19 September 2013

#Henrying and the clarity of Arsène's vision

A bit of mischief was afoot today as all over twitter were different versions of Henrying, taking Thierry Henry's latest goal celebration—coolly standing with one hand on the post, the other on the hip, and just, well, enjoying what it's like to be Thierry Henry. You can find images ranging from the silly to the sublime, whether it's Henry  hoisting the American flag at Iwo Jima, intercepting Maradona's Hand of God goal, or making contact with E.T. It's worth a good laugh or two, as some of the images do put Henry in some silly
situations, but I'll leave it to you to track down your favorites. Yours truly tossed off a few, such as the one to the left in which Henry snuffs van Persie's dive with a palm to the face. His smooth nonchalance stands in stark contrast against van Persie's awkward tumble, not that I'm trying to make any deeper points here.

Actually, come to think of it, I am. For as thrilling as it has been to secure the signing of a player like Mesut Özil, this #Henrying stuff, along with the recent performances of some of the squad's best and brightest, should serve as a reminder that our manager, more often than not, knows what he's up to. Therefore, as his contract-talks heat up, this writer ardently hopes that we'll see Arsène, puffy coat and all, prowling the sidelines for years to come.

The Özil signing, as we all know, was a breath-taking statement of intent as we brought in one of the world's best players. As we've discussed, what is perhaps more significant is less attention-arresting if how well he suits Arsène's vision of how to play football. This technically-gifted, positionally aware, and insightful midfielder possesses all of the traits needed to play the stylish, possession-based football that Arsenal has come to be known for over the last twenty years or so. Also of note? His age. At 24, he joins a core of Gunners entering the prime of their lives. For as much as we might have pined for a Gonzalo Higuain or a Luis Suarez to lead the line, their arrivals might have upset the balance of the squad, not in any dramatic way, but enough to force some adjustments. Özil, by contrast, arrives already understanding, nay, believing, in the movement, the passing, the verve of Arsène's style.

Just as important as his on-field contributions this season will be his influence on the other up-and-coming Gunners with whom he plays, whether it's the service he provides and understanding he develops with Theo Walcott (also 24) or the technique, vision, and methods he shares with Aaron Ramsey (22) and Jack Wilshere (21). Perhaps less directly but no less vital is his relationship with Kieran Gibbs (23), with whom he's already forged a solid tandem as demonstrated by Gibbs's pass to set up Özil's assist against Sunderland or by the constant exchanges between the two against Marseille. Interestingly, Özil has drifted towards the left in the last two matches, giving rise to that Özil-Gibbs partnering.

Lost, then, in all of the hub-bub of the transfer window, a disappointing loss to Aston Villa, signing Özil, and going on a fine run is how well this all jibes with Arsène's vision. We've come 'round full circle in a way. Yes, a dramatic signing is all well and good, but what's remarkable is how vital have been those players whom Arsène found and signed at a young age. As each of them rounds into form, whether it's Ramsey leading the team in scoring and tackles, Wilshere defining his role, Walcott tallying his first goal in thunderous fashion, or Gibbs turning in commanding performances, we're seeing a return to the days of making superstars. Add in Wojciech Szczęsny, age 23, and Jenkinson, age 21, and we're now talking about six starters whom Arsène has brought along, each of whom could become something special.

It's not for nothing that we started this post with Thierry Henry. Before coming to Arsenal at age 21, he had shown glimpses of his potential but erupted into full glory after arriving. Simply put, there is a history of young players flourishing under Arsène, and for as good as Özil had been for club and country before, like Henry, like Bergkamp, like Pirès, he looks set to elevate his game to another level entirely. Along the way, it seems that we're seeing a revitalization of Arsène's commitment to youth and development in the best of ways. It's probably too soon to suggest that this season will be a special one—the squad as it stands is still a bit callow, not to mention thin—but, on the whole, it's well-positioned to restore this club to its former glories. It feels good, to say the least.

Before we sign off, I'd like to invite you to cast your ballot in the Football Blogging Awards, in which this blog is nominated as a best #New blog. To vote via twitter, imply click the FBA image above to vote; enter Woolwich 1886 in the #New category, and you're done. To vote via email, click this link and receive the emailed ballot. In either case, thank you for your support!