What a wonderful weekend for Arsenal.
A 1-0 victory over Everton, made possible by a wonder-goal from our club captain; losses to league leaders Manchester City and those lads at Tottenham; and the unveiling of three glorious statues outside Emirates Stadium marked the 125th anniversary for the club that we all love.
All the good vibes prompted me to make four conclusions on a variety of topics that surrounded the anniversary celebrations.
Robin van Persie has enjoyed the year of his career
It is no surprise but it bears repeating: Robin van Persie has had the standout year of his footballing career. 33 goals in the Premier League in 2011, one more than Thierry Henry ever managed, and he is just three away from Alan Shearer’s all-time record of 36.
But amazingly for a player like van Persie it has not been about the goals. It has never been about the goals. His transformation from an experienced, talented but oft-unavailable player to the figure-head of this Arsenal squad has been remarkable. He has taken on the captaincy with determination and fostered a team spirit that values grit and heart as much as it does fluid football.
In every possible footballing aspect that you can consider he has been exemplary. To mark our 125th anniversary with a goal of such superb technical quality as to honour Arsene Wenger’s philosophy, to secure a 1-0 win that winks knowingly at the teams of the past, from the man who now holds the mantle as club captain, was absolutely sensational.
Lack of recent success has changed the attitude of incoming players
It occurred to me recently that our recent lack of success — in trophy form, of course — may well be responsible for a positive change in attitude of the players who have broken into the team over the past seasons. A few years ago Arsenal was a place constantly on the brink of winning trophies — an atmosphere that perhaps attracted the Samir Nasris and Emmanuel Adebayors of the world — players who expect success but perhaps do not possess the character to do the hard yards to make it happen.
As things currently stand Arsenal are not a club a prospective player would look at as likely to dominate the European footballing scene, we simply do not have the money-power. So when new players arrive — I’m thinking the Koscielnys, Mertesackers and Artetas — they know Arsenal’s current standing in the game and what it will take to achieve success. They’re also not disheartened by the apparent downward fall we have taken over the past six years, but looking up at where this club could be in the next three years.
This subtle change in attitude, combined with the English core of young players that are emerging, could see us develop into a far more mentally-strong team than we have previously been perceived.
Playing four centre-backs gave us surprising balance
While it should be mentioned Everton showed very little attacking intent the fact is that they were afforded very little opportunity by a back four that featured no full-backs. Koscielny and Mertesacker played through the middle, meaning Thomas Vermaelen shuffled to the left and Johan Djourou playing on the right. With injuries to Gibbs, Sagna, Jenkinson and Santos’ long-term absence confirmed — he’ll be missing for three months with ankle ligament damage — it is a line-up we will need to get used to.
Surprisingly though, it gave the side a lot of balance as Gervinho and Theo Walcott were able to bomb forward at will knowing they would always be covered in the event of a mistake. Vermaelen used the extra space afforded to him to hurt Everton with some raking cross-field passes while Djourou’s understandable lack of ambition was taken advantage of by Alex Song, who scuttled forward late on to set up van Persie with a brilliant pass for the winning goal.
Nine points is not a chasm
After having dug ourselves out of a massive early-season hole and still only sitting fifth on the table, two points behind Spurs, any Arsenal supporter could be forgiven for settling for a place in the top four come the end of the season. But with the top five now crowding into a tighter space and results between the five sides proving to be as unpredictable as Gervinho’s dribbling, is it unrealistic not to hold some hope that our team could finish top of the pile at the end of the season?
A top four place is still no certainty, make no mistake about it, but a win over Manchester City next weekend would make things delightfully poised. We probably do not have the experience within this group of players to win the league but as our improvement clearly indicates, we are a team on the up that has the potential to be better.
Thierry Henry as our next manager would be sensational
I have been of the opinion for perhaps two or three years that the man who will succeed Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager will be Thierry Henry. I don’t really know why this is the case, it’s probably a combination of what he has done for our club, the esteem with which he is held by the Arsenal faithful and the comment that Wenger once made that ‘nobody knows more about football than Thierry’. And now he has been immortalised alongside Herbert Chapman and Tony Adams as one of the three statues to be put up outside Emirates Stadium.
He lives and breathes football, he is an intelligent, charismatic man who understands the game, knows our philosophy inside and out and understands our club’s history. Not to mention the fact that he could bring in the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires and form a management team that would get every Arsenal fan quivering with excitement.
It might be a little idealistic but I’d love to see Henry as our next manager.
Happy 125th anniversary celebrations to all. Let me know what you thought of it all by leaving a comment.