A wrinkle in time takes us back to August 2013…

It was a grim time. To date, we hadn’t signed anyone of note, save Flamini and Sanogo. Through our fingers had slipped Higuain, Jovetic, Gustavo, Suarez, and countless other names linked to a summer-move. We clung at least to the fact that no one of note had left; in fact, for the first time in recent memory, the club had succeeded in jettisoning players who had contributed little, if anything, save for glimmers here and there. Squillaci. Arshavin. Chamakh. Santos. Gervinho. Mannone. Djourou. Some of them left as fond memories; others, as regrettable blips on the radar screen. In any case, they were gone, and this felt like addition by subtraction. With their wages and roster-spots freed up, we were that much closer to making signings. However, the transfer window was set to close, and it didn’t seem as if we were any closer to conducting any major business. Then, of course, came the opening day embarrassment, a 1-3 loss. At home. To Aston Villa. Did any of us then predict we’d be were we are now?

Two weeks later, of course, came the signing of Mesut Özil, and hope was restored. However, even then, we had to know that there would be a honeymoon period, a blissful stage before a coming back to Earth. Aside from Özil, this was the same squad that barely finished fourth last season and that seemed doomed to finish outside the top five as recently as March.

Fast-forward through September, October, November, December. We emerged from the Group of Death and very nearly won it. We stayed atop the Prem for 17 out of 19 weeks. Despite injury after injury, we rode out the storm and defied the critics, all with a squad thinner than paper. Each time a man went down or suffered a dip in form, another teammate took up the banner. Yes, there were blips on the radar—losing to Chelsea in the league cup, losing at Old Trafford, the hammering at the Etihad—but, by and large, we saw the squad fight through and reclaim momentum, winning where no one thought we could.

For a while, it became easy to forget just how thin this squad is, and how much thinner it got through injuries—but also how young and untested. At its core are seven regular players 24 or younger who have not been through the cauldron of a full season often enough to know its rigors. Their youthful vigor, borne at times of blissful ignorance, was bound to ebb at some point, Their legs and their confidence could only carry them through the knocks and niggles, the physical and emotional fatigue, for so long.

At the other end of the spectrum, ten regulars are 28 or older, long in tooth and in experience but suffering that much more from the physical rigors of the campaign. They might be better equipped with the maturity and emotional stability needed to sustain themselves over the course of a 50-match season, but the sore muscles and aching joints take their toll as well.

Largely missing in the middle are the players in the Goldilocks zone, those possessing a blend of ‘just-right’ experience and youth, energy and maturity, players in that 24-28 range who both understand the rhythms and demands of the season and can conserve or deliver energy as needed. Only Mesut Özil, new to the Prem, and Theo Walcott, who will have missed half the season to injury, fall into that Goldilocks zone.

This is a squad a year away from full contention, needing a few key signings to bolster certain positions that are currently undermanned or filled by players with one eye on their final contract, if not on retirement itself. By most measures, I’d have to say they’ve over-performed and done better than all but the most optimistic fans would have expected—certainly on 18 August 2013. To have ruled the roost for as long as we did only to falter now should inspire no shame. Regret, maybe. Certainly not the bitterness, outrage, and venom I’ve seen on various forums. Yes, Arsène might have done better in his transfer-dealings or in his tactics, but we should be careful how forcefully or confidently we assert our interpretations, given the scant tea-leaves we have to interpret. As Aristotle once put it:

Anybody can become angry—that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

I know right now that many of us feel a great deal of anger, whether we direct at Arsène, the players, the board, fellow Gooners, anyone. I’m not the AKB I so frequently sound like, but I do believe he knows far more than I or most (if not all) of us Gooners. I’m not quite ready for a future without him.

I hope that we all wake up on Monday feeling a bit calmer than we felt on Saturday, once we’ve had a chance to sleep on it.

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6 thoughts on “A wrinkle in time takes us back to August 2013…

  1. Anonymous

    U r talkn of injuries as if they are smthn thats startd happenin ths seasn,a big team prepares well in advance.then the transfers,well wat can i say,the old man is just ignorant or plain stubborn.insanity is repeating the same thng each and everytime with the same results

  2. Anonymous

    Wenger is suffering from dementia. Arteta was bought for his creativity.Yet he is used as defensive md.Ox is a winger but deployed alongside Arteta.How can they perform ?I remember Wenger using 3 centrebacks who had never played before in 2001 when MU won 6-1.These then are the little things.When questioned why he didn't buy stars,he said he made them. Similarly with financial doping.I believe as do most fans he has lost it tactically and aint willing to compromise or accept changes to his philosophy.If that's the case,he shd leave asap.

  3. Anonymous

    A sensible, pragmatic appraisal of the season so far and genuine signs of progress we have seen. Sadly much of it will fall on deaf ears but there're some nodding in agreement and acknowledging that it is a more grounded contribution than some of the hysterical, clichéd over reaction we have to endure.

  4. Anonymous

    A fantastic article that hits the correct perspective from which to view recent, and actually all, results. Thank you John, for being a voice of reason here! :)There is still the last trophy we ever won in our grasp!#COYG #FACUP

  5. Anonymous

    It is all well and good to look forward to next year as if the results, except for (hopefully, winning the FA Cup, are enough. But what if Arsenal has to qualify once more for CL and expend more energy and effort? What if not making CL scares off potential signings as we see now see MU fearing?It has been written by several persons already (as well as me) that AW does not seem to prepare for the entire season as one long tedious march. We can use injuries as an excuse even though every team suffers them (yes, stats may show ours were worse, etc.) but at some point, with money having been available, a lot more preparation last summer could have averted some of what we have since since January. (Let us ignore the disastrous signing of January)How many of the players are, not only tired and showing their age, but also disheartened by the lack of management providing the necessary back-up troops to support them during this period. Others have commented, as have I, about AW's many coaching lapses and failures to set up the team for the particular opponent. We may all extol the “beautiful game” as Arsenal love to play, but too often we see how easily the opposition can stifle it completely and then exploit the gaps and weaknesses of the lineup, the positioning and the strategy. Had Saturday been an anomaly, I could accept it, but three times against the only “real” opposition is humiliating.


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