Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Big Picture

The previous post was supposed to be a review of the year, but then I went all tangental and did nothing of the sort. I hope I can avoid that here.

It’s been a year where America elected the right man, regardless of his skin colour, and in one sense showed an end to racism. Yet, on the other hand the BNP had somebody elected to the representative body of my home city, the GLA, for the first time ever.

It’s been a year where disastrous economic circumstances are putting more and more people into poverty. Yet, it’s been a year where we have continued to fight the afflictions of mankind: poverty, drugs and alcohol.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Dickens was right. No year is perfect. No year is absolutely awful. But, turning to Arsenal, it’s been bad.

There is a certain irony that Gallas scored the final goal of 2008 for Arsenal. Who else was ever going to get the final word? It should be remembered, if nothing else, as the year of William. Without his antics, it could have been a largely forgettable year.

I continue to support him. But who knows? What would have happened without his tears. His tears, in retrospect, were the water which started to dissolve Arsenal’s season. That was mid-February. We started the year – Shite Hart Lane aside – in good nick.

And whilst not enough importance is placed on both the loss of momentum suffered at St. Andrews, and how well Eddie and Ade played together, William’s breakdown was hugely important. An enormously talented defender; an enormously troubled man.

Ultimately, it can be said that Gallas’ actions undermined the 2007/08 season. Lets hope his being stripped of the captaincy (appallingly phrased) isn’t the defining moment of this campaign. Because there is zero animosity towards him. He should stay an Arsenal player. He came to Arsenal to win trophies, and win trophies he will.

If I had to choose a phrase to sum up this year it would be ‘what if’.

What if Eddie hadn’t had his leg snapped?
What if the two Peter’s hadn’t got the two penalty decisions wrong against Liverpool?
What if Arsene had made a concerted attempt to win the two domestic cup competitions?
What if we hadn’t received countless bad refereeing decisions in the final stretch of the domestic season?
What if we had actually spent serious money improving our team in the summer?
What if Cashley had died?

It was a year where we were so close, and I do believe that whilst this current team is playing nowhere near the standard they were 12 months ago, it isn’t dramatically weaker than it was a year ago.

We have to bare two things in mind: the London-based media loves a story about a crisis in London because it is much easier to report on; and that we have been awfully unlucky with injuries.

And I think the by-product of the injury glut is the de-motivation of the players. When a whole host of players are injured there is no competition for places. Regardless of how they play, they will retain their places. THAT is the difference from a year ago.

The players were motivated because the majority of players were fit. Everybody wanted to play in a winning team. Whilst losing injured players obviously removes talent from the team, it also cements places in the team for players who would otherwise have to fight.

Yes, this team needs improving but it also needs to remove the air of complacency which resounds. At Liverpool last season, you could see the players were genuinely upset and angered to be knocked out of the most important footballing competition in the world. Now, it’s as if they don’t care.

The second half of this year has seen disappointment in the transfer market, followed by forgettable football. Yet, in many ways we leave 2008 on a mini high. In the League it has been an undefeated December, where we have played some really good teams.

Yet, whilst I can try and gloss over the doom and gloom and make it look like we are once more on the up, our best player is injured for 4 months and the figures of 2008 don’t make pretty reading. 71 points from 38 games is scrape into the Champions League is you’re lucky form. But the real worry is 39 goals conceded from 38 games. Over a goal a game. Not nearly good enough to challenge for the league.

2008 will go down as a bad year. Yet, we can build on it. Whilst this team probably lacks the consistency for a league triumph, both of the two remaining cup competitions are a real possibility. Arsene Wenger has done a phenomenal job at Arsenal. The first half of this decade was unbelievably fruitful. Yet, the second half is looking like it could be barren. Instead, lets cap it with trophies, and cement Wenger’s reputation as an all-time great.

This team has unbelievable potential as we go into 2009 and onwards. It has been built by a magician and it can be truly magic. Lets hope this coming year is where it becomes so.

‘Til 2009