Talking Reds by Kevin Whitcher
So once again, we reach that time of the year when I put the final issue of the season to bed. It’s always with a mixture of joy and regret. Joy because it means a mini-break of sorts for yours truly here at Gooner Towers (although the website will continue to be updated), and regret because it means another year has passed. All our yesterdays and that kind of thing. As for the football team you and I support, I write on the afternoon of the Sunday before the Wigan home match. Arsenal are favourites to finish third and a win against Roberto Martinez’s side would mean the odds of that happening will be even lower by the time this issue is released ahead of the Chelsea fixture.
There are two sides to how Gooners can feel about this season. And they are comparable to the attitudes about score draws your team achieves. By coming
There is definitely a place for younger players in the first team, but by nature, they cannot be relied upon from behind, a third placed finish, above Spurs, will feel like a triumph. The equivalent is a match you think you have lost but gets pulled back at the death by a late equaliser. The team that has scored the late goal leaves the pitch the happier. The 201011 season felt like the opposite, as the team, with a chance of winning the title, slumped badly and ended up in fourth. They still had a shot at the Champions League the following campaign (qualifier allowing) and were also above Spurs. But there was such a deflated feeling that the lap of appreciation at the season’s end (after the home defeat to Villa) was a controversial affair, with few remaining and some of those barracking the players. A horrible atmosphere, the like of which I don’t think anyone wants to see again. So that season was like being 1-0 up but being pegged back. The end result – on paper – the same. A draw is a draw, worth one point. A top four finish is a Champions League spot (unless you are Everton in 2005 or Chelsea win the thing this season). Yet, the feelgood factor is definitely back at Arsenal and optimism is high for next season.
Approximately 4,000 season ticket holders did not renew in the summer of 2011 – close on nine per cent. The price of admission though, had gone up, which may have been a factor, alongside the perception of the team’s quality. It is interesting though, that the former season ticket holders I know have no regrets about their decision to give up their place, and have attended four or five home matches using spare tickets. If you are organised, there are only ever likely to be one or two matches a season you cannot get into if you are not a season ticket holder. And you do not have to pay the premium up front either. As there is greater and greater awareness of this, so the need to hang on to that precious guarantee of admission that is gold (or platinum) membership becomes smaller and smaller. Granted, it might bite you on the bum if Arsenal make a cup final, but even there gold membership does not guarantee you a seat. Informally, a Club Level season ticket does, but that’s another story.
So what will be tempting existing season ticket holders to part with their money by the end of May (or in reality mid-July if you really need the time to find the funds)? Well, for starters, the announcement that Robin van Persie has signed a new contract would help greatly. For too long, Arsenal have sold their best players because the price has been right. It’s meant profits in the bank, but has not helped the team. For once, the club needs to make a statement. There seems little doubt they will break their wage structure to persuade the captain to stick around.
4 onlinegooner.com However, there is a view that they also have to give him genuine assurances that the squad around him will be strengthened. And so it should.
What Arsenal cannot afford to do if they are to compete for honours is be in a position whereby they have to continue playing off-form players. And lack of squad depth is normally the reason this has to happen. Podolski is apparently a done deal, whilst confidence is high that M’Vila and Vertonghen will join and there will hopefully be a fourth addition, undoubtedly strengthening the playing roster. Sure it will cost money, but the wage bill is going up year on year anyway, and there is total and obvious deadwood that can be released, freeing up funds for the wages of newcomers who can only serve the club better.
Project Youth may finally be over, but Wenger will continue to use young players. The positive thing about this season is that he realises that the team needs more experience. Its addition has helped put two very decent runs of results together, especially that of the last few weeks, a time of the season that fans had learned to fear. What significance that Tomas Rosicky was starting more matches than Aaron Ramsey, in this regard? There is definitely a place for younger players in the first team, but by nature, they cannot be relied upon. Mikel Arteta makes a lot fewer errors than Alex Song, and his greater maturity is surely a factor in this.
If the current run continues – 27 points from 30 as I write – Arsenal will have good reason to rue the cheap points dropped against those sides fighting a relegation battle. The team have demonstrated they can raise their game for big challenges – but it is the bread and butter fixtures where concentration has been lacking. When the club was winning titles under Wenger, this simply did not happen so often. Sure, they sometimes made hard work of games, but as a rule results were achieved. This is what they must return to, and with the exception of QPR away, it seems they can.
All the signs are that Pat Rice will finally retire this summer, having wanted to a year ago but being persuaded to stay on. As great a club servant as he has been, it is a chance to freshen things up at the training ground, and one hopes that Arsène Wenger will choose a replacement who will have genuine impact rather than a perceived ‘yes man’. The selection of the new assistant is as significant as the major summer signings that we hope will be made nice and early this year.
Before I end, I want to quickly point people to an article on the Gooner Survey on page 27 of this issue, that informs you of the fact that our annual end of season survey will be online only this year – through our website onlinegooner.com. Please cast your votes after the game against West Brom that sees the end of the current campaign. And with that, my thanks to all our readers for continuing to support The Gooner. It has been a tough season, rarely boring, but sometimes difficult. And of course there have been some marvelous highs as well. Let’s hope when we reconvene in August there is genuine cause for optimism about the team we all care about.