20 May 2013

Happy St. Totteringham's Day to you all!

Wow. I can't say enough about the rollercoaster-ride this season has been, and to have it end as it has is nothing short of wonderful. Anyone still dwelling on the idea that we've fallen on hard times if we're celebrating a 4th-place finish because "we're Arsenal Invincibles blah blah blah"  can take a flying leap, for all I'm concerned. 4th place may not be caviar, but it sure as hell ain't sausage. Ask 34 other Prem League teams if they'd trade places with us--heck, it could've been 35 if Chelsea had  stumbled. Check with Gary Neville, who rightly points out that we've spent less than £10 million net in the last ten years as we've paid down the debt on a new stadium that raised capacity from 38,419 at Highbury to 60,362 at the Emirates.  Under Arsène, we have never finished lower than Spurs, never finished lower than fourth, and have always played in the Champions League. Sure, we've gone from finishing first or second to finishing third or fourth but have done so without the resources of any of the clubs who have been finishing above us. To anyone who feels that this isn't good enough, maybe you should consider rooting for the likes of Man City or Chelsea or Man U. I mean, seriously. Come to grips with reality, and, by all means, see where we are a year from now and ten years from now.

Neville hit it on the head when he said the following:
They've built a football stadium, they're paying off their debt, and they're nearly there. If they move up now, it will look like one of the most magnificent managerial performances when you look back in history. Half the Arsenal fans are annoyed because they think they should be doing more and should be doing better, but of all the madness and debt that surrounds football, what they have done is absolutely the right thing.
He goes on to mention a few cautionary tales, such as Portsmouth and Leeds, as examples of what can happen when a team mismanages finances. I'm always suspicious of how "great" a manager can be if he can manage the best players in the world. Yes, it's a challenge to sort those egos and all, but what Wenger has done with the players he's had and with his long-range plan is nothing short of visionary. Of course, he does put out a rather large "if", as in "if they move up". We'll come back around to that in moment.

First, though, let's remind ourselves of what we've done because it is significant and wonderful. We've climbed back from 10th place, taken 26 of our last 30 points, conceded less than a goal per game, and finished in 4th place, behind three of the freest-spending teams in the world, and have done so while having to see some of our best players leave. Just about the only improvement I could suggest on the season (aside from finishing first) would be to switch the Wigan and Newcastle games. How amazing it would have been to finish on a delirious high note instead of having to settle for a stomach-churning grinder whose outcome never seemed secure until the whistle blew! Up until Webb called it, I think most of us got more satisfaction from the fake "Newcastle equalized" tweet than we did from the actual game. Even Koscielny's goal, as fantastic as it was, wasn't enough to produce more than a moment of ecstasy before we settled back into worrying.

That's all in the past, thank god. We can hash and rehash what could've been and what should've been in a few days, but for now, just bask in the glory of yet another St. Totteringham's Day. I do actually pity Spurs even if it's not sufficiently Goonerish of me. They've achieved a lot, and it does say something that they can hang with the big boys as well as they do every year. I don't know if 5th place will convince Bale pack up and leave. I hope not. He's good for Spurs, of course, but he's been good for us. We needed a rabbit to chase, especially with the Manchesters pulling away from the rest of the pack for the last couple of years. Without him, Spurs will all but fade into obscurity, and we might start to feel complacent. We can't have that.

St. Totteringham's Day came about as late as it could this year, and there were moments when we doubted it would come at all, but it's here. Even now, nearly 24 hours after the fact, a smile spreads across my face and beams so brightly that colleagues worry about my mental state. For the first time  in a while (at least as far as it concerns this lovely team), I'm quite good. Happy. Relieved. Excited.

And that brings me back to Neville's "if". Qualifying for the Champions League gives us that much more leverage and, yes, lucre to woo a few new signings. I'd said it before and I'll say it again, not that anyone pays much attention to what I have to say: we've fought and scrabbled for ten years to arrive at almost precisely the point we are right now, in a new stadium, still in the Champions League, and with the financial stability and flexibility to dress up the squad a bit. We're therefore poised to make some moves over the summer, not that we need to overhaul this squad. I believe that the squad as it's currently made up, is on the verge of stepping up very well on its own, and could very well reel in if not overtake the clubs that finished ahead of us this year. Now that the season is over, the rumors will start to fly like an unholy Biblical plague. Do your best to ignore them, at least for a few days, and celebrate what and who we do have. Wilshere. Cazorla. Walcott. Koscielny. Gibbs. Ramsey. I won't list 'em all here, but you catch my drift. These are players (and yes, there are others) who might emerge next year with break-through performances. After all, we don't buy superstars. We make them.