We’ve read the positive views of The Optimist and we’ve pored over the depressing thoughts of the Pessimist – but what was 2008/2009 like from the point of view of someone who sees things in a very balanced way? Someone who prefers to sit on the fence in every argument and can see both sides of every debate. The last in our series of season reviews comes from Mr. Mark Finnigan. He is a Wordsmith, a memory man and an Are You Being Served addict – but for the purposes of our season reviews, he is ‘The Realist’.
His season review is long – very long. He is a man of many words and has much to say. So I will divide his musings into several posts, starting today with his thoughts leading up to last season and the first part of the campaign:-
The squad showed a net loss over the summer. I have never agreed with those who gave Hleb a hard time during his three years at the club. I thought he had fantastic technique on the ball, and probably needed the players we have lost over the last five years around him to really show his best work. Flamini was a great loss, and a number of our problems this season have stemmed from finding someone to do the ball winning in central midfield. The lack of pressure on opponents in the middle third of the pitch was keenly felt throughout the early part of the season, no more so than in added time against Tottenham. Gilberto gave us six good seasons but was rather eclipsed by Flamini in his final year. He was a good servant to the club and I wish him the best.
This year’s intake consisted of Nasri, Arshavin and Silvestre. Nasri is an attacking midfielder in the Pires mould, and is showing signs of becoming a first rater. Arshavin wowed everyone in Euro 2008, and has already proved himself in the Premier League. His fitness level is not quite up to standard yet, but with the Russian season and the Euro tournament he has not had a break in nearly a year and a half. With a proper pre season I think he will be a very big part of the team this year. Silvestre was a bit of a stop gap for the personnel problems we have had in central defence this season. He has not done noticeably worse than Gallas or Toure, but all the same it was a strange signing and not exactly the ideal replacement for the yawning gap left by the departure of Senderos (just kidding, Senderos didn’t necessarily have to go to Milan in order to leave a yawning gap in our defence).
As far as covering for Flamini is concerned, Denilson and Song have got stronger in the shielding role. It will be interesting to see if this is an area that gets strengthened in the close season.
The summer seemed to be dominated by the usual rumours about Fabregas and this time a big money move for Adebayor. It is not good for morale to have every single player who plays well becoming the subject of transfer speculation. I have made it a point to ignore the gossip this summer. I feel sorry for all those journalists having to spend twelve weeks writing absolute twaddle.
Pre season went quite well, with Walcott and Wiltshire looking particularly good. We lost in the Emirates Cup to Juventus which allowed Martin Jol and Hamburg to pick up a trophy on our home ground. Whoops.
In the first game against West Brom, the North Bank gave Adebayor dog’s abuse for overrunning a ball when clean through. It is obvious that he will have to win the supporters back after his flirtation with Milan during the summer.
We lost our first away game against Fulham. It is curious, but we have not won our first away game since 04/05. We then proceeded to lose 5 of our first 14 games. This included home defeats against Aston Villa and Hull City. The Villa game was a fair cop, but their two goals were rather suspect. Jon labelled the Hull game the worst defeat under Wenger. I thought Hull played brilliantly and worked the ball out of defence rather than resorting to the boot like so many promoted teams. It turned out that this was the form that kept them up, and I hope for six easy points before they return to their natural habitat next May.
Aside from Fulham, we also lost away to Stoke City and Manchester City. The Stoke game was like those Bolton games we used to lose to Allardyce. We were roughed up and beaten by tactics that are ugly but possibly justified in the name of Premier League survival – long throws and nasty fouls. I didn’t even bother to download the Manchester City game, and I have never seen the goals. From the radio commentary it sounded like an abject performance. This low point marks the end of the beginning. We didn’t lose another game in the league until the run in.
We had some good wins in this period. Our best performances were against Blackburn, Fenerbahce and Everton. It was the losses and the dropped points against Sunderland that kept us off the pace.
My high point of the first third of the season was a visit to the training ground at London Colney. Dennis Bergkamp was in the process of doing his coaching badges, and I had my photograph taken with him. Mr. Wenger came over to have his photo taken with all of us. I had about four hundred questions I wanted to ask him, but none of them seemed to be appropriate. So I had my picture taken with him and we parted without saying a word. The following Wednesday we drew 4-4 with Tottenham. I can’t help feeling we would have won the game if I had given him some pearl of tactical wisdom.
Look out for the next instalment very soon…