ANR & Arsenal : next season, last season, this summer

I write a lot of stuff here and most of it is topical and soon forgotten by yours truly.

Writing something down gives me permisson to forget it. But I mean it when I write it, really mean it. As Johnny Rotten once snarled, “We mean it, maaan!”

When I’m writing any review, any feature, any preview, any article at all, any book, I give it everything. I always, always give it everything I’ve got because I’m haunted by a line from Peter Gillman, who was the features editor of Radio Times, a guy I loved. He sent me out to interview famous singers, actors and actresses, jockeys, footballers, an orchestra conductor, comedians, writers, three Canadian snooker players, and many more.

One morning I gave him a piece and later that day I did something I only did once. I asked : “Was that piece alright? I felt a bit uninspired.” And Peter said, “It’s a serviceable feature.”

I was scared by that and I’ve been haunted by it ever since. I didn’t want to spend my life writing “serviceable features.” I didn’t want to be a hack. I thought I was capable of better than that and I even hoped, one day, to write a book.

On ANR, I write and then I forget. When I once read what I wrote six years ago on ANR I found it very harsh, so I  tried to become more measured. But I never looked at my old stuff again. These days I remember themes, a few headlines, one or two pieces that I thought were good. The rest, I forget them.

Therefore I don’t know if I’ve contradicted myself, and in nine seasons on ANR I’ve never reviewed my season to see what I got right or wrong. For a start it would take too long to read so many pieces, and anyway football is about the next match.

Football jumps from game to game very,very quickly, and ANR goes from piece to piece very quickly. And while I often circle back on myself, the stuff we write is mostly driven by events and matches and themes, the ones Ian Grant and I deem most significant.or most interesting to us.

Each July I start to connect with next season, even though I always wait till September 1 to see how strong Arsenal’s squad is compared to Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester United.

We are now seven weeks from September and a lot can happen in seven weeks. Players get cheaper after big clubs have spent their money.

Many of the players linked to Arsenal are players I haven’t seen play, so I’m not gonna comment on them. And the manager has so far signed a Pole and a Croatian who had never been linked to Arsenal by any newspaper or website : Fabianski and Eduardo both came in under the radar. The Sagna deal will happen for £6.2 million, so that is different.

In the meantime, what to write in the next few weeks? I have a few ideas and I’ll be doing an occasional series about Arsenal legends from the Nineties, Eighties, Seventies and Sixties. Maybe I can do the first one later this week. The legends series is something that Ian and I talked about a year ago but I’ve never had time to do it.

Today I’m reminding myself of what I’ve said in 2007 so far.

On January 22, after Arsenal 2 Manchester United 1, my headline was : Cesc’s team gives Emirates its first memorable victory

The goals came in 53 and 83 and 93 and the Robin van Persie goal was the best of the three because it was the most difficult finish, although Rooney’s controlled header at the far post was far from easy. Many strikers would have headed into the side-netting or the post, or at Lehmann.

In 91 minutes, Sir Alex waved the white flag by taking off Ronaldo, the player of the season, and putting on Heinze at left back. How stupid!

In 93, Eboue played one-two with Rosicky and hit a phenomenal cross with pace into the goalmouth and Henry sent a power-header through Edwin van der Sar from eight yards to give the Emirates its first dramatic victory, its first big scalp, its first bit of history, its first memorable match.

On February 17, after a 0-0 against Blackburn Rovers my headline  was : The worst Arsenal game for years and years and years  
 
There was no tempo, no sense of urgency, no sense that this was a Cup tie. It was more like a practice game or a testimonial.

Arsenal could not open up a nine-man Blackburn defence who came for a 0-0. In the first 74 minutes the only shot on target was by sub Matt Derbyshire, whose hook-shot was tipped over by Almunia.

Yes, Aliadiere was clattered by the clumsy Warnock in 76 minutes, a clear penalty which the referee missed, and Brad Friedel clawed away an Henry flick-shot in 87, but the whole thing was a colossal yawn which made me glad I wasn’t there. If you paid £90 to watch this game, you felt gutted.

It was sickening to watch Henry hugging little Theo Walcott before the kick-off. It was so embarrassing. If the kid needs a cuddle he should not be out there. Walcott might be a player when he’s 19 but he isn’t a player now. Flamini was taking four and five touches ! Aliadiere at least had a decent game, with little service, and blue bodies all round him.

HENRY just flounced around and fell over a lot. He’s a big pussycat. Pathetic.

He spent more time on the ground today than in any game in the last six years. He was like an elegant Heskey, spending half the game on his arse.

No serious club can pay that kind of money to a superstar who isn’t doing it. Arsenal refused to pay it to Patrick Vieira and sold him.

And now Henry is going the same way. And he must be confused when the manager is resting Adebayor, Rosicky and Clichy…. and starting him.

I want to stay at Arsenal for life? And play like this? Play for 30 seconds in each half ?

Mark my words : Thierry Henry will go ! Make a note of the date below. I told you first. All last season I told you he would stay when the papers said he would go. Now I’m telling you : the legend, the record goalscorer, is living on borrowed time. He has slowed down. He doesn’t burn people off any more.

On March 22, after Arsenal 2 Reading 1 and before the PSV Eindhoven second leg, the headline was : Arsenal’s season on a knife edge

Arsenal’s European survival is on a knife edge.
Can they beat PSV by 2-0 ?

Is Eboue really a big, big doubt? If he can’t play, will Djourou deputise at right back ?

Thankfully, Saturday’s Reading game was never as close as the scoreline made it look. Reading scored because Arsene brought on a sub when he was defending a corner.
You never do that. I saw Joe Fagan do it in a Charity Shield game at Wembley and he admitted it was stupid. Senderos came on and headed the corner in off Fabregas. An o.g. by AW.

Unfortunately, Arsenal only looked dangerous on the counter-attack. Since PSV will not support their attacks, Arsenal will not be able to counter-attack very much.
When Arsenal defend a corner they bring all eleven players back, drawing their opponents forward because they have nobody to mark, then win the ball around the box and explode down the field with sprints and slick passes that create one-on-one scoring chances.

That is when Arsenal are exciting. They do that better than any team in the world.

On April 5 the headline was : Arsenal can be the Manchester United of the 21st century

Arsenal has not yet realised it’s now a big club. The noises coming from the club, and the manager, are those we expect from a Highbury-sized Arsenal .Glasgow Rangers owner David Murray once said, “At a big club, you have to change the menu.” He was talking about buying a star every summer because the fans and the media expect an ambitious actions as well as ambitious words.

In the USA, it hasn’t taken Kroenke long to realise that Arsenal is now a big club which can get a lot bigger in the next ten years.

In the 20th century, Manchester United was the biggest club in the world and they peaked with their legendary treble in 1999.

But Arsenal are well placed to become the Manchester United of the 21st century.All they need is a new owner.

What no buyer wants to be left in a situation of having a large, even majority share-holding, but with one or two large shareholders who keep their holdings and retain seats on the board. That can be very disruptive and is looked on very unfavourably by the market, reducing the value of the company, due to the risk and inflexibility it tends to bring.

The existing family shareholders will be under enormous pressure to sell at the offer price, when it comes. These deals will be being done now behind closed doors, so that the public statement to the market will show unanimity and a clear strategic, financial and operational path forward under the new owner.

As I said the other day, Arsene Wenger and his future contract will be at the centre of the transaction.