23 March 2013

The Tides Turn

The last few years have seen rats fleeing Arsenal as if it was a sinking ship. Nasri, Song, Van Persie, Fabregas, Clichy, to name a few. It's as if we can gauge the health and future prospects of a club based on the willingness of its current players to stay. Of course, the paradox is that their attempts to leave help the seal the club's fate, undermining its future and further guaranteeing that other rats will leave. I keep using the term rats on purpose because that's what these players are— they doubt the team's prospects, leave and thereby bring about the very slump that they had forewarned, making them seem like geniuses in the process. It may not always feel like it, but we're better off in the long run without 'em.

I had written previously of what it takes to play for Arsenalmore than just skill or talent, but a certain vision for the game and how to mesh with ten other players. Those who left, to varying degrees, lacked this vision and were consumed instead by more of a 'me-first' mentality, whether this is measured in dollars or short-cuts to trophies. Long story short? If a player leaves, we didn't want him anyway. Sure, it's self-satisfying, maybe even spiteful, but it's true: why keep a player who doesn't want to stay, who doesn't belong, and who will stop playing at his best?

It is therefore gratifying to have ended the week with a raft of stories detailing how much various players want to stay and play for Arsenal. There was Wojciech Szczęsny, contradicting his own father to avow his loyalty to the club. Then, Per Mertesacker had to address rumors that he was headed back to Germany. He stated, "I can think of nothing else but to play for Arsenal" in order to  rubbish rumors of a move back to the Bundesliga. Laurent Koscielny dressed down similar rumors by saying "I do not want to go elsewhere." Thomas Vermaelen was admittedly more cagey in responding to rumors of a move to Barcelona, saying only "there is nothing I have heard [from Barcelona] so I can't say anything about that." I would have liked a more full-throated refusal from our current captain, but in his defense, Barcelona is just about the sexiest girl in town, and her attention is likely to cause a man to waver ever so slightly. We've discussed such a move in these pages before, admitting the compliment but suggesting that, while we wouldn't refuse an offer, it's a seller's market considering that Barcelona's defense folds faster than Superman on laundry day.

But I digress. What's encouraging about these stories is the larger trendinstead of hearing non-stop chatter about who's being targeted or who wants out, as we have at this time of year in years past, players are all but swearing that they want to stay. Sure, some of it is p.r.. Absolutely. However, it's a refreshing change of pace from hearing players whingeing on about wanting to play for trophies and trying to bait teams into making offers.

As the season comes to a close, transfer-chatter will increase. This writer doesn't pay much attention to that stuff, only enough to take the temperature of the team. With whom are we being linked? The likelihood of signing this or that player matters less to me than the quality of the player himself. If talk of signing Radamel Falcao arises, for example, don't get me wrongI'll be excited at the prospect, but I'll be gratified about what it implies about our ascendance.

In a season that has been topsy-turvy, then, we've seen the signings of not one but six young players in Gibbs, Walcott, Jenkinson, Wilshere, Ramsey, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the promises of four others that they want to stay. Not too shabby. That sinking ship that the rats had deserted earlier has righted itself just fine, thank you, perhaps by jettisoning the rats itself.