When the club finally confirmed on Tuesday – after weeks of rumours – the signing of Malaga midfielder Santi Cazorla, it brought about an excitement in me, and seemingly Arsenal fans everywhere, that hasn’t been felt for a long time.
Perhaps it is simply because he joins other exciting players, Podolski and Giroud, and because we have not yet sold a big player (emphasis on the ‘yet’), in what has been a refreshingly enjoyable summer transfer window. Still, my instinct is that Cazorla is the biggest name and most exciting signing for Arsenal for over ten years.
It’s all subjective of course, and while some will point to the likes of Arshavin, Rosicky and Reyes as exciting big names at the time, Cazorla feels a level above that; in my opinion the most serious showing of ambition since we managed to bag Sol Campbell in 2001. We’ve had many great players over the years, but the likes of Vieira, Henry, Pires and Fabregas did not arrive here as such big names, and did not suggest a sudden change in direction for the club. For me, Cazorla does this, as Campbell did, and as Bergkamp did in 1995. No pressure, Santi!
Seriously though, no pressure. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can cope with a lack of silverware and repeated failure if it feels at least like we’ve done as much as we can. In previous seasons it’s been obvious we’ve needed just a few signings to complete the team and we haven’t been willing to part with the extra million here and there. Now we have shown some determination to put an end to the youth project and build a winning team, rather than gamble on unknown youngsters who might or might not make it at this level.
Which brings me neatly on to my next point: with Wenger seemingly admitting defeat for his recent methods in the transfer market, will this also signal a change in our style of play ON the pitch?
It is just possible that someone somewhere at the club has had a word with Wenger. Or perhaps the manager has simply come to his senses by himself; there’s only so long you can keep trying the same thing and failing before you realise a change of direction is needed. If Wenger’s signings so far are him saying “Okay, the club needs older, more proven players for a chance of success” then maybe he can also admit “There should be more work done on defence, and perhaps we should shoot on sight more often.”
I haven’t seen a lot of our pre-season friendlies, so perhaps I’m jumping the gun a little, but in the one game I did see (the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City), we were far more willing to shoot early and shoot from distance. This did not compromise our usual passing game – in fact we were all over City for the most part and looking very threatening. The finishing might not have been there on this occasion, but it was far from our strongest team and at least we were having a go, not shying away from the responsibility of having a shot. Again, failure is more acceptable when you can see more of an effort has been made; if you miss chances, it’s nicer than knowing we came close and not that we simply kept trying one pass too many. With Cazorla’s success with shots and goals from outside the box last season, he would certainly be a useful addition if this is to be our approach.
Defensively, we haven’t seen massive signs of improvement so far in pre-season. As I’ve said, I haven’t seen the games, but the goals against column doesn’t look too healthy. In an attempt to be optimistic, I’ll say let’s wait and see. It’s only pre-season, we’re probably not using our best players, and it’ll take a bit of time for Steve Bould’s influence to take effect, but his appointment to assistant manager could be big for us in the long run.
Thomas Vermaelen has already praised his influence, saying: “Steve is really good to work with, especially for defenders as he has been a defender himself. He is very focused on details. A lot of players, because we are getting older, we know how to play. But he looks at details and the shape of your body and to be honest I am learning a lot from him.”
Well, of course, he would say that wouldn’t he? But I think there’s reason to hope this is more than just a happy soundbite for the official website. If Wenger’s policies off the pitch are changing, then his policies on the pitch are likely to change as well, especially with a new assistant manager bringing fresh ideas to the mix.
It’s hard to believe the new season is less than a week away now. There’s still a lot that can happen in that time, with van Persie’s future still to be resolved, but I think we will look back at this as a positive summer. As has been said on this site already, we’ll have a strong squad with or without RVP. The main downer, for me, would be if he went to Manchester United. I hope the club do everything they can to make sure he goes abroad. Either that or milk United for everything they’ve got; I wouldn’t let him go to such a fierce rival for less than £30million.
But that’s for another day, perhaps. Hopefully our want-away captain will see what we’re all seeing: a club finally showing some ambition again.