OK, so season 2006-2007 is over half-way through, so there’s lots to catch up on since my last post about Arsenal. First up is transfers in and out. During the summer the two main stories were the final farewell to Dennis Bergkamp, and the sale of Ashley Cole to Chelsea. DB10 bowed out in a great testimonial in the first match in The Emirates stadium, which I was thrilled to get tickets to. I will do a proper write-up of it at a later date. Ashley Cole went to Chelsea on the last day of the transfer window, with William Gallas coming to Arsenal as part of the deal. I for one am glad to see him go, since his attitude had gone wrong, and I don’t believe he was welcome at Arsenal any more. Plus it’s great to get a defender of the calibre of William Gallas to join the side.
Other departures during the summer included Robert Pires, who went to Villareal on a free transfer, who were prepared to give him the two-year contract that Arsenal wouldn’t. Shortly after his move he got injured again, so while it’s sad to see him go, it’s probably not a huge loss for Arsenal. Also leaving was Sol Campbell, who ended up in Portsmouth after lots of speculation that he would leave England. His loss was ameliorated somewhat by the arrival of Gallas, but Campbell was a great buy for Harry Redknap, and he has performed really well for Pompey this year. Campbell has just been joined on the south coast by Lauren during the January transfer window. Lauren has been out injured for months and months, and during this time Eboue and Hoyte have had the chance to show their worth. Apparently Wenger could not justify bringing Lauren back into the squad ahead of them, and so Lauren went somewhere that he would get regular football. I’m sure it helped that Kanu was also there as well as Campbell, plus Tony Adams is helping Harry Redknap on the coaching side of things. I wish them all well, and it’s great to see them having success in this years Premiership.
During the summer, Jose Antonio Reyes left for Real Madrid, with Julio Baptista coming the other way. It’s supposed to be a one year loan, with presumably the option to make things permanent at the end of the year. Since returning to Spain Reyes has been much happier, but has been giving out about Arsenal and London. He really didn’t like it there, and does not look like he wants to come rushing back. Baptista has taken a while to get going, and still has some rough edges, but he put 4 past Liverpool in a recent Carling Cup match where Jeremie Aliadiere played out of his skin, so he looks like he might be worth keeping. Wenger was after him during the summer of 2005, and we’re getting glimpses of why Arsene valued him so much.
In terms of performances, Arsenal were runners-up in the Champions League Final last season, and have progressed through the group stages pretty well. They now face PSV Eindhoven in the next round, and should be able to overcome them. In the Premiership they got off to an uneven start, with several home draws in the new stadium to teams they should have beaten. Coupled with some away defeats to the likes of Sheffield United before Christmas, and an extended period with Henry out injured, pundits were writing off the Gunners early in the season. It didn’t help that Chelsea and Man United were pulling away from the rest of the teams. However, things are definitely improving, with Henry back, the youngsters stepping up the the plate, and two recent cup wins against Liverpool in Anfield to dump them out of the Carling and FA cup competitions, topped off with coming from a goal behind on Sunday to win 2-1 against Man United courtesy of two late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry. Arsenal have now done the “Leage Double” on Man United, beating them away courtesy of Adebayor’s single goal and a great team performance, and Sunday’s victory.
However, Arsenal currently lie in 4th place, a point behind Liverpool, 6 behind Chelsea, and 12 behind Man United. The team are still saying they’ve a small chance, but realistically at this stage 2nd place may be the best they can hope for. Chelsea are having problems internally, with a rift supposedly opening up between Mourinho and Abramovitch, and long-term injury to John Terry damaging their defensive capabilities. They look vulnerable, and Liverpool easily beat them 2-0 at the weekend. So, the second half of the Premiership season looks exciting, with Arsenal having an outside chance of a top two finish, progression in the FA Cup where they face Bolton on Sunday (I’ll be there!) and the Carling Cup with the first leg of the semi-final against Spurs on Wednesday night, and hopefully relatively easy progression into the next round of the Champion’s Leage. The team are growing in stature and understanding, the young players are developing into a strong, cohesive unit, and looks like a team that will really come of age in the next season or two. For a “transition” season, it’s not shaping up that badly.