Can't believe it. It's already the beginning of a new season. After a brilliant summer of sport, with Euro 2012, Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the Olympics enthralling the nation, the opening weekend of the Premier League crept in tentatively but has now revived its place as the number one sporting event. It's been a mixed pre-season for Arsenal, with another minor exodus and unconvincing form going into the new season, culminating in a disappointing draw on the opening day against Sunderland. Yet there are many reasons why Arsenal fans should be, and on the whole are, optimistic.
Let's get the negatives out of the way. The sale of Robin van Persie, our captain, goalscorer, perhaps only real world class player, and maybe on his way to becoming an Arsenal legend, has been hard for most of us. After selling the likes of Adebayor, Fabregas and Nasri when they were reaching their peaks, it came as a huge blow. To top it off he went to Man United. Man United! That could be worse than selling to Spurs. Now don't get me wrong, RVP was an outstanding player, and I would rather he have stayed, but there is no reason to get too downhearted. We made £24m for a 29 year old who has spent most of his career on the sidelines through injury. In spite of his sensational 18 months, this is undoubtedly fantastic business. Forcing a player to stay against his wishes generally leads to poor performances and team spirit (although it must be said that Modric had a great season for Spurs, despite Daniel Levy refusing to sell). It remains to be seen whether RVP will be missed, yet I have a feeling we shall get on fine. The arrivals of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud should go some way to replacing him. I also expect Theo Walcott and Gervinho to add more goals this season.
Our pre-season form left a lot to be desired. Now don't get me wrong, I know that pre-season form doesn't always affect a new season, and that the squad that toured Asia was in no way shape or form our full squad, but there were still worrying signs. The manor in which we defended, against very average teams such as Malaysia XI and Kitchee FC demonstrated how a lot of work still needs to be done in that area. Hopefully the influence of Steve Bould on the training ground will improve our defence. I am aware that some young players were involved, Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris for example, but players who will play a lot this season, such as Thomas Vermaelen, Kieran Gibbs, Johann Djourou and Carl Jenkinson looked very shaky. Wenger certainly agrees: ''Defensively we looked fragile, particularly in the first half, we have a lot of work to do. We need to defend much better. We were not stable in any of the games".
The sale of Alex Song to Barcelona, being completed today, has further left many Arsenal fans seething, particularly after selling RVP. Their apparent fondness for playing together last season will surely be missed. Now don't get me wrong, the lad had a good season, just look at the stats, 14 assists in 46 games from central midfield is brilliant. He finished joint 4th, behind David Silva, Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia. Now I have never been a fan of Song, and will try to explain why this is an excellent sale. We are receiving a reported £15m for a holding midfielder who thinks he's Zidane. The amount of times in the past two years that I've seen Arteta or Wilshere in sitting front of the back four covering for Song is ridiculous. A big part of why we conceded 49 goals last season was Song's inability to protect an already dodgy back four. I would much rather a player who plays the 'Makalele' role, and allows players with more talent and vision, i.e. Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Ramsey, to contribute more in the final third of the pitch. These players will certainly get more assists than Song if given as much freedom as the Cameroonian last season.
This transfer window has arguably been one of the best for this club, and could get better in the next couple of weeks. As I have already mentioned, two high profile players have left for big money, however we have bought very well, and it looks like more could be on the way. Podolski and Giroud are two very talented players who have all the right attributes to succeed in England. Podolski has an extremely powerful left foot, is composed on the ball, and plays a direct brand of football we often lack. He is however more comfortable on the left, or part of a two man attack, as opposed to playing up top on his own. 101 caps, and 44 goals, for Germany, at the age of 27, is very impressive. Giroud a different type of player, a more traditional centre forward, who also possesses one hell of a left foot. In addition he is fantastic in the air. He should lead the line well this season. However the signing who has excited the fans the most is Santi Cazorla, at £16m, the former Malaga playmaker is our record signing. The two time Euro winner for Spain has supreme vision, perhaps better than Cesc's (although his all round game is not as good). There were glimpses of his fantastic passing ability against Sunderland, particularly when he put a fantastic ball with his left foot past two defenders to set up Giroud, who was agonisingly close to scoring. "He is tricky and has two good feet - in fact I could not say whether he is right or left-footed" says compatriot Mikel Arteta of Santi. With Sahin likely to join this week, a possibility that Yann M'Vila will come, and Wenger saying a defender may arrive as well, this could be one of our most successful transfer windows of late.
Despite this being a preview, we have in fact played one game already, although the season doesn't really get under way until after the transfer window shuts. The result against Sunderland was of course a disappointment. Giroud and Podolski will clearly need time to settle in, and Theo Walcott, Andrei Arshavin and Aaron Ramsey looked poor. However one shouldn't make too many conclusions from the opening game. Sunderland, who parked more than one bus on the line, were very difficult to break down. Cazorla was outstanding, Arteta and Diaby had solid games, and Gervinho looked a lot livelier than before, although still lacking any form of end product. There's not much to say about the defence or Szczesny, as they were barely tested, aside from a good save by Szczesny at the beginning of the match.
So what should we expect of this season? It's difficult to say. As far as the Premier League goes, it will be very difficult to improve on last season. Man United and Chelsea have greatly improved their squads, and City will be as strong if not better. More positively I believe we are still stronger than the rest, so Champions League football should be assured. As for a trophy? You never know, it's difficult to predict the cups, looked what Chelsea did last season. I'd take 4th place and one trophy, but that's not where I think we should be, it's just realistic.