"What I've witnessed tonight has inspired me to try and help both club and country achieve great things" – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after Chelsea's Champions League victory
First things first; an introduction. I'm Squid Boy. You may have read some of my stuff on here before. And you may be seeing me around these parts more often. Head honcho Mean Lean is targeting world domination so I shall be plugging the gap for the foreseeable future.
I was going to write about Robin van Persie's contract situation and how he deserves our patience this summer. But then I realised I have MONTHS to talk about that (a bit like Robin has MONTHS to sign on). There is a more pressing issue on my mind after the weekend's events.
You know it. I know it. We all know it.
It is Chelsea's glorious moment where they finally attained the Holy Grail. And my thoughts naturally drift to how it affects Arsenal.
Apart from the inevitable gloating that will ensue, directly it has no effect. Scraping past West Brom meant our Champions League status for next season wasn't in the hands of our West London neighbours. That fate befell our friends from down the road, who will now miss out on dining at Europe's top table. Ouch. I've maintained that Spurs missing out on the CL as a result of Chelsea's efforts in the competition could only ever be scant consolation to us Gooners, but even that didn't seem very sweet on Saturday night whilst watching those despicable beings in blue cavorting with Ol' Big Ears.
And therein lies my problem. I am jealous that they're the first London club to win the European Cup. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, thousands of Chelsea fans are at the trophy parade of their lives. Normally when something goes awry in football, I turn the TV off and do something else. But yesterday I felt compelled to watch them lift the trophy. Why? I don’t know. What I do know is that I want that feeling. We all do.
Saturday night brought about a period of deep introspection. The two main questions were: can we realistically achieve what Chelsea did in Munich? And if so, how?
In answering the first question, my initial reaction was to plumb the depths of despair. Now that the final frontier had been conquered – a financially doped English side winning the Champions League – I saw a bleak future. This consisted of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United lording it domestically, whilst on the continent that very same trio would be joined by perennial challengers Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Not to mention the likes of Paris Saint Germain who are undergoing their own influx of wealth, plus a multitude of Italian outfits.
What do all of these clubs have in common? They have greater purchasing power than us. They can outgun us in the transfer market and offer wages that would make Peter Hill-Wood's eyes water and Stan Kroenke's 'tache twitch.
For a moment on Saturday night, in my head it seemed we were as far away as ever from realising our dreams. I went to sleep on a downer.
But when I woke up on Sunday morning, I looked at Chelsea again. Whilst their triumph is obviously steeped in Roman's roubles, it was grim determination and a willingness to put their bodies on the line – allied with some very large slices of Lady Luck's pie – that led them to the Promised Land. They aren't necessarily better than us. But mentally they have a strength which we don't yet possess; the courage of their convictions which we seem to lack when the chips are down. They have the desire that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain refers to above. And that's why I applaud what they have achieved as a team, if not as a club.
Then it dawned on me. Not only was I jealous of their success, but equally so of their winning mentality. And yes, of their luck as well. Why can't we stand firm like they do in the toughest of times? Why don't our opponents miss penalties?
So then my mind arrived at the second question. If a dwindling Chelsea outfit had proven that guts and fortune was just as important as monetary aspects, how do we go about emulating them?
Let me be clear. I'm not advocating us to replicate how Chelsea have arrived at this position. I like not being a sugar daddy's plaything. I like the notion of us spending what we earn. I like plurality of ownership and the fans having a say. Maybe these are romantic ideals which carry a decreasing weight in the modern game. But I like them. I like us. I like The Arsenal way.
And I don't think it would be wise to go down that avenue at this moment in time. Lest we forget that Financial Fair Play is due to be enforced in the next few years. Be stupid of us to show prudence in the period leading up to it and then do the opposite when it comes into view.
More pertinently however, on the pitch I think we are closer than we're given credit for. Drastic surgery isn't required; just tweaks here and there. And these can come about without having to spend above our means. We just have to work harder and maximise our own financial and footballistic potential.
The league table doesn't lie. It shows we are better than Chelsea despite their knockout exploits. And it doesn't lie either when it says we're 19 points worse than the two Manchester clubs. If I was to give an honest appraisal of our 1st XI, I’d say we are behind Manchester City, on a par with Manchester United and ahead of Chelsea. If that is the case, how did Manchester United streak ahead of us in the league and how did Chelsea win two trophies?
The answer is a potent mixture of two factors: strength in depth plus that winning mentality which I've already mentioned.
The former can be solved in a somewhat straightforward manner. Prune the squad of underperforming and overpaid members (you know who they are) and replace them with genuine quality that can be relied upon to step up. Oh, and keep RvP. I personally have taken great heart in the acquisition of Lukas Podolski and am equally excited by the rumours surrounding Yann M'Vila. I sense a shift in the Club's recruitment policy over the past twelve-months and I hope my instinct doesn't prove to be a mirage. Signings of the calibre and experience of Arteta, Mertesacker and Podolski give me optimism that change is afoot. A couple more arrivals in this bracket plus tactical flexibility honed on the training pitch alongside greater in-game intelligence, and I honestly believe we'll have a squad primed to launch an assault on silverware at home and abroad.
Then we come to the latter. A lot of people have said that despite the turnover in the squad in recent years, the mentality has remained the same. And they would be right to an extent. However, I'm sure I'm not the only one to have greater faith in this squad's fabled mental strength than that of previous incarnations. The string of comebacks alone proves this.
The question then becomes whether the management team can instil that iron-will in the squad. Can Le Boss motivate the troops into believing they can become contenders and performing accordingly? Can Steve Bould transmit the discipline imbued in him under George Graham's reign?
Many will say no, especially to the first question regarding Arsene. They say he can't change this "bunch of losers" into a team of seasoned winners without spending hundreds of millions; that the gap is too big to breach. To those, I point you in the direction of 2001. That year, we finished the league campaign with 70 points, scraping into the automatic CL positions by the skin of our teeth. We lost too many games, flattered to deceive when it came to the crunch and suffered a crushing defeat at Old Trafford. Does any of this sound familiar?
The following season, something had changed. You could sense it. We had a good summer in the transfer market, adding depth to the squad and a marquee name in the form of Sol Campbell. During the course of the campaign, we shook off the shackles and embarked on a 13-game winning streak which saw us eventually amass 87 points. A staggering 17 more than in the previous season.
Now I'm not saying this kind of transformation will definitely be repeated next season, even if we do make the requisite signings. That would be folly. Nor am I saying it will be easy to do so. If anything, the presence of two teams finishing 19 points clear of us makes it doubly difficult. What I am saying is that the manager does have previous for turning around a team that seemed a level below and converting them into bona fide challengers, nay, winners.
However, he needs the tools to do this. He needs financial freedom from the Board to freshen up the squad. Not only will this add firepower and fortitude, but it will give us belief that we are going for it and not settling for third or fourth place. And it needs to be done sooner rather than later, to avoid the shambolic start to last season that left us adrift before we even had a chance to mount a challenge. By finishing third and qualifying automatically for the CL group stages, we really have given ourselves the best possible foundation to build from. Let's grasp it with both hands.
The Club as a whole needs to fulfil its potential in order to compete for honours. That applies on and off the pitch – a successful summer in the transfer window, a sharp start to the season, a squad strong enough to rotate and keep players fresh, and the mental strength and capacity to see us through when the going gets tough.
Arsene Wenger has worked miracles on limited resources since the stadium move. Just think of the miracles he could work when those resources are maximised? Maybe, just maybe, this time next year we'll be having our own trophy parade.
Squid Boy (https://twitter.com/#!/TheSquidBoyLike)
P.S. don't forget to check out the ArsenalVision end-of-season awards