Reasons to be Optimistic About Next Season

Last updated : 23 May 2003 By Anna Bailey
The disappointment is not totally due the fact that we squandered such a substantial lead – although that's certainly part of it. What is most galling is the fact that Arsenal clearly played the best football in the Premiership. We were the best team. Arsene Wenger has already said it and been branded arrogant, but it is not arrogance. It is as plain as the nose on your face. Whilst Manchester United turned into the new Sunderland and hoofed balls upfield for Van Nistlerooy to either shoot or dive, we created some of the finest passing football around.

But it is this very disappointment that should make every Gooner optimistic about next season. Because it is not talent or potential that we lack, we simply let our mental frame of mind slip. But that can be changed (and will have been changed simply by the disappointment of the past few weeks), whereas Manchester United need a good half dozen new signings to bring their team up to our calibre.

Let's put it this way: which Manchester United player would you actually swap for the equivalent player in the Arsenal squad? Keane for Vieira? The Irishman is already looking past it. Rio for Sol? Campbell has been by far the more solid player all season. Giggs for Pires? Come off it – the Frenchman is in a completely different class. Cole for Neville? Ok, now we really are having a laugh. Even Beckham for Freddie is borderline when you look at the all-round game and not just set pieces. Van Nistlerooy is by far United's best player, both in terms of ability and fighting spirit, and yet as the final league game against Sunderland showed, Thierry Henry not only scores as many goals as the Diving Dutchman but sets up the same number again for other players.

So in every area of the pitch, then, Arsenal's quality surpasses that of Manure. And yet technically it shouldn't be allowed to be that way. The Red Devils' income is double that of Arsenal's. In theory, our rivals should have a squad like Real Madrid's: we should look like the Tiny Totts by comparison. And yet our squad out-classes Man Utd in every area of the pitch. Makes Ferguson look like Glenda Hoddle, doesn't it?

The cash constraints imposed by the building of Ashburton Grove are a worry at first glance, but shouldn't prove a major problem. We need a new number one according to the media, but do we really? I for one am not so sure. As shown by both the Cup Final and the semi against Sheffield United, Seaman is still a great keeper. His only problem now will be fitness. Stuart Taylor has proved a more than capable deputy for Seaman this season, and I'd really like to see him given a chance as number one. He certainly has the ability to succeed. That said, Rustu Recber on a free is not to be sniffed at either.

One thing we can be more optimistic about than at the beginning of this season is our strike force. Jeffers has improved no end, and has gained the hardworking spirit of the rest of the squad, tracking back to make tackles rather than thinking all he has to do is hang around in the box, as he did when he first arrived from Everton. Bearing in mind no Arsenal player has been brilliant immediately after signing for us, next season could well be the making of him. With his excellent positional sense he could not hope for a better partner than Mr Create-a-Goal Henry. Ok, he may never be a great player in the way that Bergkamp or Pires is, but perhaps a player who'll forgo the fancy stuff but score the tap-ins is just what we need. The time is also right for young Jeremie Aliadere to break through into the first team – as he was beginning to do this season until he foolishly concealed an injury from the coaching staff.

If us Gooners have just one criticism of Arsene Wenger, it's that he does not give young players enough of a chance to break through. Things are not always as clear cut as the media make out though – let's not forget that this season Kolo Toure has emerged as a useful and enthusiastic utility player, while Fergusmoan was only forced into giving John O'Shea his chance because he made such a farcical buy in Laurent Blanc. Nevertheless, Wenger will upset every Gooner in the land if Jermaine Pennant does not get a fair chance to establish himself in the first team this coming season. His sheer talent was obvious during his successful spell on loan at Watford, so putting him in the starting line-up is hardly a risk.

It's always exciting to read transfer speculation during the closed season, and it was only a couple of years ago we had a spell when we seemed to buy a new player every day. But I for one hope that we only make a couple of buys this summer. For the most part our squad is already plenty big enough – especially in midfield, where we have some hugely underrated players like Edu and Parlour who often don't get a look in. We all know that new players take at least a season to settle, so buying just to make us feel we're doing something pro-active could well prove counter-productive.

It goes without saying that our main priority must be to strengthen the defence. I refuse to be overly harsh on Pascal Cygan, whose step up from the French first division to the Premiership is one hell of a leap that is bound to take some adjusting to. There's been some matches where he's performed just as well as Sol, so clearly the potential is there. His main problem is that he is slow, so if he gets caught out of position he struggles to get back. It's his positioning that needs to improve – which let us not forget is something Sol was criticised for in his first season! If this time next year he still hasn't made the grade then fair enough, but until then he deserves a fair chance.

John Terry is one of the best centre halves in the premiership, who for some reason has been criminally overlooked at international level. Terry and Sol would make a formidable partnership, so what a shame it looks like he's going to prove too expensive for us. His team mate William Gallas has also been impressive this season though, so let's hope Chelsea's financial straits get the better of them and Ranieri (or rather, Bates) lets him go.

The bottom line is: let's not be downbeat about our prospects just because we threw the Title away this season. As things stand, we're in a much better position than Manchester United to win the Title next season – as well as going for glory in Europe. Yes the defence needs strengthening, but that is hardly an impossible task. The hope is that Ferguson actually believes his own hype about his team – because if he really is as blind to their weaknesses as he seems then he will not make the signings that are required to make Man Utd. a world-class team again. Here's hoping…