Friday, 13 April 2012

A season of change and new hope

Mediocrity loomed. The devil was in the faces of the opposition as they pounced week in week out, focusing attention on the weak areas of a fragile team devoid of confidence, ashamed, embarrassed and lost. The fans, with their heads easily turned by delusions of grandeur, with their ego elevated by 15 years of high success, cast doubt over the role of the ailing stewardship of the football club.

Fingers were pointed in various areas; the ownership, or the unknown ownership in fact, the management, the backroom staff, the arrogance, laziness, incompetence of the players at all levels. Young players accused of not working hard enough as they have been rewarded too much too young.

A club in decline where the famous and medal clad former players discuss the reasons for the decline in the media on a weekly basis following yet another poor result; setting upon the club like wolves. Everyone believing they knew better than those who have been running the club for the last 15 years, everyone else had the answers. The cycle rolled on, more self examination followed by another poor result.

A manager who had built up the foundations for unprecedented success looked a shadowy figure prowling the touchline exasperated by poor form, bad luck and an increasing lack of love from supporters. The manager, aging before our eyes, became the focus of intense media scrutiny and many predicted it to be an un-dignified end to a gloriously successful and beautiful period of the football clubs life.

You will hear it muttered in football circles that 'form is temporary, class is permanent' and never has this clich├ęd saying found more substance than it has this season. The manager in question is Arsene Wenger.

As it stands, Arsenal are third in the Premier League 5 points clear of a failing Tottenham Hotspur, an inspiring Newcastle United and an incredible 7 points clear of Chelsea. If Arsenal beat Wigan on Monday evening then they will stretch the lead and a win against an inconsistent Chelsea at the Emirates on Saturday lunchtime will all but seal a champions league birth for next season. Arsenal could potentially be 11 points clear of their arch rivals in North London after the match against Chelsea signifying one of the most remarkable comebacks in Premier League history.

When looking at the football club, spending time in and around the Emirates stadium, one can note a real harmony at the club between fans and players and now management. Arsenal have been through turbulent year where two of the key players of the team decided to leave. One player, Cesc Fabregas, will be celebrated upon his return as he gave everything to Arsenal and it is common knowledge he still loves the club deeply, his head only being turned by boyhood dreams of representing the magnificent Barcelona.

The same can not be said for Samir Nasri who has followed Emmanuel Adebayor in chasing a bigger pay cheque. The loss of key players signified much unrest at the club with factions of supporters ready to protest about the lack of investment and decline in expectations. The lowest point of the season undoubtedly came at Old Trafford as a weak, out of form and injury hit Arsenal side were humiliated by losing 8-2.

Never have I witnessed a team gain so much togetherness throughout a season, the signings of Arteta, Benayoun, Mertesacker and Santos have gone a long way to creating a experienced calmness in the squad and this has been reflected on the pitch. Tomas Rosicky has been rejuvenated recreating the suberb form witnessed by supporters of Borussia Dortmund. Robin Van Persie has been at his determined, magnificent best fully justifying his selection as captain of the club.

There is something beautiful in football that when it is perceived as backs being against a wall, the supporters inevitably rally behind the cause. The atmosphere at the Emirates stadium has lifted and a togetherness has been created. One might put it down to supporters finally decreasing expectations and allowing a new team to develop. What ever the reason is, it has been felt by the players and management. Performances on the pitch have been excellent, professional, passionate and determined. Arsenal with a season goal of finishing above the rivals Tottenham Hotspur have taken to the challenge with magnificent grace.

There is a feeling that this has been a true season of transition at Arsenal and the club are ready to challenge right at the top again. Previous painful experiences will resonate with supporters as the foundations of success have been stripped away with key players being let go. Something feels different now however and this summer might well prove to be a very exciting time at Arsenal with more experienced players being added to key positions in the team. The imminent signing of Lukas Podolski represents huge promise and a club that has learnt from previous mistakes. There have been strong rumours that more experienced internationals are going to follow Podolski's lead and it is looking increasingly likely that exciting times lie ahead of Arsenal.

Full credit must go to Arsene Wenger who has done a superb job this season under very difficult circumstances. One can hope that this experience will only make him more resolute and determined to have a final successful swansong at Arsenal. Keep an eye on this football club as they could well be the team to watch next season.

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