Arsenal have grown up... finally



It's not easy letting go of something important, but more often than not you'd be surprised at how well things can work out if you do. My old paragliding instructor taught me that, god rest his shattered, scattered bones.

Waving a fond farewell to important parts of the furniture has been the key theme at The Emirates over the last few years, as one treasured possession after another has wandered off, been plucked away, or otherwise been jettisoned out of the hearts and minds of Arsenal fans the world over.

Occasionally it's quick and relatively painless, like the proverbial plaster being swiftly ripped from an exposed wound after a nerve-settling count of three. Occasionally as it's long, drawn out, and thoroughly gruesome as trying to run a marathon in a pair of stilettos made of bees. Either way, it's disruptive and probably the last thing a football club needs when they're trying to finally mount a title challenge that's still worth talking about at a Christmas dinner table.

It's still early days, but the initial signs are that Arsenal might well be bucking that trend somewhat. After a goalless opening two games they've recently notched back-to-back drubbings and look, for the first time since Robert Pires used to throw his bobble into the crowd, like they might actually end that trophy drought that's adorned every Sky Sports opening video sequence for longer than I care to remember.

All this, after a pre-season that saw them lose the most important piece of Arsene Wenger's footballing jigsaw. A summer that finally heralded the day when the drawing board wasn't just wiped clean, but thrown out of a 4th storey North London window into a skip marked “inevitable”. The very essence of the club in recent years, the thing that's made them tick both on the pitch and off it, their heartbeat, arguably their very soul. Yes, this is the first season in an age when Arsenal finally said goodbye to their policy of just buying prospective players and hoping they develop.

Oh, sorry, did you think I meant that Dutch fella?

For years now, Arsenal have looked two or three “finished articles” away from competing at the very top of the table, but that was always alright because there were three times that many of their squad who looked like they might grow into that. Fabregas did it, Nasri did it, Van Persie did it. But no sooner did one player attain the necessary plateau of footballing luminosity, than they were caught googling flat prices in Manchester, with attention then turning to the next bright young thing who was at least another year or two further down the production line.

No sooner has a world-class talent popped up than a slightly richer, slightly more successful club has twonked it away with a big rubber mallet of financial superiority. Like a slightly more harrowing game of whack-a-mole, or the managerial equivalent of spinning plates in a room full of recovering plate thieves.

Then of course there were all the nearly-men who've come and gone without making any real impact at all. Highly rated young'uns like Carlos Vela, Jeremie Aliadiere, Henri Lansbury, Armand Traore, Havard Nordtveit, Jay Simpson, Lassana Diarra, and even the incredibly unfortunate Eduardo, all failed to replace the big name first-teamers who slunk off into the night at the very peak of their powers.

To buy young, buy cheap, and watch as these players rose through the ranks to eventually sit atop the mountain of sporting excellence whilst their mega-bucks peers sneered in confused envy was a marvellous and heartwarming idea. But against the cold harsh reality of billionaire owners, and the natural human desire to not lose a League Cup final in the last 4 seconds, there was always going to come a time when the men you put your faith in either had to poop (metaphorically) or get off the pot (also metaphorically).

Instead the lynchpins of the side are no longer being slowly and painstakingly cultivated, they're being shipped in direct and at far greater expense. From 2006 until January last year, Arsenal broke the £20million mark for player acquisition only once, and finished no higher than 3rd. But thanks to the signings of established and experienced world stars like Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, they finally look like the team they've been waiting so long to become.

There's undoubtably a long way to go - 34 games in fact - but, for the first time since the invention of the iPhone, Arsenal players might be in serious danger of spending next summer on an open-topped bus, rather than the shuttle one that goes to the airport.


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