It’s Happened Again

*Blows away the cobwebs*

Ten games, two months, twenty-one days, and however many hours and minutes since I last put my lazy pen to paper. I’m sure you’ve missed me like a hole in the head.

All in all it’s been a positive absence. Five league victories, the highlight of which was the 4-1 thumping of a pathetic Liverpool side which I very much enjoyed watching in the company of my Liverpool supporting in-laws, culminating in us celebrating St.Totteringham’s Day for the twentieth, yes TWENTIETH, season running.

St.Totteringham's Day

And of course there was the small matter of our record 19th FA Cup Final, emphatically won 4-0 against Aston Villa to secure a record 12th FA Cup triumph. Never have I witnessed such a one-sided, comfortable cup final victory. It was heaven.

The Arsenal - FA Cup Winners 2015

We’re now in the depths of summer (or winter for those of us down under), where, from a football perspective, you essentially have three options: reflect on the season that was, debate the summer business required to improve next season, or watch international football.

Looking at the first of those, reflecting on the season that was, and the debate of did we make progress? For me the answer is yes. We finished one place higher (avoiding a Champions League qualifier), retained the FA Cup with a display in the final of greater maturity and composure to that of last year, our end of season form was second to none, and for once our injury list went down in numbers instead of up.

Some have challenged these views, in particular raising the question of points vs. places. To those on the side of points, I’ll ask you this – which of the following league seasons was your favourite: 1997/98, 1998/99, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2007/08, 2013/14?

I’m guessing your answer was 1997/98 given we won the league title and in the other five seasons listed we did not. And yet, in those five other seasons we finished with the same number of points (78) or more than we did in 1997/98. If you still prefer points, that’s fine, but I’ll be sticking to places.

The Arsenal - League Champions 1997-98 - Places, Not Points

But for some mitigating circumstances, some of which were unavoidable and some of which were self-inflicted, I fully believe we’d have challenged for the title. The key is to learn the lessons of the self-inflicted issues and avoid them from happening again because the hope of last summer has been replaced by expectation this. Arsene’s record suggests we have stronger league campaigns in seasons following a vacant summer, so with no European Championship and no World Cup to disrupt our preparations next season feels like it could finally be our time again.

On that note I seem to have reached our second option for the summer, debating what’s required to improve next season. Whilst preferred transfer targets may differ there appears to be some consensus on the areas of the field that need addressing, with goalkeeper, defensive midfielder and strikers on most people’s lips.

Between the sticks I’m open to improvement. Since Seaman and more recently Lehmann we haven’t had a top quality keeper. But the struggle I have here is identifying a realistic target that is significantly better than Szczesny.

Who's Your No.1 - Szczesny or Ospina

Good goalkeepers are few and far between, so those of the highest calibre are already at top clubs. Petr Cech is the name generating the most noise right now, but I’m far from convinced he still has the quality displayed during his heyday. If he does, of if Arsene has an alternative option in mind then great, but if not I’d be quite comfortable sticking with Szczesny. My only concern there of course is whether Wojciech remains left out in the cold, but I’ll leave the Szczesny vs. Ospina conversation for another day!

With regards to defensive midfield Coquelin has been a revelation and, hopefully, has made Arsene realise just how pivotal his role is to the team. The defence need protection and our creative sparks need the freedom to play. But Coquelin is just one man. Injury or suspension is likely to occur at some stage, as is fatigue. Having a suitable back-up could prove fundamental to just how successful we are next season.

The third area of improvement, for many, is up front. Podolski, Sanogo, and Campbell will, most likely, be sold or loaned out again and rightly so on all three counts. What leaves us with Walcott, Welbeck, and Alexis as alternatives to Giroud, but all three have their limitations.

The Best of Both Worlds - Walcott and Giroud

Walcott has frightening pace and movement, but doesn’t offer the physicality, hold-up play, or aerial ability of Giroud. Welbeck can offer some of those components, plus Walcott’s pace, but never quite to the clinical level required. And Alexis is an absolute gem who is devastating from the wide position, so why play him through the middle where he’s outnumbered and lost in a sea of bodies?

What would therefore be great is to have another option that provides the combined physicality, touch, electric pace, and finishing of both Giroud and Walcott, but with greater consistency than Welbeck. Does such a player exist? If so are they a realistic target? Hopefully Arsene knows the answer.

And finally that brings us to summer option number three: watch international football. There are friendlies, European qualifiers, the Copa America, and the Women’s World Cup. Personally international football really isn’t for me. If it’s the quarter finals onwards of the Euros or World Cup then maybe, otherwise I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. That England has lost only 1 of their last 33 qualifiers yet can’t even come close to making their first semi-final since 1996 tells you all you need to know. So as I say, unless it’s the latter stages of a major tournament I’m happy to give it a miss, but fair play to those who can find enjoyment from it.

So there you have it, options 1, 2 and 3 for the summer with my view on each. The countdown for the new season has well and truly begun, with Arsenal unveiling our new home kit. And for me personally the countdown has even more significance than usual this year because for me, in 46 days’ time, on the Community Shield weekend, I’ll be marrying the girl of my dreams. I can’t wait.

arsenal-cannon

The Arsenal Reach Wembley As I Get Down On One Knee

It’s been a month since we last spoke as I’ve been on holiday, visiting family and friends in London and enjoying the never sleeping city that is New York. A lot has happened so here’s an attempt at a quick summary:

EVERTON 3   ARSENAL 0

On a personal level, our trip to Goodison Park was a bitter sweet one. The ‘sweet’ came in the shape of attending my first Arsenal game in over 18 months and the fact that I was joined by my Dad, something that was rare even in my last few years in London due to him being unable to attend games regularly. The ‘bitter’ was pretty much everything else on the day; the long drive, the miserable weather, the abject performance, and the awful result! The less said about the ‘bitter’ the better, but in terms of the ‘sweet’ it felt great to be back, watching football alongside my old man, rediscovering what it’s like to lose your voice cheering on The Arsenal.

Arsenal Suffered At Goodison Park

ARSENAL 1   WIGAN 1   (ARSENAL WIN 4-2 ON PENALTIES)

An absolute rollercoaster of an afternoon! On this occasion I was joined by my sister, and we sat alongside some of my very good Arsenal friends. We didn’t play particularly well, but equally we didn’t play as badly as many claimed or reported. Low on confidence after previous results, we made hard work of Championship opposition, but we dominated possession and opportunities. But when The BFG uncharacteristically gave away a penalty it was time to fear the worst. Thankfully he redeemed himself with the equaliser and was backed up by a couple of Fabianski saves and four perfect penalties to ensure we’ll be returning to Wembley again on Saturday 17th May. What did she wear? She wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon…

Penalty Shoot-out Hero Fabianski Is Mobbed By Teammates

ARSENAL 3   WEST HAM 1

My final game of my trip home to London, and this time I was with my fiancée (more on that later) and two good mates, Tone and Jody. I have to say the performance and result were both pleasantly surprising. I thought we’d be dead on our feet after the Wigan game, but I was happily proved wrong. Giroud showed his best and worst qualities with a poor miss in the first half but an excellent goal in the second, and Podolski proved once again how clinical he is. After an away game and a trip to Wembley it felt amazing to be back at The New Home of Football, seeing the statue of God for the first time, and being in The Tollington pre-match to talk all things Arsenal with all my good friends; an excellent end to the Arsenal segment of my London return – even if I hadn’t got to see Özil! (Hopefully next time).

Podolski Bags A Brace

HULL CITY 0   ARSENAL 3

By this point I was in New York. I managed to watch the first half on TV and the second on Arsenal Player. For the first time in a while it was a rather relaxed and straightforward victory. Another brace from Podolski and one for Ramsey (making his first league start since returning from injury) secured the points. We’ve now beaten Hull home and away in the league, with clean-sheets in both, so here’s hoping for more of the same at Wembley on 17th May.

Ramsey Returned With Another Goal

ARSENAL 3 NEWCASTLE 0

And now back in Sydney! The Monday night kick-off meant 5am Tuesday morning for me, which thanks to jetlag wasn’t an issue in the slightest. I watched the full game live and it was an absolute walk in the park. Newcastle were a lazy and disinterested embarrassment. I don’t think I’ve ever felt sorry for Newcastle fans, but I certainly did on this occasion; any team’s fans deserve at least 100% effort and they never got it. Which was great news for us as goals from Koscielny, Özil, and Giroud secured three points that give us a really strong hold on fourth spot and also saw in St.Totteringham’s Day 2014 – perfect. One more win will secure Champions League football for the 17th year running. Hopefully we can do the job at home to West Brom this weekend; it would be the perfect end to our home fixtures this season and would allow the fans to show their appreciation and give the team a good send-off ahead of the FA Cup Final.

Koscielny Scores On St.Totteringham's Day For The Third Year Running

FINAL HOLIDAY ROUND-UP

It was fantastic to see all my friends and family again, and to visit New York too, but the biggest news of the trip is that I got engaged! I proposed to my beautiful fiancée in Kensington Gardens on Sunday 13th April, which following victory over Wigan the day before, made for the most awesome of weekends. It was fabulous to be able to pop the question in my home city and to be able to celebrate with family and friends, and now we can start to plan the big day which will take place in the amazing city that I now call home, Sydney.

Also for my final holiday thoughts, I’d like to say a massive thank you to @WestStandTone who helped to organise my match tickets for the games against Everton, Wigan, and West Ham. It was incredible to be back at The Arsenal, to be able to experience the games with my Dad, sister, and fiancée respectively, and to catch-up with so many friends that I used to see on a weekly basis. It made the trip even more special, so thank you Tone.

Right, that’s enough for one edition. Normal format and service will be resumed the next time we speak. Let’s hope we’re discussing victory over West Brom and another year of Champions League football. Up The Arsenal.

Thank Bergkamp For That

Happy St.Totteringham’s Day.

Saying those words, for the eighteenth year in succession, feels magical. And let’s be honest, it really is. 26 points from the final 30 available is nothing short of magical. After the North London defeat on Sunday 3rd March we trailed the old enemy by 7 points, meaning they needed to drop points in three of their last ten games. As pointed out at the time, this was possible (after all, they lost the very next two league games they played), but what it didn’t take into account was our own failings. This led me to believe we’d need them to drop points in at least five of their remaining games – 50% of their fixtures. I just didn’t see it happening.

But here I am, with a smile on my face, happily eating humble pie. Thank you Arsene. Thank you to all the players. Our end of season form, certainly results if not always performances, has been truly amazing. Only United have taken more points than us since January 1st and nobody, not even the champions themselves, have won more points than us since February 1st. It’s been truly remarkable.

It’s been quite a while since I last shared my thoughts, 61 days to be precise, and there are many reasons why. But the main one has been our good run of form. I’m an oddly superstitious character at times and I feared my creative jargon could prove to be a jinx. So I decided to leave my last post as “it’s the hope that kills you”. In my weird little world it seemed logical, like it was our guiding light. Of course the reality is that Arsenal’s form has bugger all to do with what I do and don’t say, but I can’t help but feel our form did involve a little bit of luck.

A combination of injuries and being in last chance saloon saw Arsene stumble across a starting eleven that had balance, which has looked solid and robust. Both Fabianski and then the returning Szczesny looked assured, safe. And why wouldn’t they? The central pairing in front of them, Mertesacker and Koscielny, have been inspirational – quite simply they secured us fourth spot. For some that may seem like an exaggeration, but for me they have been the main figures in many of our final fixtures, and it was therefore somewhat poetic that Laurent should score the decisive goal, in the final game of the season, for the second season in a row. That’s why I have his name and number on the back of my shirt; he leaves everything on the field and I love him for it.

In midfield we also stumbled across a beautiful balance. The injuries of Wilshere and Diaby saw Ramsey deployed in his correct position of central midfield. He’s shone brightly and rightly won the Arsenal.com player of the month award for April. Alongside the ever dependable Mikel Arteta (who surely has to be our captain next season?) we finally had a compact midfield base to perfectly complement our excellent centre halves. And in front of them, Tomas Rosicky. What a player. Fast, tenacious, such spirit and character. Once again his return to fitness and form was perfectly timed for the end of season run in. He’s Arsenal career will always be a case of ‘what if’.

Suddenly we had the spine we’d all been craving. Flanked by Sagna, the interchangeable Gibbs and Monreal, the majestic Santi Cazorla, the consistent in patches Theo Walcott, and led by Giroud, then Podolski, we had both the platform to keep clean sheets, whilst still scoring goals. The team had gelled, as have the desires of Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould it would seem. And once again it all ended in a thing of beauty, a thing that brings unrivalled feelings; St.Totteringham’s Day.

There is a time and a place for picking apart our shortcomings this season. Today is not it. Today is a day to be basking in the glory of remaining North London’s top dogs. It is a day for being optimistic about next season. For the first time in a long time it looks like we could have a stable summer with regards to unwanted departures, with Bacary Sagna the only real question mark. Added to that is the promise of much-needed reinforcements. The commercial deals that were needed for our Emirates Stadium project, but that have hamstrung us so badly in recent years, are no longer an issue. Our new deal with Emirates and the news that Puma will take over as our kit manufacturer (for the largest deal in English football) is very positive. Let’s take a well-earned break, analyse, assess, and re-group, and go again next season – hopefully with some new top top quality faces. But until then my Gooner friends, just enjoy the fact that once again, we can say Happy St.Totteringham’s Day. Thank Bergkamp for that.

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Away from The Arsenal, there have been a few other reasons for my silence over recent weeks. A new visa (that allows me to stay in Sydney until 2017), a new apartment, a busy job, and a beautiful Aussie girl have all been keeping me very busy. I can’t believe I’ve now been here 9 months, but like The Arsenal now is not the time for reflective analysis, it is instead a time for happiness and enjoyment because, quite frankly, life is pretty rosy right now.

Until the next time – once a Gooner, always a Gooner; ooh to, ooh to be, ooh to be a Gooner; Victoria Concordia Crescit.