16 September 2013

Ramsey, Wilshere, Özil, and the danger of myopic nostalgia

As we prepare for the first of our group-stage matches against Marseille, we've found ourselves caught up in a wave of historic comparisons that I feel does our current squad a disservice. In its short version, we're constantly and remorselessly searching for the next Fàbregas, the next Henry, the next Bergkamp; we're impatiently awaiting the next
Invincible season; we're demanding the arrival of the club's next great hope. By those standards, any squad will suffer. After all, for as glorious as those players were, and as delirious as our celebrations were, they've been burnished also by the passing of time. The moments of glory have of course overshadowed some of the growing pains and clumsy stumbles of those very same names, few though they may have been, but the larger issue is how the glory of that era have spoiled us.

We're all familiar with Arsène's comments on caviar and sausage, and we have had to make do with more than few lean years, but the reality-check should be this question: have we punched above our weight? When you look at the players we've lost and how we've done, the answer is a strong yes—not an unqualified or resounding one, but a yes all the same. The only squads to have finished above us in the last eight years or so have done so by outspending us, by poaching our players on the cusp of superstardom, by flagrantly and gleefully flouting the philosophy that our manager, for all of his flaws, had held true to. How many other squads can lose their best players year after year after year, and to league rivals to boot, while still finishing as high as we do?  This is no argument for the status quo, mind you; it's simply a reminder that, for as much as we bemoan this trophy-drought, we've still had it better than most, and we've done so without selling our collective souls. Players who will play for club over money are few and far between, but we've done pretty well over the last few years. I don't know how I'd feel about seeing Nasri, Cole, and van Persie hoist a trophy for us. The emotions would be mixed, to say the least.

As I turn away from that and to our current squad, I harbor no such misgivings. Özil is a season-changing signing, make no mistake. His declaration that he would have signed for free comes £42.5m or so too late, of course, but we had the money and had to spend something to placate the torch-and-pitchfork brigade. Given the choice between signing him and signing, say, Suarez or Higuain (because we probably could not have signed him and another top-shelf player), I'd have to plump for Özil. As fascinating as those other targets may have been, only Özil matches up with how we play under Arsène, and only Özil stands to make those around him better. That second point should reverberate. Give it a moment. As capable as our lads have been (and, let's face it, "capable" is about-right), each of them stands to benefit. By any stretch of the imagination, he opens up a host of possibilities, whether it be the direct service he provides to the likes of Giroud, Walcott, Cazorla, or Podolski, or whether it be through other, more subtle means, such as his movement off the ball or the link-ups he offers to Wilshere, Rosický, Flamini, or Ramsey (to name just a few).

I don't want to make too much of one man, but as we go into Tuesday's group-stage match against Marseille, Özil sharpens this squad up just a bit. I'm not terribly concerned with whether he's the next Bergkamp or Pires. I don't worry about whether Ramsey or Flamini can be Vieira's heir. Between Vermaelen, Koscielny, and Mertesacker, who is the second arrival of Adams? Will Walcott eventually remind us of Henry? I don't know, and, frankly, I don't care. As trite as it may sound, I just want each of them to be the best they can be. Whether they do it in homage or imitation of some illustrious predecessor or in their own style should be up to them.

Whatever the case may be, we look to be in damned-good shape (pardon my French). Giroud and Ramsey, among others, are off to flying starts. Having conceded only two goals from open play and at full-strength in our last six matches, and only eight goals of any kind in our last 17 competitive matches, we'll arrive in Marseille on Tuesday in fine form. I'm not even worried about away-goals or goal-differential at the moment. We've dispatched Fener quite well, sent Spurs back home, and have won our last six away-matches dating back to last season. None of that guarantees anything for the match itself, of course, but it makes for some interesting possibilities. That's all I have to say about that.

In other news, this blog is again up for an award, nominated this time in the Football Blogging Awards. I'm gunning for a Best New Blog award, but I guess I'm also eligible for a Best Male Blog and Best Club Blog. If nothing else, I'm the only Arsenal blog in contention. I do hope you'll click on this link to get the emailed ballot and enter Woolwich 1886 in the "New" category. Thanks!