Feet on the ground 2

A year ago today, I wrote a cautionary blog about my club Arsenal’s position at the top of English football’s Premier League.

In that piece, I pointed out that we were top ahead of Chelsea, Liverpool and an out-of-sorts Manchester United, despite the summer departure of Thierry Henry to Barcelona. Derby had just been spanked 5-0. And rumours were flying around about Martin Jol, manager of Spurs, who were at that point languishing in the bottom four.

A lot has happened in the intervening twelve months. In Arsenal’s world, Eduardo da Silva suffered a horrendous broken leg, we lost to Spurs in the Carling Cup (the first time we had been beaten by our nearest and dearest rivals since the Middle Ages), and a promising season rapidly petered out. In the broader football universe, Euro 2008 came and went, as did Kevin Keegan at Newcastle; Manchester City were sold (and Liverpool and Newcastle would be given half a chance). And then there are events in the world outside football – yes, there really is a world outside football! – British dominance in the so-called ‘sitting-down events’ of cycling, rowing and sailing at the Beijing Olympics; the popularisation of the terms ‘credit crunch’, ‘lipstick pitbull’ and ‘large hadron collider’; the deliciously implausible reality of Boris Johnson replacing Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London.

And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Today, Arsenal are top of English football’s Premier League. Top ahead of Chelsea, Liverpool and an out-of-sorts Manchester United, despite the summer departure of Alexander Hleb to Barcelona. Sheffield United have just been spanked 6-0 (in the Carling Cup). And rumours are flying around about Juande Ramos, manager of Spurs, who are – and what a wonderfully juvenile rush it gives me to say this – languishing at the very foot of the Premier League.

Now, as then, my optimism is guarded rather than unrestrained. Many of the same caveats that existed last year remain in this one: a young squad long on talent but short on experience; uncertainty over key positions (goalkeeper, centre back, Cesc Fabregas’s partner in the middle of the field); free-spending rivals who have proven strength in depth, and a growing queue of well-financed pretenders (Manchester City, Aston Villa) impatiently chasing an oh-so-elusive top-four spot. And one great result by the galactikids in the early stages of the Carling Cup does not a great season make. (Indeed, one great result in the final of the Carling Cup does not a Champions League team make … ahem, Spurs.)

At some point, the perennial question of whether Arsene Wenger should play more of his senior players in the Carling Cup – in the all-important pursuit of silverware – will rear its ugly ahead. Let’s not go there for now.

And no doubt some naysayer will point out that, for all the verve shown by a side with an average age of 19 on Tuesday night, the likelihood is that only one or two of them will ever make it as Arsenal regulars – as if that’s a bad thing; it seems pretty good for one of Europe’s top sides to me. The last time a young Arsenal side recorded such an emphatic victory in the Carling Cup – a 5-1 hammering in 2003 of a Wolves side featuring an ageing Paul Ince – the XI included two current first team starters (Gael Clichy and Fabregas, who became Arsenal’s youngest ever goalscorer that night) and three other youngsters who are plying their trade elsewhere in the Premier League (David Bentley at Spurs, Jeremie Aliadiere and Justin Hoyte at Middlesbrough). That’s not so shabby.

Anyhow, for the moment I’m just basking in the knowledge that, despite yet another summer where we have lost key players and the doom-and-gloom merchants have been predicting our imminent demise, we have started the season well, possess yet another group of talented teenagers, and are playing the kind of aesthetically-pleasing football which could easily lead to trophies, even if all the wise, old pundits – who, of course, are never wrong(!) – are predicting that we will run out of steam over the winter (again).

Well, we’ll just see about that. We’ve been down this road before, but it doesn’t mean we will do so again. I’m not going to claim we’re going to win the quadruple, but I can see that, with the rub of the green, success both domestically and Europe are genuine possibilities. In these heady days of the back end of summer (what summer?!?), that’ll do for me.

And, if nothing else, I can take consolation in the fact that at least we’re not Spurs … the one great constant in my footballing life …


About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

One Response to Feet on the ground 2

  1. Hey. I like what you’ve got going on here. I’ve been following your blog, and I noticed we have some interesting shared obsessions. I’m curious to see what your opinion is of the post I dropped at the Rodeo yesterday comparing American football to Aussie Rules. Hope to talk to you soon,Matt the Albino Bowler from New Orleans

%d bloggers like this: