AFCB writer Daniel Brookes provides a typically alternative view in ‘From The Left Wing’…
Welcome one and welcome all to my first article on the new-look AFCB. By way of introduction, my name is Dan, I live in London, I’ve been following Arsenal for about 16 years now and my current favourite player is Alex Song.
Now that we’re all enamoured, I’m going to get on with my ramblings regarding the new season ahead and tell you why, to be honest, I’m not really all that excited about it!
I find myself in a curious situation as the only England-based writer on a blog that lauds an England-based team. Because of this, I feel obliged to get the violins out and expose the plight of thousands of similar fans, like me, who have suffered a double-whammy of footballing disappointment over the past few months, thanks to their commitment to both Arsenal, and our laughing stock of a national team.
Seeing Arsenal throw in the towel at the end of last season and slump into a final day scrap for third place was a truly miserable (albeit familiar) experience. Let’s all be honest, it was one of our best seasons in a good few years, yet we only just pipped our favourite neighbours to third place. I was down, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that I had two massive reasons to keep faith in the beautiful game.
Firstly, a World Cup was just around the corner – that’s pure footballing brilliance distilled, refined and sprayed into our faces over six weeks of multicultural partying. Secondly, Arsene Wenger, one of the game’s undisputed masters of discovering obscure footballing talent, was heading to South Africa filled with a crystal clear knowledge of his team’s weaknesses. I still feel the slight twinge of anticipation and excitement when I recall these reasons; it was going to be a brilliant summer!
Perhaps you can already see where I’m going with this.
It takes a herculean effort for English football supporters, entrenched deep in their generations-old club loyalties, to suddenly begin to support a national team comprised of the exact same players they deride and spit fire at, week after week, year after year. But somehow we manage to club together, we ignore the obvious foible of having a foreign manager who can’t speak the national language, and we temporarily pardon the fact that half the squad would rather be sleeping their way through seedy nightclubs and dodging stints in Her Majesty’s Prisons for beating up their fans. We quite naively and hopelessly build our expectations to feverish levels.
Then, come crunch time, we watch the team play. Oh God. The memories, the nightmares, the failure. England were woeful and I’m certainly in no hurry for the next World Cup to roll around. The disappointment was almost, almost enough to make me want to throw in the towel and be done with it all. How can I carry on following a sport that routinely assaults me with so much depression!?
Still… at least Arsene was there. Arsene, talent-spotter extraordinaire was surely casting his beady eye over any of the 700-odd players on display, ready to pounce with laser precision and whirlwind speed, ready to execute a flurry of transfer activity which would plug the leaks in our squad once and for all and leave our competitors stoic in his wake.
Surely the only speculation would be about which countries these hidden gems would come from? Would it be a burly Slovenian centre-back or a gangly Algerian reserve goalkeeper. Maybe even the bus driver for the South Korean team, or the local kid playing keepy-uppy in the park opposite his hotel?
Err, well… it was actually none of the above. In fact it wasn’t anybody.
Arsene did his best to keep the speculation-mill churning though. He heaped praise on Keisuke Honda, a wafer-thin attacking midfielder, obviously a man in the mould of what the Arsenal midfield desperately needs right now. Then we were linked with unconvincing Italian goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, who showed true Arsenal goalkeeping potential by conceding 4 goals from 6 shots during his brief campaign.
Although he wasn’t signing anybody of note, Arsene was doing a pretty good job of clearing out the scrap metal from our squad. It’s just a shame he was doing an even better job of not replacing them.
Now, fast forward to our first game of the season. Whereas we possessed an embarrassment of riches up front, even without our two best offensive players, we still maintained an embarrassment of squad depth at the back. Our goalkeeper was picked as the best of a bad bunch, and an unfit Alex Song was the only player capable of coming off the bench to fill in at centre back. That’s the same Alex Song who is also the club’s only defensive midfielder this year (and last). This is a bewildering lack of cover for a first team that seems to collect injuries as if they were rare foreign coins and who seem to end crocked for half the season if they play when the pollen count is too high.
The gaps in our team seem obvious to every Arsenal and opposition fan and I suspect even the manager, but with a couple of weeks left of an open transfer window and the season already underway, I can’t help but feel a little short-changed after a summer filled with so much potential!
I simply wonder, do we have any right to get our hopes up for the coming season? Coming from Arsene’s biggest fan, all I can hope for is an injury-free campaign or a flurry of signings before the transfer window closes, because this may well be our last year with the world’s most ingenious central midfielder running our centre stage.
I hope as always for the best!
Have your say on the first ever ‘From The Left Wing’ by leaving a comment.