Pass me the 'I'm Not Laughing' gas

Last updated : 23 June 2007 By Kevin Archer
Well, not strictly true. We do say hello to a couple of players in the 'newborn' category. At 19, Lukasz Fabianski is a mere fledgling of a goalkeeper, albeit a feisty one - he's already squaring up to Mad Jens for the No.1 spot. And at 16, Norwegian defender Havard Nordveit is only marginally too old to appear on Boogie Beebies.

Meanwhile, promises of spectacular 'high-profile' signings come and go. To Arsenal ears at least, the excitable buzz of endless transfer rumour has become little more than the faintly annoying drone of a bloated mosquito.

As for the players we already have, it's a case of plus ça change... Business as usual.

Henry, for example, has been bought and sold at least a dozen times, and must be delighted to discover that he has more 'close personal friends' than any other footballer on the planet. Spanish radio says he has signed a 4-year contract with Barcelona, although Barcelona themselves say the £16m deal has not been finalised with Arsenal. (Don't clubs normally agree to sell players before contracts are signed?)

But this time around it's not just about the players. Speculation surrounding Arsene Wenger's future refuses to go away, even though he is undoubtedly one of the most principled men in sport; if he says he's going to honour his contract, you can bet your bottom dollar that's what will happen. (And would he really be buying so many young players if he had no intention of seeing them mature?) Yet no-one seems to be listening.

Which brings us to the underlying cause of this year's traumas: the disappearance of David Dein and the vortex of uncertainty caused by his departure.

Dein lived and breathed Arsenal. Wenger is exactly the same. And yet Dein is no longer at the club. That fact, and that alone, is enough to make any Arsenal supporter nervous.

In part at least, the board must take responsibility for this situation. We will never know the precise events that led to Dein's sacking, but, at best, it now looks like a hasty decision. At worst, it may turn out to have been divisive, expensive and, ultimately, pointless. Should Kroenke and his untold dollars gain any kind of foothold at the club, Dein will surely be set for a rapid return. (Can you actually see him plying his trade at Newcastle? With that hair?)

Certainly, Hill-Wood is now making conciliatory noises when it comes to Kroenke, saying of his recent meeting with the American billionaire, "It went perfectly well". This is a far cry from the aggressive "we don't want his sort" stance taken by the board when news of Kroenke's intentions - and Dein's complicity - first broke.

It may be that H-W & Co. have already accepted the idea that foreign investment is inevitable. They could certainly do worse than getting into bed with Kroenke; for one thing, he's not exiled from his own country over allegations of corruption. Nor does he require 25 bodyguards just to take his poodle for a walk.

True, he does have a very dodgy moustache.

The board may be adopting a more positive stance, but Dein remains disconcertingly silent. In fact, the only thing as tight-lipped as Mr Dein is the Arsenal press office, which flatly refuses to deny or confirm any rumours until the ink is dry and all the necessary forms have been copied in triplicate. (Isn't it frustrating that news only gets posted on once the rest of the world and his dog know about it?)

Inevitably, the deafening quiet has led to a climate of conjecture and unease, for players, coaching staff and supporters alike.

Is anything likely to change before the beginning of next season? Probably not. Unless we buy back Vieira (to shut him up), bid £75m for Eto'o (to shut him up) and sign Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Anelka (just for the hell of it) these rumours won't go away.

Ultimately, it's not simply a case of buying a few players. Returning to the analogy of the delivery ward, we are not watching the gradual transition of an established squad; we are witnessing its complete rebirth. The team that runs out in August 2007 will bear little resemblance to the one that lifted the FA Cup in May 2005.

We've already been through a rebirth of sorts. When Wenger first arrived he brought with him new attitudes to training, eating and… well, being. But he was still operating within the confines of the squad, stadium and board that he inherited.

Today, thanks to Wenger, the squad is far younger and, on average, more talented (certainly more exciting) than ever before. The old stadium has gone and the new one, freshly emerged from its bubble-wrap, is pulsing with life.

As for the Arsenal board, things will never be the same again. Kroenke and Dein have shaken those who felt they were untouchable, and when the dust settles a new era will be ushered in.

Unless you're on child number seventeen - in which case you're probably a Chelsea supporter - giving birth isn't easy. At present, we're faced with the possibility of triplets: a new team, in a (nearly) new stadium, backed by new owners.

Nitrous oxide anyone?