For a brief period The Arsenal stepped onto our permanently perfect playing surface to the sound of Elvis Presley’s ‘The Wonder of You’. It was an unpopular choice, but if you listen to the lyrics you can at least try to appreciate the underlying message the club were attempting to send out:
When no-one else can understand me, when everything I do is wrong, you give me hope and consolation, you give me the strength to carry on.
The no-one else is the media, the opposition fans, who think the only strategy for running a football club is spending beyond your natural means. But we, as Gooners, we give them hope and consolation, we give them the strength to carry on.
As we head into what feels like our most important summer for many a year I can’t help but feel it is no longer about having the strength to carry on. It is time for the lyrics of another Elvis hit to be heard – ‘It’s Now or Never’.
When I first saw you, with your smile so tender, my heart was captured, my soul surrendered, I’d spend a lifetime, waiting for the right time, now that you’re near, the time is here at last.
The smile is Arsene’s. He has my heart, he has my soul. He’s far from perfect, but who is? So here I’ve been, waiting for the right time. The time is here at last; Ivan Gazidis has spoken about it before:
Irrespective of Financial Fair Play’s impact, we will be among the top five most financially powerful clubs in the world by 2014, that is when we will really start competing.
Commercial deals, that were signed to secure stadium funding, but which have hamstrung us on the pitch, are coming to an end. The Emirates deal has already been renegotiated. The Nike kit deal is set to end, with Puma reported to be taking over for a sum of money that will out punch all other kit deals in the UK. With the additional television funding added to these new deals and the Champions League carrot that dangles on the other side of a two-legged tie, it is now or never.
We have no Henry saga. We have no Adebayor saga. We have no Cesc and Nasri saga. We have no Van Persie saga. And earlier this year we ended the Walcott saga. This is without doubt, in my mind at least, the most stable summer we’ve had since moving into The New Home of Football. The only real question mark is Bacary Sagna and, as much as I love Sagna, when the only real question mark is a 30-year-old right back you can’t complain too much, even if I do want to see him stay.
The British core of Wilshere, Walcott, Gibbs, Chamberlain, Jenkinson, and Ramsey all have new long-term deals. Add to that Koscielny, Arteta, Mertesacker, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud, and Monreal who are all in the early stages of their contracts.
When Arsenal were granted planning permission for the new stadium the day before my birthday in December 2001 there was no Abramovich, no Sheikh Mansour, there was no double dip recession and crashing housing prices to impact our property plans. That the club, and in particular Wenger, have kept us dining at the Champions League table during this transitional period is a miracle. It may not be appreciated by all and for those who do perhaps not in its full glory. As Gary Neville said, after our victory at St James’ Park, we’ll look back in years to come and marvel in wonder at the job that’s been done.
But as Neville also said now is the time to go and surely Arsene knows it? Investment in the squad is needed now and, more importantly, can be delivered now. We need to see at least one, if not two, signings of real quality; of Cazorla quality. And we need at least another two strong players to supplement our overall squad. Our current situation in the left back position should be the model moving forward; two quality players vying for their place in the starting eleven.
This summer, and the season that follows it, cannot, no must not, follow the path of the last two summers. Next season must not be about just securing fourth. Next season must be about competing for the title. Of course winning it will be very difficult, but if we don’t then we must be within 6-8 points of the team that does (not 17 like this season) and we must be at least 6-10 points clear of fourth (not 1 like this season). We must win a domestic cup and if we don’t then the reason must be a top six side, not a Bradford or a Blackburn. And we must quality for the Champions League group stages followed by winning the group; facing top quality opposition should be a quarter-final conundrum not a last 16 one.
The time has come where I no longer think this is asking for too much; after years of unappreciated hard graft Wenger finally has everything he needs at his disposal to deliver our ambitions. With his contract expiring at the end of the season will it be his last? I guess the answer lies in how many of the above objectives are met. Over to you Arsene, you still have my trust.