Saturday, May 31, 2014

Arsene Wenger Signs Da Ting - That's a Good Thing

And in the most unsurprising news of this transfer season, Arsene Wenger has signed a contract extension for another 3 years, till 2017 when he's at the ripe old age of 67. I suppose there was never any doubt about this, except till the 80th minute at Wembley in the FA Cup Semi-finals and in those wretched, torturous, agonizing opening 9 minutes of the finals. Other than those two moments, I suppose we all have known for sometime that Wenger is going to retire at Arsenal, barring some unexpected tragedy. 

Of course, when the news broke out yesterday there was the usual nonsense about '4th place' and trophy drought on twitter and other social media, about Wenger not having done enough to justify the contract written by writers attempting to write for 'actual media' (the inverted commas for the sole reason that hardly anyone regards Eurosport as actual media). Minority opinion I suppose, but an opinion nonetheless. The 'Wenger Out' preceded by a hashtag has been a common sight in the past few years, and there are of course some people who'll never be happy. At the beginning of the season, these were the ones who pointed at Tottenham's spending and said we'd drop out of top 4, then as the season progressed they said we'd only get the 4th place trophy and nothing else, and finally when we did win the FA Cup they said we didn't win the league. Hashtag Wenger Out. 

I don't get some people, really. Of course Wenger has made mistakes in the past few years, including last season. The way our title challenge fell away last season, our humiliating away performances, all of it was quite embarrassing. But at the end of the season, we still won the FA Cup, qualified for Champions League and have a summer ahead to consolidate and improve with the new Emirates and Puma deals kicking in. That's an additional 30 million a year from each of these deals. While I highly doubt all of it will be used in transfers, there is the expectation that a fair bit will be utilized to improve the squad. 

As far as the team is concerned, it's at that stage where it's perhaps ready to go forward. We have a frighteningly good base, with most of our positions filled with players who can compete with the best in the league. Our keeper tied with Cech for the highest number of clean sheets, our defense, despite the odd lapse, is one of the best in the league, our midfield riches are well documented, and in Aaron Ramsey we have a player on the verge of superstardom. A few signings (not the massive bulkload of crap that Tottenham signed last season) maybe enough for a sustained title push.

Wenger of course is the man to do that. No doubt about it. With the FA Cup win, he got that trophy drought monkey off his back, and seems ready to push onward (is it just me or has he been looking younger as well). This was reflected in his reply to the question as to whether fans should expect a big summer: 
'Yes they should expect that. What I can promise is that we work very hard on a market that is very, very congested with many people who have a lot of money. But we have a big advantage, players want to join us and if we find the right quality I'm sure we can strengthen the team.'

Last summer Wenger showed that he was willing to shell out money on a marquee signing, and there's no reason why this summer can't be the same (subject to player availability of course). And objectively speaking, isn't the better position to be in is the one where we're looking for a new striker rather than a new manager. If nothing else, Arsene Wenger brought consistency in a period of financial restrictions. Last season, the consistency was maintained and a trophy was added. As I've stated above, this is a time for consolidation, not structural changes. I think we all recognize we're not too far away from the top. And hopefully Arsene Wenger is the man to lead us there yet again. With the new contract, he has three more years to work towards that, and we have three more years of stability (insert mandatory Chelsea, Tottenham and United joke).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Fond Goodbye to our No. 2, Lukasz

The transfer season has begun and Arsenal has lost another star. No wait, it's our FA Cup, Semi-final hero, Lukasz Fabianski. As reported earlier today, Fabianski has entered into a pre-contract agreement with Swansea, and will join them when his Arsenal contract expires in June. 

A little shortsightedness might prompt you to state that our best keeper is leaving, his penalty shootout heroics against Wigan are what got us into the FA Cup finals in the first place. And he's been the keeper for all the matches which lead to our first trophy in 9 years. But I suppose a little more perspective is required. Lukasz Fabianski has made 78 Arsenal appearances in seven seasons at Arsenal. That's quite low, even without considering the fact that he was competing with Almunia. For the longest time he was the talented, but error prone second in command to Almunia (who can forget this howler), receiving the unfortunate nickname of Flappyanski. 

He's always been a talented keeper, and has made some fine saves, but for the longest time he was simply too error prone and too inconsistent to ever be a No. 1 keeper for a club like Arsenal. A brilliant save, followed by a howler was the order of the day. A lot of times, it simply seemed that the pressure got to him. That day in 2010, when we lost 1-0 to Manchester United, a young fellow pole, Wojciech Szczesny made his Premier League debut on account of Fabianski and Almunia being injured. His heroics continued to earn him a spot in the first team, culminating in him being the first choice keeper, and Fabianski being consigned to being his backup. 

Our collective opinion of Fabianski began to change when Wenger decided he had enough of Szczesny's poor form, and dumped him in the away match against eventual Champions League winners, Bayern Munich. We all know what happened next. A clean sheet against one of the best strike forces in Europe, eventual treble winners, and it seemed as if Fabianski was once again the club No. 1. Unfortunately for him, he got injured, Szczesny returned with a vengeance, accumulating clean sheet after clean sheet, and is the undisputed No. 1 at the club. 

Of course, this season Fabianski has played every FA Cup match, including the final, made a couple of great saves along the way, and possibly his most memorable night came in the form of a penalty shootout against Wigan in the semis. He was man of the match in that game for me, and his two penalty saves secured a berth to the final. Wenger took the more emotional decision to start Fabianski in the finals, and while the entire team deserves the blame for a terrible start, it can be argued that Fabianski didn't have world's greatest 9 minutes. Hadn't we staged a blazing comeback, the critical brickbats that Fabianski might have received are impossible to fathom. 

At the end of the day, Fabianski is a fairly decent goalkeeper, a nice chap, and a thorough professional. Never one to mourn, or talk about playing time, he's always put his head down, worked hard, and this season done quite a stellar job most of the times when called upon. While Szczesny is our undisputed No. 1, Fabianski was a quality backup, and after several years he's really grown this season. That being said, Szczesny is one of the best keepers in the league and his performances this season have been criminally underrated (mostly on account of those traumatising multi-goal away losses). Fabianski would never be a permanent No.1 at Arsenal, and fairplay to him for leaving in search of first team opportunities. I'd of course prefer that he had moved to a different country, but it's also nice knowing that despite all the criticism about Arsenal keepers, we've provided the Premier League with two decent keepers in the form of Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski. 

All this of course means that we need a new backup keeper. Whether we look outside (John Ruddy has been mentioned) or inwards at a younger player like Martinez is a decision which the manager has to take. The slightly alarming aspect of this is that we now need a keeper and a right back since Sagna has announced that he's leaving, essentially replacing before we can actually strengthen. It's going to be a long transfer season. 

Anyway, good luck to Lukasz Fabianski, our semi-final hero. 

Why Now?

There is often a joke amongst several long time Arsenal supporters, especially those who don't stay in and around North London (or England) for that matter, that a huge majority of supporters of Chelsea and Manchester City would ditch their clubs the minute they stop winning, that is to say, the minute their respective sugar daddies cut of their proverbial supply of sugar. Or for that matter, a lot of Manchester United supporters are only supporters because they know nothing about football, except that they've heard of Manchester United. For a long time, the oft cited 9 years, a lot of starving Arsenal fans (metaphorically starving, you know, trophies yada yada) got by stating that at the very least we're 'proper fans'. You know, sticking by the club through thin and thick, always wondering when glory days would return, when we could fart in Mourinho's scowling face. Well, it kind of did, since we won the FA Cup (except for the last part. You don't need a trophy to fart in Jose's face). 

And after living, breathing, crying, laughing, tearing my hair (from an already receding hairline) on account of Arsenal, I've finally, long at last decided to start my own Arsenal blog. Why you ask? Well, mostly because of narcissism. I like my opinions more than anyone else's (except for these guys: ). That and the fact that I simply got tired of fighting with bums who sound like Piers Morgan. I mean, spending ages writing posts explaining tactics, the word count being equivalent to an actual blog post does get tiring. So here's my humble attempt at writing my own blog. Let's see how this goes.

PS: If you do end up reading this, and want to write as well, please let me know. As long as you're not a complete idiot and/or Michael Owen, you're welcome to contribute.