Something’s affecting Arsenal supporters. It’s called optimism and I don’t like the sound of it. Groups of Arsenal fans are coming together and agreeing—admittedly in some warped interpretation of the phrase that involves getting third place in an average league—that this might be their year. Whenever this happens people get hurt. Good things don’t happen, after all, and to remember that is to insulate yourself from the future agony.
At Arsenal, the reasons for inevitable disappointment are more apparent than people realize. The excitement around some new signings, for instance – Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski – is as bizarre as it is painful to watch, like Olympic show-jumping or people singing along to national anthems without irony. Here we have three middling names in world football being talked up as panaceas, despite their obvious individual flaws: Giroud’s lack of experience, Podolski’s lack of talent and Cazorla’s nose. How can they be glossed over? It doesn’t take a European Football Expert to see that a nose like that won’t win you a title.
Get a grip of something sturdy Arsenal fans, and think about what you’re saying here. Whatever improvements these players will bring to the club, they can’t be so great as to merit a wholesale return to belief in the Arsene Wenger Way. The Born-Again Wenger Apologists would do well to look at what Arsenal needed to improve on the most from last season, and realize that of the top eight teams in the Premier League last year, only Newcastle conceded more goals. Three attacking players is either a post-Spain way of fixing that problem or, more likely, nonsense.
At centre-back, Laurent Koscielny has just been rewarded with a six-year deal to stay with the club. One fan said in response, “That’s the kind of loyalty you don’t see from Van Persie” and seemed not to realise that van Persie’s and Koscielny’s decision whether to stay at or leave Arsenal could be linked to the offers available to them, rather than a deep, sensual love of the club. Arsenal, Manchester City, Juventus and Manchester United have been tracking Robin all summer since his refusal to re-sign; Koscielny thought his phone rang once but it was actually just a text telling him that his top-up had gone through from T-Mobile. There are unconfirmed reports that he asked them if they wanted to make a bid.
And enjoy this one: Koscielny is a starter. Backup defenders aren’t actually allowed at all. Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos are the options at left back, which doesn’t count as having a reserve because neither should really count as a starter. At right back, Bacary Sagna will do nicely, but Carl Jenkinson won’t. And it’s the same deal at centre back: consult the figures—it’s not possible for a squad containing Per Mertesacker and Sébastien Squillaci to win anything, regardless of them playing any games for the team or even sitting on the bench; it just wouldn’t be right, morally.
Where’s all the optimism coming from then? I think it’s just in comparison to last season. This time last year Nasri and Fabregas were about to start spending extended periods in Manchester and Barcelona; today Van Persie has merely decided he looks better in black and white, or blue, or a different kind of red and white, and one player leaving is less than two. One is less than two. That’s math. Or at least maths. Better still, Wenger has also decided to sign some players before the final day of the transfer window this time, the sly old dog, which is another reason to be pleased.
But it’s not a reason to be optimistic.
Being optimistic, in football terms, surely has to do with the hope of some tangible improvement and that’s the bit that’s beyond Arsenal. Chelsea finished behind them a few months ago and have gone and spent £80million already, even if they’ve not done a good job of it, so third place has moved up the money ladder a bit. United, who finished above them, have spent and are spending too, so second doesn’t look on either. The best that can be hoped for is third place again with some nicer football this time, and if that’s cause for optimism then it’s the saddest kind of positive thinking you’re likely to get. Negative positive thinking: is it a new niche?
This isn’t a comprehensive analysis because it doesn’t need to be (and because that would take ages). Arsenal finished third last season and nothing suggests that they’ll improve on that now. It’s not really their fault that everyone else is on the financial dope (although they do have themselves the most expensive season tickets around), but as long as they don’t have the real big bucks and some defenders the fans can only come out feeling let down any time they start a season feeling good. Never be happy, Arsenal fans, it’ll save you the hassle of disappointment. You might get third this season; you probably won’t.