Arsene Wenger could be season’s first major story
Arsenal manager has been a storyline for some time in English football – a league that likes a story
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has so far this summer only recruited one player, a 20-year-old striker from Auxerre called Yaya Sanogo on a free.
May 19th, The Hawthorns, West Bromwich: the end of an era, the start of another. After 26½ years in charge of Manchester United, during which he not only dug up the landscape of English football, but redesigned it and cast an enlarged Old Trafford shadow across it, Alex Ferguson named his last XI.
He then watched on bemused as United and West Brom somehow conjured a 5-5 draw.
Ferguson was none too bothered that sunny day as he limped on to say a final farewell to his public, just as Paul Scholes dropped a shoulder, skipped goodbyes and burrowed into retirement.
United were already England’s champions – for the 13th time under Ferguson. The crowd roared, they knew this was a special afternoon.
And in the away end, as they hailed the past and the present, they also addressed the future.
United’s travelling support is known for its volume and it made the future sing. To the tune of Slade’s Cum on feel the noize, United’s fans belted out, over and over: “Come on feel the Moyes, play like Fergie’s boys, we’ll go, wild, wild, wild.”
Everton conceded fewer goals than United in the league last season, and the idea of Moyes going wild, wild, wild, will require visualisation techniques for some; but if this terrace chant becomes a soundtrack to the season, then David Moyes will be a contented man. United’s transition from legendary Glaswegian manager to very good Glaswegian manager will have been smooth, and possibly better than that.
The 50-year-old Moyes embodies the novelty and noise of this new Premier League season, a sentence he may not wholly enjoy. Ferguson has departed United, Moyes left Everton as a result, Jose Mourinho has returned to Chelsea, replacing his famously ‘interim’ predecessor, Rafa Benitez, and at Manchester City a man nicknamed The Engineer, Manuel Pellegrini, has been appointed to succeed the sacked Roberto Mancini.
If you add Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham and Roberto Martinez at Everton, then of England’s top seven clubs last season, only Arsene Wenger at Arsenal has been in post for more than a season.
The Manager has been a storyline in itself for some time in English football, and the Premier League does like a story. Sometimes they outweigh the football – what does it say about standards when United won the title last season by 11 points despite their worst defensive record since 2001- 02?
Forget that, though, the hullabaloo stomps on and what will occupy us over the next 10 months is not just the newness of managers, but goal-line technology for the first time, a south Wales top-flight derby, controversies and sackings – Newcastle’s Alan Pardew is favourite to fall first – and as ever, money, money, money.
This is the first season of the richest-ever TV deal. The club which finishes 20th – and the neutral would not be disappointed if that is Hull City or Cardiff City given their owners’ attitude – stand to make £60 million.
And as for The Manager, Wenger is about to launch an 18th season as a Gunner. He will be 64 in October and makes an unlikely Godfather, but the Frenchman’s longevity at Arsenal should in theory give his club some advantage as his peers, even Mourinho second time around at Chelsea, get their feet under new desks and encounter new personnel and new demands.
Arsenal, however, have not made many new signings. Again. In fact, as we go to press, they have recruited only one player, a 20-year-old striker from Auxerre called Yaya Sanogo on a free.
One problem with the August transfer window is that it gives the season a false start. Making judgments on teams and managers before squads are finalised is hazardous-going-on-daft, but Arsenal fans’ frustration at Wenger’s apparent reluctance to buy early, big and in numbers means that the club where there should be most stability, there is instead familiar August anxiety.
Wenger could point out that last summer he bought Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud for a combined £38 million and still drew 0-0 at home to Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland on the opening day.
But then fans would respond that Robin van Persie had just been sold to United, where he scored 26 Premier League goals and was arguably the key difference between United’s total of 89 points and Arsenal’s 73.
Van Persie was the league’s leading scorer while Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud scored 34 goals between them.
Arsenal supporters are already discussing the September 2nd transfer deadline in distressed tones.
Sharpening dread is a meeting with Tottenham on the 1st. Arsenal begin at home to Aston Villa today – expect Villa to be energised and difficult – before a Champions League qualifier at Fenerbahce next Wednesday.
Wenger said this week Arsenal remain “active” in the market but supporters carry a weary sense of deja-vu. The good news is that Jack Wilshere looked fit and ready for England against Scotland, but Wenger could easily be the season’s first major story. He is in the last year of his current contract – and talks on an extension were revealed last month – but as it stands, Wenger is not the author of his immediate future. Arsenal do not posses the squad to dictate.
The novelty factor elsewhere means there is some welcome uncertainty as to who can. At Chelsea, Mourinho is a ‘known-known’, as Donald Rumsfeld would have it, but he has no Drobga this time.
Romelu Lukaku scored an impressive 18 league goals for West Brom last season on loan but he is only 20.
Chelsea have a sufficiently rounded squad to cope, but interest will focus on how Mourinho accommodates ball-playing midfielders and whether he plumps for Lukaku ahead of Fernando Torres.
Moyes at United and Pellegrini at City, meanwhile, fall in the category of ‘known-unknowns’. Pellegrini, a 59-year-old Chilean, has guided Villarreal to the Champions League semi-final and Malaga to last season’s quarters. Flattering profiles have centred on this, as opposed to the period in between when Pellegrini, manager of Real Madrid, went out in the last 16 at Lyon.
Real were in their second Galactico period then (Ronaldo and Kaka) but Pellegrini later said it was not his team. He would not be the first, or last, Real Madrid boss to say so.
City have bought Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Steven Jovetic for around £90 million without seeming lavish. They did get £10 million back for Carlos Tevez from Juventus, but from the so-called noisy neighbours, we have not heard much noise. A tranquil City could be dangerous to United because although City have those 11 points to make up on their Mancunian rivals, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero will each be expected to step back up the title-winning form of 2012.
If they do, and if a couple of the new signings gel, City will look deserving of their status as favourites. Joe Hart had yet another wobble for England at Wembley, but on paper City have the best squad. It will be a surprise if they are not in the top two next May, not least to the men who run the club.
If so, some will jump on Moyes. Without a major signing, United are relying on Van Persie. The Wayne Rooney saga is a drag on enthusiasm, though there is red hope that Shinji Kagawa will improve, Javier Hernandez will re-find form and that Adnan Januzaj, an 18 year-old Belgian-Albanian, justifies his place on Ferguson’s last-ever teamsheet (as an unused substitute).
Rooney, Suarez and Gareth Bale at Spurs have been the summer’s white noise. Rooney and Suarez seem set to stay despite wanting to go. Liverpool are re-shaping under Rodgers and a gut feeling is that they will improve significantly, but imagine if the Real-Bale deal fails and he remains at White Hart Lane for one last season. Spurs have already spent a net £40m. Keep Bale and they can be as loud as anyone.