After playing in the CL semi-finals, the rest feels mundane
It won’t be easy to get excited for our few remaining games. Even with big names like Chelsea and United on offer it’s going to be tough. This weekend will be a clash of two devastated teams. When we play United at Old Trafford, it will take a lot of pride to walk onto that pitch. I hope that we approach the remaining fixtures with pride and professionalism, but I have my doubts.
The big news today is good news and that’s a nice change of pace. Theo Walcott has signed a long-term deal to stay at Arsenal. Next to Arshavin, he’s been our best player since his return from injury. When you look at where he was at this stage last season and where he is today, it’s night and day. Next season will be a very exciting one for Theo if he can continue to develop at his current rate and stay healthy. His crossing and finishing still lack polish, but he’s a stronger player than he was and his control has improved dramatically. He’s one young player that I genuinely look forward to watching develop as a Gunner.
Arsene Wenger was full of interesting revelations and observations at his press conference today. First, he revealed that Arshavin is suffering with flu and will likely miss the game against Chelsea. I find it odd that he will have missed both matches against his national team manager. (Yes, I know that he played for about 15 seconds in the FA Cup semi-final.) You almost wonder if Wenger has an ulterior motive for keeping him out of these games. I can’t think of what it would be, so I’ll just assume that there’s nothing more to it regardless of my love for conspiracies.
Wenger also discussed this summer’s transfer strategy. He was clear that he wanted to add one or two experienced players. It was interested how direct he was that we have enough young and inexperienced players. He was also clear that Arsenal do not need a striker. I tend to agree. Between Ade, Bendtner, RVP, Eduardo, Vela, Theo and Arshavin, there are a lot of options and probably enough good ones to stand pat (even with Ade gone). I’d like to see a top goal-poacher on our team, but the money must be spent judiciously. Wenger’s claim that we don’t need a striker is also good news because it means that we won’t be chasing Roque Santa Cruz. I just don’t see Santa Cruz as the player Arsenal have been missing.
So there won’t be a new striker at the club next season. This means that our one or two players will come from midfield or defense which is reason for optimism. Moreover, the fact that Arsene wants more mature players means that they’ll be ready to come into the squad right away. As depressed as we all are right now, we might not be much more than two strong players from competiting for top honors. That’s even more reasonable if you assume that Arshavin and Nasri will be better prepared for the English game next season and Theo, Vela, Nik, etc. will continue to improve. Plus, you must at least acknowledge that Rosicky might be able to play next season and he would be a huge addition to the midfield. (Although I’ll refrain from suggesting that he’d be like a new signing. I’m sure Wenger will say it for me this summer.) While many of us are getting frustrated with the slow development of our young team, Wenger did make the reasonable point that you don’t just bring these players along and then dump them right when they’re ready to play at the top level. The question, naturally, is whether certain of these players will ever be ready to do that.
Arsene made the claim today that we are not far from United. I think we all want to believe that and I don’t blame him for saying it, but it’s simply not true. United have the combination of world-class superstars and quality role players. It gives me no joy to write this, but we are a notch below that. I’m not sure that we have anyone that can compare with Rooney, Ronaldo, or Tevez in attack and we certainly don’t have a Ferdinand or Vidic in defense. But what was glaringly obvious in our semi-final tie was how far behind United we are in the supporting cast. Song, Denilson, Diaby, Eboue etc. are simply not in the same league as Anderson, Giggs, Scholes, Nani, etc. They have young talent, but plenty of reliable experience to call upon when needed. Experienced players have one huge advantage over youth; they can be calm in big moments. Against United, our young players seemed a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. That’s something that changes with experience. We do have one huge thing going for us however: we’re not Manchester United. And we can all be greatful for that!
Finally, Wenger has called for supporters not to panic. He acknolwedged the disappointment that came with our semi-final exit, but suggested that people shouldn’t come to conclusions about the team. He’s probably right on that one. We had a wonderful start last season, but it ended in disappointment. We had a wonderful finish to this season, although it ultimately left us disappointed. Maybe next season is the season when we put the two halves together. Maybe a little more experience and one more year of development for our younger players is just the recipe.
As much as we hated to see Hleb and Flamini leave last summer, their fortunes haven’t been so favorable at their new destinations. Flamini lost almost an entire season after failing to play for AC Milan more than a few times. Hleb will be leaving Barca in the summer after a season of anonymity on the world’s most electrifying club. On the few occasions where he did play, he looked terrible. It’s enough to make you think that maybe Arsene Wenger really is that good at developing young talent. After all, few players have left the Arsenal during his tenure to find better playing days elsewhere.
As far as I’m concerned, Wenger has earned our patience for another year. But next year will be VERY interesting. Some of our players are getting to an age where they can’t really be called “kids” or “young guns” anymore. Nasri was a good addition to this team and Arshavin has been a revelation. With two more signings of that caliber and the possible return of Rosicky, there should be enough talent and experience at Arsenal to make a real challenge for every trophy. Arsene has stood behind the players and it will soon be time for them to repay his faith.
Chelsea preview tomorrow.