What A Difference A Year Makes
Cast your minds back some 17 months.
Arséne had just rubber-stamped the passing of an era at Arsenal.
The colossus that was Patrick Vieira, (known as Paddy, or PV4 to Gooners, and 'Daddy' to all midfielders in the premiership, bar The warhorse that was Roy Keane...) was transferred to Juventus for some £13m. And in return we signed one Alex Hleb, but he was a winger.
The British sports media, and British football, was astounded.
Reaction from the press went along the lines of 'they've just sold their entire midfield', 'arsenal have got no-one to replace him', 'what, so is he gonna rely on Fabregas??? hahaha...', 'no-one in that midfield can tackle now' and 'Gilberto's not up to it...'
Many a Gooner agreed. I didn't, i have unerring faith in Le Boss (verging on the foolish), but remember the posts of those who did agree with that sentiment.
And the rest of the premiership obviously did too.
Teams came at us in a way we'd not seen before. All of a sudden we were being bullied, and harried, up and down the country. 'Arsenal have no-one to stick up for them' the press cried. And at some grounds, it certainly appeared that way.
Along the way, some Gooners began to lose the faith a little. 'Wenger's lost the plot, what the eff's he doing???'.
Cesc played consistently, and whilst all Gooners knew that the lad had a talent on which no ceiling could be placed, he was not able to carry the team all on his own.
Gilberto was called into question. Accused of not being able to tackle, unable to lead the midfield, that he looked lost. Winter approached. A dismal affair at Goodison park resulting in a loss, typified our away performances. limp, and whimpering. But two things came out of that game. the first was the performance of Kerrea Gilbert, the young right back currently on loan at Cardiff, who performed so fearlessly and looked like he;'d played in the first team since time began (but this about the midfield, so sorry Kerrea, you're sitting the rest of this article out...). The second was the first time i can really remember seeing the fire in the belly of Cesc Fabregas. The kid takes losing very badly, i thought. 2 rare bright spots in a truly dismal performance.
The transfer window had opened up by this time, and before it had closed, we had recruited the services of one Vassiriki Abou Diaby, a young french midfielder unbeknown to the vast majority of Britain, save for the few thousand who saw him turn in a MOTM performance in an U21 match for France away to England. Reports likened him to one Patrick Vieira.
The week after the Everton defeat, we went out of the FA cup at Bolton, surrendering 1-0, but not without a fight. Ivan Campo would testify to that, suffering a broken foot courtesy of a strong challenge from Diaby.
Hleb, the new boy, had been out for a while after only a few weeks into the season with an injury, and when he returned from it, he took time to play his way back into the team.
February duly arrived, and with it, the resurgence of the champions league, and our date with real Madrid, which if I'm honest, i was terrified about. I feared our season, delicately poised like a foal taking it's first steps, was about to stumble and fall.
You all know what happened. A team transformed. The team took Madrid apart, Zizou looking bemused at his inability to get near the ball, Hleb working like a demon, Freddie displaying the qualities of a warrior, and at the heart of it all, the little guy with the big footballing brain and stardust in his boots, Cesc Fabregas, orchestrating all the moves. The performance that ignited our season, and saved it.
I need tell you no more, we all know how the story unfolds, and indeed ends, in may 2006. Diaby's career potentially ended in an horrific injury, a dislocated fracture of the ankle, at Sunderland, which would sideline the young midfielder for nine whole months, and deny him the chance to play in the champions league final. We all hoped he would come back as the same player. Relief and Glory, tears of goodbye, glorious failure so close to the prize, and and that failure being washed away with a simple signature on a piece of paper.
And then Le Bob left.
Arsene made possibly one of the most astute purchases of any transfer window when he astoundingly picked up the mercurial midfielder, Tomas Rosicky, the little Mozart, for a reported mind-bogglingly low £6.8m, at the very start of the window. In retrospect an incredibly smart move, as the Czech went on to have a very good tournament - whilst his team stuttered somewhat, Tomas gave everyone a glimpse of what he was capable of with two stunning drives in the world cup. His value after those goals alone would surely have skyrocketed (albeit his fee was set into his contract, but there would certainly have been a much more frenetic chase for his signature...).
Fast forward to the beginning of this season.
Last night of the transfer window. Cole goes, we get Gallas. Brilliant, we flush away a turd, and replace it with a sweet smelling rose. Reyes departed for Madrid, and the beast thundered into England, with a reputation for power, and a delightful line of mandolin playing.
Oh, and we signed some young fella from Brazil called Denilson. 'You heard of him?' 'Nah, Christ knows mate, but I guess Wenger does.' The season got underway, and nobody saw much of him.
As the season began to unfold, so did the play of the team, and it looked good.
Rosicky, quickly giving glimpses of his skill, his quick brain, and surprisingly for one so slight, his resilience in taking a tackle and his readiness for making, and winning one.
Hleb began to start up his own school of close control, and suggesting himself to be the Fred Astaire of football. He can be infuriating at times, but when he gets it right he is nothing short of mesmeric.
Gilberto took on the role of captain, and responded magnificently. In Titi's absence, Gibber's raised his game, encourages his young charges, protecting the defence, keeping heads up, and scoring goals we never knew he had in him.
Fabregas was, well, absolutely Fabregas. Bossing pretty much most games he dictated the ebb and flow of Arsenal's games, at just 19 years of age, showing himself to be the consummate midfield master, and regularly popping up with tackles and coming out with the ball. we await the first goal of the season, but the assists have continued to flow like a alcy's weak bladder.
Gooners were also given their first glimpses of Denilson, in the Carling cup. At Liverpool, he showed exactly what Wenger meant when Le Boss described him as a cross between Rosicky and Gilberto. But he neglected to mention 'with a sprinkling of Fabregas thrown in for good measure too'. Against the spuds, in the semi final of the CC, he showed the same incredible composure of Cesc, with the trademark silky feet of a Brazilian, harnessed to an alarmingly good footballing brain, and a mean tackle to boot. Only 18. He bossed Didier Zokora at Highbury, and he did the same again last night at Bolton, when in the first half Denilson looked every inch a future world class star of the beautiful game. And this writer's betting is that it will not be that long before he assumes full membership of that club.
Abou Diaby made his long awaited return too, and whilst he looked a bit rusty against the spuds at Highbury, he seems to have quickly found his feet and the pace of the premiership, showing that graceful touch rarely seen in such a big man since, and the tenacity in the tackle of, well, one Patrick Vieira. Of course, he would tell you he is not vieira, and neither does he wish to be. He is Abou Diaby. And how right he is. But to be compared to such a great player is only a backhanded compliment.
So one year five months on, where do we find ourselves? Well, it seems that out of nowhere, we suddenly have possibly the most complete and strongest midfield of the premiership.
Skillful, tenacious, and resilient to the last, they, along with the rest of the team, have discovered that 'never say die' attitude, and they refuse to believe they are beaten. And save for a couple of them, they are very young. I've not mentioned all of the midfield, so apologies to who i haven't covered, but i wanted to deal with the main characters. Having said this, i shall now give mention to the Flamster, who i like greatly. He will never find a place in the hearts of every Gooners heart, but he is an honest pro works tirelessly, and gets important goals too. Freddie too, after his goal at the Reebok last night, well done that man, a few more til season's end will do nicely, thank you sir. And there are more to come through. frightening thought.
Article submitted by Wingston75
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