Sunday, August 3, 2008

The more things change...

"Last year we were really really unlucky. We were only four points adrift and lost only three games. In two of those we were leading 1-0 until 15 minutes before the end. We also got some bad injuries. We need to strengthen belief, not only in the way we play but the way we work. We must keep complete confidence in these young players."

- Arsene Wenger, giving me a bad case of deja vu

I agree with Arsene Wenger.

We were unlucky last year. We lost the title after leading for half the year. We ended up incredibly close, and if we'd been a bit luckier in a few matches we really should've won, we would be champions today. Could've, should've, would've - but we didn't and we aren't. It's been three months since the season ended, and thankfully, the pain of it has receded into a vague, amorphous memory.

Still, when I read Wenger's statements, I can't help but think that I've heard it all before. A big part of the problem last year was that we ran out of steam. We had tired players, injured players, inexperienced players... and nothing we've done over the summer has convinced me that anything's changed. Our squad's still too thin and still too inexperienced. Once the injuries pile up, we'll be playing the kids (or Eboue). It's good in the long-term because our kids will get better, but as Wenger once said, we pay for their education with points.

At the end of last season, the consensus was that we needed a couple of experienced players to complete the squad. We've gained Vela, Ramsey and Nasri, but we've lost Hleb and Flamini. After the transfers machinations, we're right back where we started from. We still need a couple of experienced players to complete the squad. We still need someone reliable to deputise for Gallas and Toure. And we still need a strong defensive midfielder to replace Flamini.

And we're not going to get them.

Wenger's intimated that Diaby's the candidate to replace Flamini. And he's ruled out moving for a central defender; maybe he expects Djourou or Song to step up. Maybe he's right, and we don't need another player. He knows better than me, after all. I'd sleep easier at night knowing we had a big, big signing up our sleeve, though.

So, my prediction is more of the same. Namely:
  1. Wonderful, beautiful, but ultimately frustrating football.
  2. van Persie impressing before missing the season with the flu.
  3. An early season surge to that splutters out around Christmas.
  4. Going down in the quarters/semis of the Champions League.
  5. Wenger scratching his head and saying "Damn, we were unlucky this year, weren't we? Who would've thought van Persie and Rosicky would get injured? Or that conceding sloppy goals would lose vital matches? Oh well, we'll win it next year. This can't happen again, can it?"

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