01 February 2014

And so we come full circle...

I started this blog a year ago to the day, that is, to the close of the 2013 winter transfer-window. At the time, I was so outraged at the deadline-day signing of Nacho Monreal, a move planned for the following summer but desperately fast-tracked due to an injury to Kieran Gibbs, that I started this blog. I've followed Arsenal for the better part of the last 32 years, but it never occurred to me to share my feelings or opinions with anyone else until that day.

I might despair, but I'm not as bad as this wanker.
On 1 February 2013, this post got me started. Now, 364 days and 506 blog-posts later, how much has changed? Well, for one, we're left with a less-than-satisfying transfer-window. Kim Källström looks to be by all accounts a fine, even inspiring man off the pitch even if he isn't the kind of player who inspires fans to swoon at his on-field exploits. Don't get me wrong. He looks to be a shrewd addition to the squad. However, I am probably preaching to the choir when I wonder why our only move of the window was for yet another midfielder—even if, in the short term, we're a bit short-handed after Ramsey's injury and Flamini's three-game suspension. As with that first, year-old diatribe, I'm left wondering if we would have made any moves had Ramsey's injury, like Gibbs's, hadn't forced Arsène's hand, or if Flamini hadn't gone gonzo enough to see red.

Like many of you, I'd imagine, I'm frustrated. We have a few needs, among them another striker, center-back, perhaps even right-back. On paper, our starting can win the Prem. We've been top of the table after 17 of 23 matches, 17 of the last 19 matches. Among the title-contenders, we still sport best away-record, far and away. Even if our home-record suffers a bit for the comparison, we're a model of consistency, and our chief rivals suffer from flaws of their own. Man City, for example, might blitz opponents at the Etihad, and that goal-differential could come in handy mid-May. However, send them anywhere else, and they're merely pretty good. That, more than goal-differential, will matter a great deal going forward. Chelsea, for all of their depth, struggle to generate goals. Yes, I know that they've scored 45 goals, just two less than we have, but total goals isn't the issue. Seven times, Chelsea has failed to score more than one goal, with five of those ending in clean sheets. At the other end, they've scored three or more goals four times, meaning that 17 of those 45 goals have come in those four games. It's a bit of feast or famine for them, something that the Specious One failed to address and may just have exacerbated by sending Juan Mata to Old Trafford.

Therefore, as we take stock, let's remind ourselves that the expectations we built up were a bit unrealistic. I, for one, have been guilty of succumbing to the Draxler-mania, beguiled by his talent, although it's largely unproven. He's 20. He may become something special, but it's unlikely that he'd become the club's talisman. In fact, for as tepid as the Källström signing might feel by comparison, his experience might be more vital to the run-in than Draxler's more-mercurial elements. Anyone else we might have signed or brought in via loan, whether it was Berbatov or Vucinic or Kalou, would have helped. Certainly. How much is another question. Bendtner can deputize here and there, such as Sunday against Crystal Palace, and—dare I breathe his name?—Sanogo could make a cameo here and there to relieve Giroud of the Atlas-sized burden he's shouldered since the beginning of this campaign.

It's easy to get pessimistic. After all, we signed Özil and expectations soared. We've sat top of the table for so long, but now, symbolically if not strategically, we're not. Talk of the Draxler signing has droned on and on for weeks. The Puma deal stoked our expectations even further. To then see the transfer-window close so anti-climactally (with apologies to Källström) is bound to feel, well, deflating. However, that doesn't equal defeating.

Look. This same squad—without Flamini or Özil—went on a famous run to close out the 2012-13 campaign. Just when everyone had written us off after the defeats to Tottenham and Bayern, the lads showed their mettle time and time again, refusing to lose, finding goals and claiming points no matter the venue or the stakes. No, we haven't made any dramatic signings. That's bound to feel a bit dispiriting, especially after we had let our hopes soar so high.

Despite the contrast between those hopes and the reality, though, the reality still looks pretty damned good. It may not glitter quite as bright as it would through the signing of a player or two, but it's still a pretty damned-good squad with more spirit it than we sometimes acknowledge. Say what you will about buying individual players; at Arsenal, players are asked to buy into a system and a philosophy. Those who aren't quite willing to pay the price, be they Marouane or Sebastien or Robin, move on. When putting together a squad, a manager must ask himself, "will the sum be greater than the parts?" In this case, we have little choice but to hope that the answer will be "yes."