Seven years without a trophy: time to replenish Arsenal
It was ultimately a fairly depressing 2011/12 Premier League season for Arsenal fans. Sitting just above the relegation zone and well out of serious title contention after five games gave the season a miserable outlook early on.
And while their herculean comeback to snatch a Champions League berth next season has been deservedly applauded, it feels like scant consolation when one considers the seven years that have gone by without a trophy.
Not that they haven’t come close. Three cup finals (of contrasting merit) have been lost, from good positions, since.
First is the Paris 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona. Sol Campbell scored the opening goal, but a 10-man Arsenal outfit was eventually overwhelmed. It was a cruel end to the Gunners’ giant-slaying run, which saw them knock out Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal en route to the final.
And they almost shocked a Barca side with Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Guily and Deco at the peak of their powers, consigning present maestros Xavi and Iniesta to the bench. But it wasn’t to be.
There was also the Carling Cup in February of 2007, lost in an arm wrestle against Chelsea at the Millennium Stadium, in Cardiff. Theo Walcott put Arsenal ahead early, only for Didier Drogba to respond with two of his own, and in doing so win the final for Chelsea, something he has seemed to make a habit of.
Of far less glamour was the loss in the 2011 Carling Cup final, Arsenal going down 2-1 to Birmingham after a horrendous mix up between centre-half Laurent Koscielny and keeper Wojciech Szczesny gifted Obafemi Martins a 90th minute winner. The significance cannot be underestimated.
They were favourites to win by a distance, and lost. Even the Carling Cup, English football’s neglected middle child, could have injected some confidence were it on display in the otherwise bare Emirates Stadium trophy cabinet.
Instead Arsenal players and fans alike left Wembley distraught, having given up their best chance for silverware to an underdog who would later be relegated from the Premier League.
There’s also the domestic campaign of 2007/8, which goes down as the one that got away. Leading for more than two-thirds of the season, a dismal run of form in March saw the exciting team of youngsters including Fabregas, Adebayor and Toure eventually finish third in the league, five points behind Manchester United. Since then, Arsenal haven’t come within 10 of the Premier League winners.
Arsene Wenger has presided over so much already at Arsenal. His league successes saw the construction of memorable teams housing great names such as Adams, Bergkamp, Viera and Petit, and later Henry, Pires and Campbell. On top of this, the rebuilding after losing top-line players, and nurturing of young talent has been exceptional.
It’s clear he’s a manager who prefers to develop unpolished players rather than buy established names.
But Wenger learnt a harsh lesson last summer. Amidst the 2011/12-season kick-off, it was rumoured that star players were leaving. And so they did, with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, as well as Gael Clichy departing in August.
While the fans called longingly for reinforcements, Wenger held out, and then in a flurry of panic, rushed through the transfers of Andre Santos, Per Mertesacker, Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta on deadline day. All were reactionary signings, to counter the sudden lack of experience and exodus of quality.
None, in my eyes, really cut it considering those they were meant to replace.
But Wenger proved he had learnt that sometimes you just have to buy. And now with a cool head and a chequebook cleaned of its dust and cobwebs, he can look at more incisive recruits. Lucas Podolski has been added already, providing a proven forward to share the goal-scoring burden, shouldered almost exclusively by Van Persie last season.
And there are rumours that Rennes’ French midfielder Yann M’Vila will be joining too, bringing added steel alongside Alex Song. Tomas Rosicky’s resurgence has been welcome, as has a decent season for Theo Walcott to build on, and the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Next season will also yield the return of starlet Jack Wilshere from injury.
It’s all they could manage last season, but Arsenal’s qualification for the Champions League may prove crucial, as a lure for more players to want to join the club. Another defender to bolster the squad would be ideal, but perhaps some of the names already in the door will restore belief that Arsenal can now mount a proper title challenge.
Hopefully it will be enough to entice RVP to stay, and if that happens, next season already looks much brighter than those recently gone by at the Emirates.
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