Plus ça change
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on August 15, 2016
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
Perhaps not the greatest or deepest thought by the French journalist nearly two hundred years ago, but it holds truth today; and that truth no more self evident than in the EPL at the beginning of the 2016/17 season. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even with new coaches the league favorite Manchester City won a game on a penalty and an own goal against a team they should have walked over, Chelsea won with a penalty and a goal from Diego Costa, though he clearly should have been sent off for a red or at least a second yellow before he could have scored it, and Arsenal started a season woefully unprepared, in full knowledge that they were unprepared and found a way to crumble in a frantic ten minute period and lose at home to Liverpool 3-4.
For both The Citizens and The Blues we can’t say we know for certain what ethier Pep Guardiola or Antonio Conte will make of their teams, preseason means little and this was their first competitive match at their respective clubs. The same cannot be said of Arsenal, this opening weekend marked the 20th year in a row that Arsène Wenger has held the mantle of this North London club. This season also marks the tenth year since the move to The Emirates Stadium, a debt incurring piece of work that created a cathedral to football, a fitting home to a team that was once invincible. It marks twelve years since winning the league, though only one without any trophy, having won the FA Cup the prior two years, 2014 and 2015. It also marks around two years of solvency and actual profit. In 2014 it was safe to say the stadium debt was paid and Arsenal Holdings plc actually had around 200 million BPS in liquid cash flow, now to be clear this money had to do a great many things, not least being improved contracts on players the club wanted to keep, and to pay down players the club had already purchased. It is rare that when you hear a player was picked up for even 20 million pounds that the selling club gets all that money at once, that’s just not how the system works, the money is doled out in installments. That being said this money represented a positive change for Arsenal, for the first time since they began the investment in the new stadium they could go from a ‘selling club’ to a buying club.
In the season starting 2014 they spent big, at least big for Arsenal. Arsenal, over the summer, brought in Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, David Ospina, and at the eleventh hour Danny Welbeck for a combined number of approximately 82 million pounds. The season that followed, 2015/16, though Arsenal had brought in players the previous winter, only purchased one player for this season, veteran goalkeeper Petr Čech. While the 2014/15 season was seen as a great, if not complete, success, finishing third in the table and winning a record 12th, and second on the spin, FA Cup trophies, going into the next season with a few players short of what everyone knew was needed was familiar, the prior year seeming an illusion. This next year Arsenal would finish 2nd in the table, but have no trophy. Though the season ended on a high note for Arsenal fans, piping Tottenham to second due to an utter collapse of the Spurs in the final match, it was still a major disappointment for the club and the supporters.
It was not a surprise to find The Gunners lacking in defence on their opening day defeat to Liverpool, the club was and is in the market for defensive cover, something needed before two of the senior center backs were injured in preseason, and knowing full well the only other senior CB, Koscielny, was not fit enough to be back. Having purchased only two players, with only a couple weeks left in the transfer window, it was not a surprise that Arsenal had to field two youngsters, or that the only big money signing Granit Xhaka, started on the bench. As anyone who follows the club, this was a known entity. Surprising was how Arsenal withheld Liverpool for the first 45 min, only letting in one unstoppable free kick from Coutinho in first half stoppage time. When Liverpool came charging out at the start of the second half with Lallana netting for LFC after about four minutes, it would have been good for Arsenal to have a few more experienced defenders on the pitch, clearly the lads were not expecting Liverpool to come out like they did, a true testament to what Klopp can do in a dressing room. Not ten minutes later Coutinho netted his second and LFC’s third putting the game well and truly in Liverpool’s hands. The collapse was not complete until Sadio Mané made it 4 to 1 in favor of visiting Liverpool. Arsène Wenger had his head in his hands, the fans looked in shock, even knowing ahead of time that Arsenal’s defense was weakened, it was a blow to go behind three goals at home on the opening day.
As much as Arsenal seemed in utter control in the first half, they seemed in utter disarray in the second. Shortly before Mané scored Arsenal were forced through injury to make two substitutions, and say what you rightly will about how Wenger’s team was prepared for the season, his choice in substitutes changed the dynamic of the game. About a minute after Mané scored, one of the changes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, having only been on the pitch for about five minutes made a swerving run down the right, taking on defenders on his own and netting Arsenal’s second goal. It was a ball from Cazorla, the other substitute, that Chambers got his head to, to make it a one goal game in the 75th minute. While this drive and spirit was great to watch and bodes well for the team as a whole, it did nothing but make a nervous last 15 minutes for Liverpool fans, and Klopp. Although Coutinho stole the headlines for his team, it was the diligent and intelligent play of new player Klavan who kept his side in the lead. It was a tale of two halves, as so many football cliches prove to once again be right, but more importantly it was a tale of two defences, one was makeshift but had experience, the other was a bit less makeshift, as all players were playing in their positions, but when the oldest of the two CBs is 21 you can’t say it an experienced defence.
As an Arsenal supporter it was hard to see history repeat itself as it did, even knowing the circumstances beforehand. It may be a false hope to think that Arsenal can surprise us with their transfers, they have done it before, but can they do it again, or will things stay more of the same?