Seven years of fruitful harvest, seven seasons of famine. Does the biblical story relate to a certain North London club? I think so! The Gunners’ sudden change in status from genuine title contenders to pretenders over the last few years has been rather surprising, as they have become a perpetual selling club, losing their key players to local and European rivals.
While Arsene Wenger and the board have continued in their attempts to convince fans of the club’s financial stability, the suffering supporters have had to endure taunts from rivals in West London, Liverpool and Manchester, as their club have now gone seven years without a single trophy.
An ominous trend at the Emirates has been the huge optimism and expectation that every new season brings, and following that, the same old story of misery by the end of the term.
However, perhaps the 2012-13 season will be different, despite having lost former skipper Robin van Persie to English rivals Manchester United and influential midfield man Alex Song to La Liga heavyweights Barcelona, as Arsenal have made a solid start to the season, claiming one win and two draws in their opening three encounters.
Five out of a possible nine points a good start? Yes, considering how they kicked off last season. Their impressive victory against Liverpool gives room for optimism, while their watertight defensive displays have inspired confidence from the Gunners’ faithful.
However, with the difference between success and failure decided upon small margins, I have picked three men who I feel will be crucial to the Gunners’ fortunes this season.
The former Stoke City, Arsenal and Sunderland defender was handed the role of assistant manager in the off-season after Pat Rice’s retirement, and has been saddled with the responsibility of tightening a back-line that has not been its strongest in recent years. Three games played and no goals conceded despite the absence of Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna, the 49-year old’s influence has been apparent already, as the Gunners have been able to stifle opponents, and importantly, have looked well coordinated from defensive set-pieces. Scoring has never been a problem at the North London club with Wenger’s philosophy and brand of football, and a strong defence could help be the key factor in the Gunners’ success this season.
Has the hour cometh for the man dubbed the new Patrick Vieira to finally lay claim to that huge comparison? Ever since a broken ankle stalled the 26-year old Frenchman’s progress as a youngster following his arrival from France, fitness has been a huge concern for the player, coupled with his indifferent form. However, the elusive midfielder has started the season well, with his man of the match performance against Liverpool highlighting the qualities Wenger saw in him when the Arsenal boss sanctioned his move from Auxerre to North London in the January 2006.
If he stays fit and can keep his level of performance high, he is a player who can lift his team above many on his day. I am of the opinion that Diaby’s performances for the Gunners will be vital to their campaign this time around.
Once again, Arsene Wenger has shown his mastery at wheeling and dealing, with the capture of Santi Cazorla from Malaga probably the best piece of business done by the wily, old Frenchman in recent seasons. The diminutive Spanish playmaker, in my opinion, is the closest competition to Andres Iniesta on the football pitch, with the 27-year old’s ambidextrous abilities and subtle skills making him the new jewel in the crown for the Gunners.
He has shown a keenness to take up responsibility, and has also bedded in well with the side’s other two signings Oliver Giroud and Lukas Podolski, an example being the latter’s first goal against Liverpool. Also a threat from set-pieces and long range, the 5’6? man’s early season impression has given Gooners new-found hope after the disappointment surrounding the loss of their erstwhile captain and talisman.
The season is just getting under way, but these three men will need to play significant roles through the campaign if the Gunners are to celebrate a trophy for the first time at the Emirates.