season was greatly affected by injuries and their knock-on effects.
Grade: C+ Another season of what could have been. New stadium should have brought new-found hope but injuries, among other factors, meant otherwise.
Once the season ended, the usual round of rumours began and, as in many summers previously, Henry was linked with a move away from north London. It had almost become such a tradition that many, including myself, were stunned when the deal was finally done and Thierry was shipped off to Barcelona. More shocking than his departure, though, was the fee paid for the services of one of the finest players of his generation. Every transfer from now on should be referred to on the 16.1m scale, such was the seemingly paltry return on a player who, at 29, is hardly over the hill.
What now for Arsenal? What does the new season hold? Can they keep hold of a Champions League spot? Can they build on this and mount a serious title challenge and can they keep Spurs out of the exclusive top-four club? Well, once Arsene’s future is sorted – as I am sure it will be – things may begin to settle down for a club with huge potential in terms of their playing squad. The recent arrival of Croatian international Eduardo da Silva could be a stroke of genius – or the Brazilian-born star could turn out to be another Julio Baptista. I would veer towards somewhere in the middle. Also, the signing of Lukasz Fabianski is another Wenger find who could prove a wise investment.
One quality that Arsenal have always been associated with is their ‘team’ philosophy, the ability to perform as more than a collection of individuals. It’s something other Premiership sides would do well to learn from. Sixteen of their 30-man squad have been at the club since they were teenagers, which is quite an achievement regardless of their nationalities. By bringing this young set of players through at more or less the same time (with some exceptions), Wenger has a group mentality that can help to make up for the relative lack of experience that his side is rapidly building on.
Grade: D- Losing Thierry will hurt and no matter how good the new signings may prove to be, they will not come close to making up for his departure. Future signings could help to fill the void
I am of the opinion, as no doubt are many others, that in three or four years’ time, this side will be a dominant force in England and Europe. However, I predict that this domination will begin sooner and I honestly believe that they will mount a serious shot at the title and can make up the 21-point gap they gave to Manchester United last term. All of these platitudes and positive predictions are totally dependent on one man, and that is not Thierry Henry but Arsene Wenger, whom I believe holds the key to Arsenal’s future. If he was to walk away from the Emirates, or if he was pushed, I have no doubt that all he has built would be wasted, either through future mis-management or a mass exodus.
Arsenal will finish in the top two and also walk off with a significant trophy (as long as they don’t face unfancied opposition like Bolton or Blackburn early on!). And they will finish ahead of Spurs.
Grade: A The time is right for Arsenal’s boys to become men and give Gunners fans some much-needed hope.
The future’s bright, the future’s Arsene and Arsenal.