Originally posted on Finishers Forum  |  Last updated 6/7/13
As another Premier League season fades into a Harry Redknapp-esque state of fleeting significance and football finality, and a slew of bwin betting aficionados make their way towards other odds and underdogs, The Gunners and their manager can once again fondly look back at another campaign of not quite top of the table soccer. While the ol’ Wenger Top Four Trophy may come up short in the tangible (aka things existing in real life) category, the more than halfway serious satisfaction Wenger seems to show in “winning” the invisible big four trophy year after year demonstrates its still very real significance in today’s BPL. You know the recently constructed old saying: Finish within two spots of the Manchesters, and thou shalt not win a trophy, but earn the right to exit early in next year’s Champions League competition. It’s a vicious cycle of semi-victory and perpetual-qualification/hope(/eventual disappointment), but it’s still a benchmark… and like most years, a benchmark Arsenal likes to semi-celebrate. The really strange part though, is how much better Arsenal’s fourth place finish this season looks against their one place better (third place) finish last year. Things just look so much rosier than they did last year. Let me get specific: The Robin Van Persie Opportunity Cost – Okay, so there’s no question Arsenal sacrificed a great deal of goal production when they allowed RVP to ramrod his way out of North London and into a prominent role for Man United. RVP scored 36 goals for Arsene Wenger last season, which is actually 6 more than he scored for the Red Devils this year in a league-winning, Fergie-farwelling campaign. But then again Van Persie is just a goal machine, a “how did he one-touch that ball at that awkward angle” goal scoring machine. The important thing to remember though is that RVP desperately wanted to leave the comforts of Arsene Wenger’s enormously puffy overcoat. He craved silverware he could actually hold in his hands, and apparently scoring all the goals for an Arsenal team that looked stuck in neutral no longer appealed. So Arsenal bent to his will and swiftly gained a £29 million transfer fee and the luxury of cutting RVP’s lavish salary, all while giving up a forward that was of course extremely talented, but also extremely injury-prone and uninterested in playing for them. What made this move a squad-boosting positive though? They took the money and invested in Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, and an eventually re-signed Theo Walcott. Those players combined for 48 league goals this past year, and numerous other cup and champions league strikes (67 in all competitions to be exact). Not only is that more goals (obviously) than RVP provided, but it comes from a much more evenly distributed core of goal-scoring providers… a lone task people often lauded RVP for shouldering, but also simultaneously cringed at for how easily his talismanic scoring could fall victim to a long spell of injury woes. Every single player I just mentioned is younger than RVP (with Theo still being under 25 even), and has now demonstrated that they can put up double digit scoring numbers in this league. It’s a truly optimistic group of talented youth Wenger has put together, and it originated from the release of last year’s best Gunner player. The Competition is in Flux – Not only did Arsenal finish this past season with more points than last season (went from 70 to 73, while also improving their GD from +25 to +35), but they are also the only team in the top four to retain the same manager from this past year’s EPL campaign. Fergie bid farewell to a teary-eyed Old Trafford, Roberto Mancini played “3 men in the back” all the way to the City limits, and Chelsea did what they always do, give their current manager (Rafa Benitez) just enough time to carve his name amongst many others in Chelsea’s short-term managerial prison before cutting him loose with little to no reason or rhyme. Arsene Wenger receives his fair share of criticism from friendly and rival supporters alike, but his experience and team-building prowess make the Gunners the most “known” commodity in the English elite. His youthful collection of playmakers and carried-over squad cohesion gives his Gunners as good a chance as they’ve had in the past half-decade to make some legitimate noise in the Prem title race. Will be very interesting to see where/who he adds in the transfer market. Which brings us to Arsenal’s last point of strength… Newly Aggressive Transfer Policy – Well, aggressive for Arsene Wenger that is, but like we saw last year he appears ready to pull the trigger for the right deal. He’s as shrewd and calculating (and famously frugal) as they come when it broaches player additions, but loose (and unsubstantiated) talk of a Wayne Rooney transfer has a bit of that unmistakable blockbuster quality that’s usually only reserved for the likes of City and Chelsea. Rooney’s certainly no Fabregas, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He has a way of fluidly filling a team’s deficiencies when he’s on the field, and would be a valuable chess piece for Wenger to utilize. If it’s not Rooney, then it will be someone else, but the point is that Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis has declared the North London club ready to use their “financial firepower”. So make way for another big spender in the English game (sort of). All this is to say that Arsenal have very real reasons to be optimistic, more so than last offseason, and more so than they’ve had in a while… but a portion of that upward momentum hinges on the unpredictability of their main rivals, which of course doesn’t necessarily mean the others are down in the dumps nor up in the clouds. Their trajectories are still unknown, in the process of shifting one way or the other. But one things for sure… it’s definitely nice to see Arsenal on the buying end of some major transfer rumors for once.
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