I confess that I have a liking for Arsenal. In fact, of all the so-called ‘Big Four’ they are probably the one team that I wouldn’t mind having to watch every week. They play a lovely, silky game of football and, when they are in full flight, they are probably the nearest thing we have in this country to a team that can match Barcelona.
Unfortunately, they can’t match Barcelona in terms of finishing ability. Or probably defending, for that matter. In fact, in those two departments they themselves can be matched by quite a few of the ‘lesser’ teams in English football.
It’s such a shame, really, for the neutral, that a team that has the passing ability in it that this Arsenal team has somehow seems to come up short time and time again. Players with the ability of Fabregas, Arshavin, Van Persie, and Walcott should surely have won something in the past few seasons.
So where has it gone wrong? Or, as some Arsenal fans are sure to argue, has it not gone wrong at all; it’s simply a matter of time. Or economics. Or something else.
Three things strike me. Again, I stress; as a neutral. My wife supports Tottenham but I don’t let that colour my perspective at all.
Anyway, the first is that when I remember that truly great Arsenal team of a few years ago, it’s not just their quality of passing I remember. Yes, Pires, Henry, Bergkamp, Ljungberg, etc could pass the ball – but the whole team had a solidity and physicality about it that just doesn’t seem to be there in the present one. When you remember Patrick Vieira, you remember his hardness as much as his undoubted skill. So often now when you see the two teams lining up for the girly handshakes – sorry, pre-match civilities – the Arsenal team looks like a junior side compared to the team they’re playing against. That so-important spine running through the team doesn’t seem to be quite right.
And when you remember Ian Wright, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp you remember their ruthless precision in making almost every chance count; something today’s strikers are a long way from achieving.
Finally, and here Arsenal fans will be able to shed light on this – the lack of trophies seems to me to have coincided with the move to the Emirates Stadium. It’s a wonderful place to watch football, and everyone should go there – but Arsenal left Highbury in May, 2006 and haven’t won anything since. I don’t believe in curses or stuff like that. I do wonder, though, if the financial impact of the stadium, especially in what we have to call ‘the current economic climate’, has had a dramatic impact on the manager’s transfer budget.
I fully applaud the way that Arsene Wenger can take players of whom we know very little and make them into superstars. But I wonder if this policy has rather been forced on him because most of the money is tied up elsewhere.
Whatever the reason, I genuinely fear for Arsenal this year. A team with the financial clout of Manchester City might start to make real progress. Everton are only a couple of players away from having a really good squad – and no-one could accuse them of lacking physicality. My wife tells me to write that Tottenham are going to be up there this season as well; she might be right.
I hope, somehow, that Arsenal can, in 2009/2010, stop being ‘promising’ and ‘young’ and really play like they did a few years ago. I hated the way Manchester United brushed them aside in the Champions’ League semi-final; it was brutal.
I want to see an Arsenal team that plays fast, fluent, passing football but also has got some steel at the back and a ruthlessness in attack.
If they have another season like last year, I fear that the ‘Big Four’ might not include them.
After years at Highbury, Arsenal now plays at their all new Emirates Stadium in North London. For information on Arsenal fixtures and other football packages see Football Ticket Packages.