Meeting Thierry + Win Free Warrior boots (It’s Christmas!)

On Tuesday afternoon, I was stood in the Emirates Stadium’s rather swanky Diamond Club, waiting for the screening of the new ‘Arsenal Legends: Thierry Henry‘ film.

I was chatting away to Tim Stillman of Arseblog fame – two fish in unfamiliarly opulent waters. Suddenly, Tim’s eyes lit up. Someone was approaching us – someone Tim recognised and, judging by his widening smile, somewhat liked. I felt a hand on my back. I turned around.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Thierry.”

I’ll be honest: I was starstruck. I muttered something about my name being James, as if it remotely mattered to Him, and just about managed a handshake. He might have felt me tremble. I was in the presence of a genuine hero of mine. I suspect Henry will be the greatest player I ever see in an Arsenal shirt. At his best, he was truly electrifying.

When Arsenal invited me down to the screening, I was flattered. When they mentioned Thierry would be there, I was excited but thought little of it. I imagined a crowded press junket with plenty of red rope and red tape.

What was most extraordinary about this event was the intimacy. As this video on Arsenal.com shows, there can’t have been more than 30 people there to watch the film. Among them were Thierry and his family, and a selection of other Arsenal legends.

I can’t believe I was in a room with the likes of Thierry, Ian Wright, David Seaman, Martin Keown, Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell and Ray Parlour – and it wasn’t Heaven. I have lived to tell the tale. Truly, it was an honour to be there.

Being present allowed me to get an extra degree of insight in to Henry, the man. There were touching moments, such as when he pointed out the ‘T’ celebration to his young daughter, explaining that it was devised in celebration of her birth. It was also wonderful to witness the obvious close friendship that exists between Henry and the rest of the players. Being part of a winning team clearly creates a strong bond.

During the documentary, Henry speaks at length about wanting to write his own legacy. When he arrived at Arsenal, the club were still reliving the glory of the double-winning 1997-98 campaign. He wanted a glory all of his own.

Let’s hope that drive exists within the current squad. They have a chance to do something special this season, and begin to build legends to match those of the figures I was fortunate enough to encounter this week. A nice anecdotal addendum: after the film, Ian Wright came up and explained that his favourite thing about Henry is his palpable dislike of Tottenham.

As for the film itself, I heartily recommend it. UK-based readers can catch it on iTunes (details here), and I believe a DVD release is on the way for those who are based abroad. The film also inspired me to write this piece for Bleacher Report, which you might enjoy: ‘The Invincible who became Immortal’.

Right, enough name-dropping. You’re probably all here for the free goodies alluded to in the headline.

Thanks to the nice guys at Warrior, we’ve got a pair of their brand new ‘Superheat’ boots to give away. They’ve focused on making the boots great for control as well as extremely lightweight.

The techno-babble says:

A revolutionary Tri-fusion construction provides you with limitless touch and speed no matter the conditions, with separate layers for water resistance, support and touch.

The neoweb base layer moulds to your foot, providing freedom of movement, comfort and breathability, complete with a water resistant mesh construction.

The nanocradle sits above and offers support and optimum agility, along with a lightweight, internal membrane heel shield to guarantee protection without sacrificing weight. Finally, the super thin organitouch outer layer gives you the touch you need for close control at high speed.

They sound a bit like they were made by aliens. However, I’ve had a kick around in them myself, and can confirm that they actually managed to make slightly less terrible at football. They’re comfortable and seem to make a nice contact with the ball.

Now, to win these beautiful booties, all you need to do is answering the following Henry-based question:

Q. Against which team did Thierry Henry score his last Arsenal goal?

Simply tweet me your answer including the hash-tag “#superheat” by 6pm (UK-time) tomorrow. A winner will be selected at random.

Good luck, guys.

Finally, keep your eyes peeled tomorrow for a very special Christmas duet…

Transfer Update: Don’t Hurry Back, Chamakh

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Arsenal have completed their first official transfer of this window, and unsurprisingly it’s a transfer out rather than in: Marouane Chamakh has joined West Ham United on a six month loan.  Upon sealing the deal, he said:

“We played only one striker at Arsenal, so I didn’t play a lot, so I hope to do so more with West Ham. I think this will be a very important move for me and I don’t want to waste any more time. I want to contribute immediately.”

It’s a difficult stance to argue with, and the polar opposite of the attitude of Andrey Arshavin, who has turned down the chance to move to Reading to sit in the doldrums at Arsenal.  Chamakh is 28 now, and not played a single minute in the Premier League this season.  He’s spent most of his time on the training ground putting out the football bibs.  If he is to have any chance of resurrecting his career, it’s clear he needed to move on.

The fact his career is in need of resurrection at all is what intrigues me.  It may be hard to recall now, but when Chamakh first joined Arsenal he looked like the real deal.  For a long time Arsenal had been told they needed a physical, aerially dominant centre-forward, and Chamakh looked to be that man.  He scored an impressive 10 goals in his first 17 starts.  At the time, Robin van Persie was yet to explode in to the player he is now, and was suffering one of his customary injuries.  I will admit that during this period I  may have stated a case for RVP to be sold off now we had a more reliable forward in Chamakh.  Shows what I know.

For everything was soon to change.  After a goal against Aston Villa in November, Chamakh had to wait until March 3rd for his next in Arsenal colours.  Robin van Persie returned from injury to have his extraordinary calendar year of 2011, and as his star shone brighter and brighter, Chamakh’s waned.  He never regained his place in the side, his manager’s faith, or his confidence in front of goal.

That’s why he’s going on loan, rather than making a permanent move.  No club would risk a fee on a player who has suffered such a dramatic decline, and I suspect we’re probably paying a proportion of his hefty wages during his time at West Ham too.  Nevertheless, if it works out, we may find a buyer – he is very much in the shop window.

There’s a decent player in there.  Not a player to match RVP, or even Olivier Giroud, but a player capable of holding up the ball and providing a threat in the air.  A player who will suit West Ham down to the ground.  If he can get a game ahead of Carlton Cole or Andy Carroll, things could work out for him.  I hope they do, for everyone’s sakes.

Chamakh’s departure, as well as Gervinho’s time at the African Cup of Nations, leaves us very light upfront.  I considered a striker a priority before the window – now it’s nothing less than a necessity.  Worryingly, our options seem to be decreasing all the time: Demba Ba has joined Chelsea, Huntelaar has re-signed at Schalke, and Fernando Llorente is in talks about a Bosman move to Juve.  I’ve read the stories about David Villa, but I can’t see that one happening.  The obvious signings have all disappeared from the table.  That said, Arsene has never really been one for the obvious.  Let’s hope he’s got a trick up his sleeve.

I was irked by his comments suggesting fans demand the signing of “Messi” etc.  It’s nonsense.  Most fans simply want appropriate investment in the side.  Letting players go (Johan Djourou seems set to follow Chamakh through the exit door) only increases the need for reinforcements.

One to keep an eye on could be Thierry Henry.  When asked by Arsenal.com about the seemingly dead deal for the Frenchman, Arsene said:

“We have not gone as far with Thierry because we look more for permanent people.”

Sensible.  Positive, even.  However, Arsene went on to suggest that a couple of injuries and Thierry’s willingness could change that situation later in the month.  Given my lack of confidence about our ability to pull in alternative signings, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Henry in an Arsenal shirt in 2013.

So far in this window, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Spurs have already completed deals.  The onus is on Arsenal to show similar urgency.

Q&A with Philippe Auclair: “I hope Thierry doesn’t return this year”

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The love affair between Arsenal fans and Thierry Henry will surely come to be remembered as one of the defining narratives of this period of the club’s history. He was brightest of the galaxy of stars that have become known as ‘The Invincibles’, and in the increasingly nomadic world of modern football it is hard to imagine how his Arsenal goalscoring record will ever be beaten.

However, the affair between fans and player, between club and captain, was occasionally a complicated one. Thierry was not without his flaws, and his idiosyncratic personality is an ideal subject for discussion in a book. Who better to tell Henry’s story than Philippe Auclair: an authoritative voice on French and English football alike, and particularly Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. The result, ‘Thierry Henry: Lonely At The Top‘, is a fantastic read. I would heartily recommend it to any Gooner.

I was delighted that as part of his promotional work for the book, Philippe agreed to speak to Gunnerblog. When I originally posed these questions to him I had intended to publish a select few within a feature piece. However, his answers were so full and so detailed that I think it’d be a shame to condense them. Go and make a cup of tea, and come back and enjoy the thoughts of one of the most informed Arsenal commentator’s around – and don’t forget to read on to the end of the blog, where you’ll have the chance to a copy of ‘Lonely At The Top’ for yourself.

·         What inspired you to write this book about Thierry?

Two things. First, I was puzzled by the fact that, despite the wealth, if that’s the word, of football biographies and autobiographies which are published in this country, there was none of one of the greatest players to have ever played in this country – apart from a purely factual account of his career which had been written in the wake of the Invincibles season. It’s not as if there was no story to tell, even if Thierry wasn’t the sort of footballer, or person, who jumped at you as an obvious subject as a Cantona, whose every action or pronouncement, it seems, produced drama of one kind or the other.

Second, most people seemed unaware of the dichotomy between the troubled image of Henry in his own country, and his status as a genuine hero for Arsenal fans (and many English neutrals). How could these two perceptions co-exist? What explained them? Could they be reconciled? It was also a superb opportunity to reflect on France’s love affair with its national team, and the subsequent unravelling of that romance. Thierry had been there all along. That made the idea a difficult one to resist .

·         He certainly captured the imagination of Arsenal fans during his time in England.  Did the artistry of his game – and the Arsenal team he excelled in – make him easier to write about?

At times, yes, because I could just let the pen flow guided by my own emotions. He’d given us so much joy. It’s far easier (or it is easier for me) to write about someone you love. I also felt that neither he, nor the Arsenal teams he was part of, were given their proper due when they were at the top of their game. I still think the greatness of the player and of these teams isn’t recognised as it should be – it would’ve been different if Chelsea hadn’t won 2-1 at Highbury in 2004, of course. That missing Champions League trophy throws an unidissipable shadow over other achievements.

·         Thierry Henry has always managed his public image very carefully.  In spite of that, do you feel his professed love for Arsenal to be genuine?

Absolutely, despite the fact that he sometimes expresses this love in a very awkward fashion – again, that’s my own perception of it, based on seeing him, and talking to him, quite regularly over the eight seasons he spent at the club. I have no doubt his love for the club is that of a genuine fan, albeit a unique kind of fan. I should add that others, such as Robert Pires, feel as strong a connection to the club, but find it easier to wear. It is a question of personality, not of depth of feeling.

·         Is there a moment, or a goal, that you think sums Thierry up?

I hope the goal against Leeds United at the Emirates last season will come to be the defining image of his relationships with Wenger, the club, and the club’s fans, as it encapsulated all that is best in them, whilst being a fine example of ‘the’ Henry goal, coming from the left, finding the opposite corner of the net, etc. But this isn’t quite your question. Summing Thierry up is quite a different thing. The Carragher-on-his-backside goal against Liverpool in 2004 is probably Thierry’s own favourite (that game certainly is), but it doesn’t sum him up. There was also the Thierry of that wretched game at Fulham – after which Song was slaughtered by Arsenal fans, as you’ll remember -, all anger and frustration. You can’t have one without the other; the thing was that what we saw 90% of the time was the Henry who left Carragher, well, on his arse. So the answer is ‘not quite’.

·         Arsenal lost another great striker, Robin van Persie, this summer.  Historically, Arsene has always been able to secure the succession of his centre forwards – from Wright to Anelka, Anelka to Henry, Henry to Adebayor, and finally Adebayor to Van Persie.  Do you think Olivier Giroud is able to take on the mantle?

I’ve spent a lot of time ‘defending’ Giroud in the early weeks and months of the season, when a missed chance against Sunderland (comparable to dozen of such missed chances of which Henry and van Persie were culpable, and seemingly hundreds in Adebayor’s case) made him an easy scapegoat for genuine problems which affected the team as a whole.

Some strikers adapt immediately: Aguero, for example. Others take time to settle in: Henry is the most relevant example in Arsenal’s case. Giroud belongs to the second category. He runs on diesel, not unleaded. He’s not a ‘supersub’ a la Solskjaer, who can immediately feel the pulse of a game; almost all of his goals for Montpellier were scored when he’d been part of the starting line-up. Now that he’s established himself as first-choice striker, you can see the difference. He’s become a bit more greedy, which is good for a centre-forward. Even when his finishing is not quite up to his usual standard, he’ll provide others with chances.

I sincerely believe that he’s the best back-to-the-goal number 9 in the league –  far superior to Andy Carroll, to name a centre-forward who is always mentioned when the talk is of ‘target men’ who win ‘the first ball’. He’s much cleverer in his use of the ball, in his runs off it as well. He’s also got a fierce shot on him. But he’s no Robin van Persie who, in terms of sheer technique, belongs to the elite of world football. Giroud doesn’t, yet, and until he’s become a two-footed footballer (which van Persie did), if he can, won’t be able to aspire to such a status. We should remember Giroud was a very late starter in professional football, and that his margin of progression is huge. He’ll still score over twenty goals for Arsenal this season if he stays injury-free. Not too bad, no?

·         Arsene’s recruitment record from France seems to have got patchier as his time at Arsenal have worn on.  It was never perfect – for every Thierry there was a Kaba Diawara or Christopher Wreh – but in recent reasons it seems to have become particularly erratic.  There are success stories like Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny, but the likes of Park Chu-Young, Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho have failed to adapt as expected.  Do you think Arsene’s default instinct to use Ligue 1 as a hunting ground has lead to errors of judgement? 

You naturally turn to what you know, and you can’t know everything. Look at Martinez at Wigan. He is one of very few PL managers who, in terms of recruitment, still think of Scotland as a genuine market (and has exploited it remarkably well). Why? Because he was at Motherwell. Mourinho brought Portuguese-speaking players to Chelsea. Ancelotti and Leonardo at PSG raided Milan, yes, but also Palermo and Pescara (Verratti). You could go on like this forever. Foreign managers will, by default, almost always look towards where they come from.

The players you mention have failed to adapt (there were other examples in the past, by the way. Remember David Grondin?), but each of them failed for different reasons. Park was a – supposedly – cheap punt on a guy who captains his national team. Chamakh’s problem is one of temperament rather than talent. Gervinho is infuriating at times – often -, but can have a genuine impact because of the directness of his play. He seemed to represent good value at the time, ‘seemed’ being the important word: L1 has declined, and rather a lot, since the time Wenger was managing there. He’d been a crucial player in Lille’s title-winning season. I’ll confess that I was amongst those who thought that he was a very decent buy, considering the price LOSC was asking for Hazard (who, by the by, is finding it more difficult by the week after a storming start).

But it’s not Wenger you should be focusing on exclusively, it’s the whole scouting network, which is far more active in some regions than in others, a point I’d make about almost any club you’d care to mention. It surprises me, for example, that the huge pool of talent that is Germany is not better exploited by English clubs, when they’d be able to compete, and very easily, against domestic clubs. I fundamentally agree with you, but don’t think it’s a specific Wenger trait, or problem.

·         Arsenal are light on strikers at the moment.  Do you think there’s any chance of Thierry returning one final time in January of this year?

It looks that way, but I hope that’s not the case. The final chapter was written, and beautifully, last year. There’s no way that a Thierry in his 36th year can do better than what he did eleven months ago, especially when the club has more attacking options than was the case in 2011-12. He would in no case represent a ‘solution’; whereas last year, given the van Persie-dependance, he could make a difference at times. Even with Gervinho off to the ACN, you still have Podolski, Giroud, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, young Gnabry, and, whatever you think of him, Andrei Arshavin, whom I know is rumoured to be on his way out, but could still bring an awful lot to the club, should Wenger share that opinion (which he clearly doesn’t – apologies, I’m very partial to the Russian). I genuinely don’t look forward to another ‘return of the King’.

·         Regardless of whether he returns as a player, do you think Arsenal fans could see him in the dugout at the Emirates at some point in the future?

I doubt it. A question of personality, rather than capacities. Thierry has an encyclopaedic knowledge or world football, and an understanding of the game that is exceptional among current players. But he’s never been a natural leader, even when he was captaining his teams (including France at every age level); I’m not sure he could cope with the media attention either; and he’s very prickly when criticised. But – I’ve just realised that I answered a different question, ie ‘would Thierry make a good Arsenal manager?’, which is perhaps the one we’re all asking ourselves. Bergkamp, on the other hand…

A tantalising way to end. Thanks to Philippe for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re keen to hear more, then you’re in luck: we’ve got ourselves a copy of the book to give away. All you have to do is answer the following question:

Q. Against which team did Thierry Henry score the last goal of his first spell of the club?

Send your answers to thierry@gunnerblog.com by midnight Sunday (UK-time). The winner will be announced on Monday.

For those of you who a) don’t know the answer to the question, b) know themselves to be unlucky, or c) disagree with internet competitions on ethical ground, you can get yourself a copy of the book through the conventional route here. I’m off to dream of Thierry.

Arsene has given up on keeping Theo

I’m convinced the game is up with Walcott.  Asked about the dangers of keeping Theo in January, Arsene said:

“There’s a risk that we lose him for free – but it is a risk we are ready to take.  A successful season is more important than this week; which is only a financial risk anyway … I believe that we started the season with this squad and we want to finish it with this squad.”

These are not the words of a man who expects news of a contract imminently.  He didn’t even bother trotting out his “I always said I want to keep him” line – the same line reserved for Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie.  Contained with the above quote is a tacit admission that December deadline will come and go without any progress on a new deal for Theo.

Theo has responded with the line about the fact that his last contract took “six or seven months” to sort out, so there’s no need to panic.  It’s a line that would have more weight and relevance if his current negotiations hadn’t dragged on for more than 18 months.  If you believe this story, Theo is already preparing to up sticks and go.

There is a distinction in class, however, between Theo and that trio.  Football is a game governed by short memories.  After the opening game of the season, the venerable Arseblogger said this of the young winger:

“Theo Walcott, however, stank the place out. His first touch of the game came early on, a pass was sprayed out wide to him on the right hand side and he clobbered it out for a Sunderland throw. It was a taste of things to come and knowing how much of his game is negated when teams sit deep I was staggered it took so long for him to be replaced.”

A few days later, when news of the possibility of his departure before the end of the window surfaced, he said:

“It has been very interesting to read the reaction online to the possibility of Walcott’s departure. For the most part, and I realise this is as unscientific as it gets, people seem pretty much ok with it, even if there is frustration at the timing of events … While not ignoring Walcott’s blinding pace, something every team needs, a player at this level needs more than that.”

The reason I cite these in particular is because here is a valued, respected commentator – someone who so often captures the sentiments of the fans – expressing how we felt at the time.  That is a matter of weeks ago.  Since then, Theo Walcott has started a further five games.  That is the extent of his contribution since those opinions were valid: five full appearances.  And yet suddenly the mood has transformed, and losing him would be widely perceived as a disaster.  Worth bearing in mind before you curse all of the Gods about Theo’s more than likely departure.

Arsenal face a must-win game against Montpellier tonight, and must do so without the injured Walcott.  It is something we should prepare to get used to.

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2012

I thought I had better squeeze these in before May is out, otherwise they’ll begin to feel outdated and irritating, like Noel Edmonds or woolen trousers. So, amidst muffled fanfare and the half-hearted applause of a fanatical few, let us begin.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Remarkably, in a season which will be remembered as much for calamity as class, there are several credible contenders for this award – three of whom are arguably surprise candidates.

At the start of the campaign, both Laurent Koscielny and Mikel Arteta were expected to play supporting roles to the men playing directly next to them. However, a combination of injuries and poor form meant that Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere never hit the heights expected of them – or, in Jack’s case, never even hit the pitch. In their stead, both Koscielny and Arteta stepped up to the mark with some outstanding performances. Laurent eradicated the silly errors that marred his first season to become the model of consistency, whilst Mikel’s importance to the team was underlined most pointedly by how desperately he was missed when absent. The contribution of both players did much to make up for the aberrations and absence of more illustrious team-mates.

It may seem unfathomable now, but the winner of last year’s ‘Worst Player of the Season’ Award was one Tomas Rosicky, who “made 34 appearances without doing anything of note”. For the first half of this season, that ineffective form continued, until he suddenly sparked in to life – and what life. Against the odds, Rosicky has found the best form of his Arsenal career, supplanting Aaron Ramsey and bringing verve and vision to the Arsenal midfield. He rightly earnt himself a new deal, and will be hoping to carry his tremendous end-of-season displays in to next season.

However, despite the various claims from these three pretenders, there can surely be no arguments about the fact that the crown ultimately goes to one Robin van Persie. His quality has long been undoubted, but this year he finally managed to shed the concerns over his fragility. Taking on the armband has seen him flourish both as a player and a man, and it’s hardly worth imagining how 2011/12 might have panned out without him. Saying that, depending on how the summer plays out, we might just get a pretty good idea in 2012/13. Let’s enjoy him and raise a glass to him while we can – Robin Van Persie: the best footballer in the country.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON

This is always a hotly-contested award in this Arsenal squad, and I certainly found it hard to call.

I haven’t been entirely convinced by Kieran Gibbs’ first full season at left-back, and to be fair to him he suffered a fairly hefty injury which ruled him out for the middle third of the season. So that was him off the list.

I toyed with the idea of giving to Francis Coquelin – a young man who returned from a loan spell at Lorient fairly unheralded, and showed his mettle as a midfielder, full-back, and invaluable squad member.

And then I plumped for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: a teenager who in twelve months has gone from League One to Champions League and on to the European Championships. The thought of what he could achieve with such an impressive first campaign behind him is mouthwatering.

And then I remembered: there was one candidate I was overlooking, simply because I had forgotten that he was even young. I simply accepted him as an essential part of the team.

Wojciech Szczesny only turned 22 last month. In goalkeeping terms, he is a baby – fully three years younger than Joe Hart. To play almost fifty games, with only the odd dip in form, is an outstanding achievement for Szczesny. Next season he will inherit the number one shirt, and I can’t see him letting go of it any time soon.

WORST PLAYER OF THE SEASON

It’s never nice handing this out, but it is tradition, so we may aswell get on with it. Perrennial contenders Almunia and Fabianski didn’t really get enough game-time to bungle themselves into consideration. I thought long and hard about awarding it to Park Chu-Young, but decided he was more guilty of invisibility than ineptitude – although perhaps that’s because his greatest crimes came on the training pitch.

In the end, however, I’ve plumped for Marouane Chamakh. The Morroccan ventured on to the field 13 times more than Park, without managing to beat the Korean’s goal tally of ‘one’. He simply has not lived up to either his generous pay-packet, or his performances in the early part of his Arsenal career- and unlike Tomas Rosicky, I don’t think he’ll get the chance to prove me wrong next season.

GAME OF THE SEASON

It’s been a thrilling season, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of contenders here. It won’t live as long in the memory as others, but I for one enjoyed our workmanlike display to beat the eventual Champions, Manchester City, thanks to Mikel Arteta’s late strike.

Our entire season felt like a comeback, and it was full of microcosmic comeback games. Highlights include the 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge, Thomas Vermaelen’s late late winner against Newcastle, and the incredible attempt to reign in AC Milan.

The undoubted winner, however, has to be Arsenal 5 – 2 Spurs. Bacary Sagna’s thumping header turned a season on its head, and set us up for a late run that would ultimately see us pip Spurs to third and the Champions League. It was a fantastic day, and a quite outstanding match.


North London Is Red on Vimeo by merskamp

WORST GAME OF THE SEASON

I won’t pore over the details. It was painful enough the first time. Suffice to say that in my time as an Arsenal fan I cannot remember a game in which we were so comprehensively humiliated by a rival.

I will now consign this game to the same part of my brain that stores the image of John Terry lifting the Champions League trophy, and attempt not to mention it unless absolutely necessary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON

RVP’s wonder-volleys?
Hammering Chelsea?
Overhauling Spurs?

Afraid not. The highlight of my season was the magical moment when Thierry Henry not only deigned to return to the Emirates turf, but dared to grace it with a goal so transporting we all felt that Arsenal, briefly, were Invincible again.

Like Martin Tyler once said, the man is simply electrifying.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON

I think it tells you something about the topsy-turvy nature of the season that there were as many crushing disappointments as uplifting highs. I’m going to go in, the end, for a rather abstract winner: our dreadful start. Although our poor run in January was arguably more damaging to our final standing in terms of the points we dropped, our poor start was so frustrating simply because it felt so avoidable. Our failure to sort out the future of major stars early in the summer, and enable us to focus on completing our transfer activity ahead of the deadline cost us not only points but morale, momentum, and belief. I still believe it very nearly cost Arsene Wenger his job.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that next season’s fortune’s are largely dependent on learning from our mistakes last time round. Over to you, Arsenal.