Written on 14th August
I've not seen Danny Boyle’s film 28 Days Later. I've heard it’s quite good though. The premise behind it seems kind of plausible. A horrific and destructive event occurs only for the story to resume, well, 28 days later, and tell the tale of resilience, survival and heroics. It’s funny, because, like I said, I haven’t seen the film. Yet, the narrative sounds strangely familiar...
At three o’clock on the 17th of August, Arsenal walked out at the Emirates about to face Aston Villa in the curtain raiser of the new Premier League season. It’s fair to say that morale around the club was not particularly high but nevertheless, most fans had at least some confidence that the team that took to the field that day would be able to beat their Brummy counterparts.
I was at the game and I can vouch for the fact that for six minutes, everything was wonderful. We even took the lead through a well worked Olivier Giroud goal and briefly the negativity that had served as a prelude to the game was forgotten. Maybe we were being too pessimistic and the squad that had shown title winning form at the back end of last season really could carry it over into this campaign.
However, football games do not end after six minutes. It’s now well documented that the following eighty-four were pretty shambolic. The idiot referee did play a part but for me the most depressing part of the whole experience was finishing the match with a back four that read, from right to left: Ramsey – Sagna – Mertesacker – Jenkinson.
With the final whistle came a tangible explosion of boos and mostly justified grievances from the Arsenal faithful. I wrote about in my last piece the perfect storm which had seemingly engulfed the club. The comfortable home loss brought about complaints regarding just about everything within the club.
That now infamous video of the Gooner pouring his heart out and demanding the resignation of either manager or, less practically, the entire board, appeared. People questioned the ability of the academy coaches after a pre-season from hell for the youngsters. Some even asked once more if the medical facilities were up to anything as once again, injuries mounted.
I won’t go into it again as I discussed it extensively last time but the main reason for the outpour was the inactivity in the transfer window despite the declaration that the funds were available and the good business of our rivals. There was an argument holding at least some legitimacy that every single position in the team, with the possible exception of left full back, could and should have been strengthened by then. All in all, it was a pretty horrific situation.
Fast forward, in typical clichéd style, by 28 days and pretty much everything that could have changed around the club, has. Some have suggested that we are looking at a new Arsenal and, if you’re very, and I mean very, quiet, you may just hear the whispers emanating from the circles that matter suggesting that we might even be title challengers.
I’d like to stress that I don’t think we are. I still feel that we may be struggling for 4th place once Spurs get all their new boys working in tandem (or whatever the word for seven people working together is). That may just be the pessimism that accompanied me to the Villa game refusing to go away but nevertheless, the transformation that we have undergone in perceptions and reality has been meteoric.
There are of course two words which summarise why such a revolution has occurred. The first is Mesut and the second is undoubtedly Özil. It’s not worth me talking about him much because the subject has been examined in to oblivion during the international break. What I will say is that we really have made the marquee signing to end all marquee signings, the idea, and reality as of today, is a physically exciting prospect and Andre Villas-Boas was wrong to say we over-spent on him.
The signing of the German, along with that of back up stopper Emiliano Vivano, made deadline day pretty satisfactory. The acquisition, for it was not a signing, of Mathieu Flamini, which I previously slated as being staggeringly un-ambitious, looks to have turned out to be a pretty handy piece of business from the boss too. Not a masterstroke as some have pronounced but useful and important as his is a position that urgently needing addressing.
Other things are falling into place as well now. Despite a loss to the United under 21 team, the kids have started the season fairly well and the promotion of Gedion Zelalem and Serge Gnabry to the first team squad as well as the first team bow of big Chuba Akpom yesterday implies that we still have faith in our academy. Crucially, the team has also kicked on from the disappointment of four weeks ago to record 5 wins on the bounce, a couple in really trying circumstances. Additionally, to say our two form players of pre-season, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, have hit the ground running would be to do an injustice to the both of them. They have exploded out of the blocks this season and I also find great satisfaction noticing how superbly Giroud’s English has improved with his play over the last year.
But let’s not forget that everything has not just become hunky dory in this short time. There are still problems. Özil’s admittance that Arsene Wenger played a huge part in convincing him to join only serves to highlight how insignificant Ivan Gazidis seems to be, even if it was him who closed out the deal on this occasion. We still have an injury problem like none I can remember with 7 senior midfielders unavailable for the Sunderland game yesterday and it’ll have to take something special, perhaps words out of his lips, to convince me that what Stan Kroenke wants from Arsenal is success on the pitch. Furthermore, the form of Walcott and Koscielny must be addressed with the latter displaying similar worrying signs to those that lost Thomas Vermaelen his place in the side last Spring.
Things are certainly looking a lot brighter than they did at the start of the season. Although I don’t like the way football has become transfer-window-centric, looking forward to January and realistically hoping that a promising centre half and a striker to at least see us through till next summer come in, you can’t help but feel the team is standing in good stead to challenge domestically.
I've finished writing this piece and unsurprisingly, I've still not seen 28 Days Later. I don’t really want to either because despite my limited grasp of the plot, I still feel that the Arsenal version played out over the last month will always trump the original. So here’s to a successful season and Danny Boyle’s next film being called Many, Many Trophies.