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What a pleasant football-less summer I’ve had to date. That’s the main point to take from the almost one month of nothingness from me. I can’t say I’ve missed it too much, frankly – I’ve even stopped watching re-runs of the cup final. I’ve made snarky comments (it’s the equivalent of keeping your engine ticking over) from the sidelines but apart from that – not a whole lot.

I’m pretty relaxed because I don’t subscribe to the theory that we are watching other sides tear past us as we dither and loll about in the transfer doldrums. This happens every single year – every year! – and we’re only 13 days into the actual transfer window. If I let myself get fried about it this early I’d end up looking like Emmett Brown (as opposed to Gilles Grimandi, or on a bad day, Leo Sayer).

And in Petr Cech, I think we’ve done an astute bit of business. (OK, I confess, I just wanted to shoehorn that headline in – apologies if I’m a month late and someone else beat me to it.) Our squad’s pretty strong and for a while now, for me it’s been more about how we play and set ourselves up, and less about who we actually have in our squad. I think we’ve made mental strides and are less naive.

| Do we need more goals? |

Now look, if we could secure a 25-goal striker, I’d be all over it. Goals are great and goals win you games. Not one of our defeats last season was by more than two goals, and most were by one.

That said, these things are never as simple as all that.

For a start, we can expect more goals from Welbeck next season. Maybe not 20, but more than 8. We can expect more from Walcott, if he stays, and stays fit. Giroud can bag a few more and the list goes on. There are more goals in this side from our strikers and from the midfield.

But we hardly shot blanks last season – we only scored two fewer league goals than Chelsea. They just happen to be a bit more solid than us, and they have a bloody-minded mentality that we are still learning.

So do I think we will buy a new striker? If one is available, I can see Wenger being ruthless as he was with our goalkeepers. And if Walcott leaves – yes probably. But I can also see him not signing a striker, and to be honest, would that be an unmitigated disaster?

| Elsewhere |

I don’t think we’re done yet. I couldn’t tell you who we’ll get or where, but Cech aside, it’s all housekeeping at the moment. New deal and loan for Jenks. A case of Poldi Lang Syne. Diaby has left the building – good luck to him. Sanogo will follow and so will others. We’re trimming the fat.

And now pre-season is upon us. There’s a game on Sky on Wednesday in Singapore. It’s sort of kind of back!

Creaking back!

It won’t have passed you by that today is a significant anniversary.

That’s right, it’s eighteen years and three days since Gilles Grimandi joined Arsenal, a signing that heralded in mops of curly hair and, erm, mops of curly hair. As someone with a mop of curly hair, I mark this seminal moment every year by wearing my Grimandi 18 shirt – possibly the only one ever sold – bouffanting my hair up à la Gilles, then heading outside and needlessly getting in someone’s face with a ‘bof’ and a shrug of the shoulders.

It’s also 20 years since a bloke called Dennis joined. I’ve got used to the years zipping by, but twenty years! Oh Dennis, you beauty. You glorious, joy-bringing bugger. You silky-footed tease.

I wrote this about him for the Arsenal Magazine in 2014, just as his statue was unveiled:

“I was driving across London when I heard on the radio that Arsenal had signed Dennis Bergkamp. Dennis Bergkamp! At Arsenal! I pulled over at the nearest shop and bought every single newspaper I could get my hands on. I was at Highbury later that summer to see him score his first two goals against Southampton, and can remember the ecstasy like it was yesterday. Such calmness, power, precision and skill. Wow. That was the effect Bergkamp had on the club and the fans – he brought some much-needed stardust to a team that had grown tired. He was a world class player who was signed in his prime for a huge fee and his arrival took Arsenal off in a different direction. We didn’t know it at the time, but Bergkamp’s arrival was to herald a new era in which the football Arsenal had been synonymous with for years (sometimes a little unfairly) was swept away by a more technical, stylish approach. We’re still playing that way today, and while Bergkamp can’t take all the credit, he has written himself – effortlessly, of course – into Arsenal folklore.”

The word legend is bandied around fairly carelessly these days, but Bergkamp is a bona fide, card-carrying legend.

World class brilliance.

Twenty years!

Come back, Dennis!

(By train, obviously.)

“I definitely wouldn’t go somewhere just because I’m a homegrown player.”

So said Jack Wilshere in the run-up to England’s match against Slovenia: a reminder, if ever it were needed, of the peculiar cachet of being British and half-decent.

Since then we’ve heard (admittedly unsubstantiated) rumours of Mourinho wanting an English Arsenal player – maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain – in return for Cech. Though we could just as easily put that down to a helping of typical Mourinho opportunism.

Man City would take Wilshere in a heartbeat, according to more rumours, but then again – is that because he’s English or because he’s good?

A bit of both maybe, because they’re short of homegrown players. That explains why they’ve bid a whopping £40m – and would probably go higher – for the admittedly promising Raheem Sterling. According to this chart, they’ve got six homegrown players (though that would be five now Milner’s gone). Chelsea, the same graph says, have three. Things may well have changed for both sides since then, I don’t know exactly – but probably not by much. We, apparently, lie on the borderline with exactly eight.

Of course, Arsène has been stockpiling British players for a while now, so compared to some sides it’s not something we need to overly concern ourselves about. What we do need to be careful about is keeping those we have. Partly because they’re good and partly because they’re homegrown.

The homegrown quota system was designed to bring more British players through the ranks, an aspiration I have no beef with at all. As an Englishman, I like seeing British players making it at Arsenal.

It’s a little complicated, but boiled down, a Premier League side is allowed 25 over 21-year-old players in its squad, and of those 25, eight must be home-grown. (This article from @heisenbergkamp explains it quite well, better than I can).

On top of that, Greg Dyke has vowed to extend those numbers to 12, phased in over several years, starting in 2016, and to make the ‘homegrown’ criteria tougher. I don’t know where we’re at with those proposals – not far, I don’t think – but you can see how even the prospect of this raises the premium on young British players.

| A valuable asset |

So good British players are valuable, and they know it.

That’s why, while I’m not remotely worried about Jack leaving, I do think Wenger has to find a regular slot for him (assuming form and fitness, naturally). Jack is valuable and Jack knows it. He wants to play and he needs to play. There are teams out there who’d bite and bite hard if he made the faintest flutter of the eyelashes.

But will any of our exciting young British crop actually go this summer? Wilshere, Walcott, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Gibbs, The Ox?

Hot air. Wenger would never countenance it and none of them are agitating for it in any way, shape or form. There is no swerving off the road at contract demands that we know of. Recent history says we buy rather than sell.

The only one who has the perfect storm of contract, age, nationality and ability on his side is Theo.

And until he signs, then you never quite know.

Wembley

A bit belated, but here’s a whistle-stop season review. It was going to be a general look at the season, but ended up being more about the players. That’s just the way I roll.

| Defence |

Just five Premier League goals fewer conceded this season compared to last, but our defensive stability seems a world better. Not least because we didn’t bend over and get the slipper like we did three times last season to the tune of 6-3, 5-1 and 6-0.

I can’t remember who mentioned it, but I was struck how the biggest margin of defeat across all competitions was two goals. Not bad at all, even if some of them were bitterly disappointing. Here’s looking at you, Monaco at home. Stoke away was a first-half masterclass in rubbish – Joel got away while he could – and we were suckerpunched at home to Utd when we should have been cleverer.

Mertesacker got written off at various points because of his World Cup exploits but – Monaco aside, when he was hardly alone – I think he has been excellent. A calm and assured leader, positionally sound, just a top man. Plus he made my six-year-old very happy by waving at him at the parade.

Gabriel came six months too late but will have benefited from half a season of bedding in. He looks a promising act, with a bit of a cynical edge, and maybe that’s no bad thing. Koscielny – excellent.

Chambers – very good start, fizzled out a bit, and it’ll be interesting whether he’s a reserve right back or centre back next season.

| Who’ll be happiest? |

Monreal, who usurped Gibbs as first choice at left-back after a baptism of fire at centre-back, went on to have an excellent season. Nice attacking edge, generally solid at the back.

But the carriage clock and year’s worth of luncheon vouchers go to Bellerin, who came from nowhere, at the ripe old age of 19, to swat Chambers and Debuchy aside. His rawness has been mitigated by great technique, calmness, speed and persistence. Reward: first choice right-back and an FA Cup winner. Not bloody bad, by Hector.

| Who’ll be most disappointed? |

Gibbs will have been left a bit reflective, though with 28 starts and 5 substitute appearances he was hardly at a loose end. The Woj shot himself in the foot with a peculiar response to a bad game, and his future is now hard to predict even if he did end the season on a high, making positive noises.

Debuchy wins this one. Cracking start, as tenacious as you’d expect, but then spent most of the season out with ankle and shoulder injuries. The second one enforced by some cynical shoving, which will be particularly galling and was particularly costly. He never got back into the side leaving Bellerin to jump at his chance. Next season – straight fight between the two, but it won’t be easy for Matt.

| Midfield |

Oh my, where to start? Let’s begin with an outstanding season from Santi Cazorla, who is not only annoyingly good at football but also seems annoyingly happy. None of this Seasonal Affective Disorder for our Santi, and I bet he doesn’t get the Sunday blues in front of Antiques Roadshow. There were some rumours he wanted to go back to Spain, so I think Wenger needs to nip this one in the bud by confiscating his passport.

Mesut Ozil, still nicking a living, blossomed after his three months out injured and silenced some of those doubters, whether he was on the wing or in the middle. Some games do pass him by a bit, but overall he’s been outstanding. Some of the shimmies, flicks and ghosting runs he made as the season came to its head took the breath away. Keep it up, Mesut. Ja, Ja and thrice Ja.

Ramsey – also pock-marked with annoying setbacks – finished very strongly, and Jack reminded us he’s not going away right at the very end.

With the defensive solidity of Coquelin, our midfield has really started to shine, with creative options all over the centre of the field. We can certainly improve in certain scenarios – such as when teams park the bus – but there’s plenty to be positive about.

| Who’ll be happiest? |

Ha, you thought I’d forgotten him, didn’t you. Well I hadn’t. Francis ‘The Coq’ Coquelin is the footballing story of the year with bells on. Skulking back into the Emirates as a last resort, he went about transforming our season and his reputation. In fact, much of why our defence seems to settled is down to him. Did we think he had it in him? No. Does it matter? It does not. He got an unlikely opportunity but seized it, and is now in the enviable position of being one of the first names on the teamsheet. What a season.

| Who’ll be most disappointed? |

Quite a long list here. Wilshere started well but his injury waylaid him – again. Rosicky had some nice cameos but didn’t feature as much as he’d like. The Ox – good, then injured (there’s a theme here). Flamini watched Coquelin overtake him and disappear over the horizon. Arteta will wonder what the future holds. Adios Abou.

Someone has to win this award though, and it’ll probably be Jack. He didn’t make the progress he’d have liked, and struggled to get back into the team once fit. Suspect we’ll see a lot more of him next season, though.

| Attack |

Who held Arsenal together in the autumnal sluggishness? Alexis. Who carried on working twice as hard as everyone else even when we thought his legs were about to fall off? Alexis. Who scored 25 goals in his maiden season? Tap-ins, curlers, raspers, headers, free kicks? Alexis. He might not have the ball retention of some of our midfielders but that is not his game. The Chilean maestro is a rare footballer indeed and getting him was an absolute coup. To finish the season with one of the best FA Cup goals of all time seemed a rather nice way to sum it all up. A bloody genius.

Giroud – leg broken by a ball, ffs – went onto have a fine season, scoring 19 goals despite missing three months of the season, with a particularly rich vein of form between February and April. He then did that peculiar Giroud thing whereby he hit the buffers, and hit them with a passion. Once he’s spent, he’s spent. There seems little middle ground with him on that front but he’ll be pleased with his contribution overall.

Welbeck – bags of promise, works his socks off and has the flexibility to play across the forward line. Walcott – finished the season explosively.

Who knows what might have been if Walcott and Welbeck had stayed fit all season. You still feel there’s room to add to our collection here – I wonder if Wenger thinks the same.

| Who’ll be happiest? |

Alexis, without a doubt. Bedded into a new league and new culture in about fourteen seconds. Went on to prove he’s one of the best players in the league.

| Who’ll be most disappointed? |

Welbeck or Walcott. I think the former started well and endeared himself to the Arsenal fans in no time. His high-water mark was the goal against Utd in the FA Cup, but I don’t think he had the season he would have liked. Yes, he was injured a lot but he only scored eight goals, and he’ll be desperate to improve on that next year.

Theo had a dismal season until the bells chimed midnight. Understandably tentative after his return from injury, he scored a few but was too peripheral and paid for it with by being benched or ignored entirely – to the point where it seemed he was a dead cert to hit the Emirates exit door. But Wenger told us he was getting back to his best and he was proved right, exploding into form in the last game of the season and winning a cup final place on the back of it. Where he only went and bloody scored. Will he stay? Still hard to say, though I sincerely hope he does.

So overall, I’d go with Welbeck. Not a bad first season, with plenty of promise but plenty still to prove, and unlike Theo he didn’t have the icing on the cake of playing in the FA Cup final.

| Overall |

I thought at various points this season, as many did, that Wenger’s ship had once again sailed. It just goes to show what a useless mariner I’d make. The first half of the season was not always easy on the eye, and we were too far behind too soon, but there’s no denying that something clicked after Christmas. We learned to win big games, we became more resilient, Coquelin gave us much better balance. It just came together and there are so many reasons to be excited. The squad is united, the deadwood is nowhere to be seen, there are a few weak areas but far more strength in depth. Third is progress, and the FA Cup was simply magnificent.

Winning the FA Cup is no easy feat and we’ve done it twice in a row, breaking records as we’ve done so. We also played as well as we played all season in the final. That sea of yellow, the wall of noise, the pressing and waves of attacking, the fluid passing – none of it will not be forgotten for a while.

How can you ever say that a season in which you won a big trophy is not a success? It turned into an excellent, memorable season.

Plenty to do before now and August, but I already can’t wait.

Played you rip-roaring yellows. And reds.

What a day, what a performance, what an experience. Here’s my take on the day in the shape of a Storehouse story. Bit late because I went to the parade – or at least part of it.

Hope you enjoy!

It’s happening.

I somehow managed to avoid getting too nervous, too soon about today. In fact, it wasn’t until Thursday’s Arsecast that the fear slapped me in the face and the jangling belly kicked in. The waking up early. The inability to think about anything else.

That was compounded last night by a whistle-wetter or two with some of the usual online reprobates. There were people who’d flown in from LA, from New York, from Montreal: guys who’ve never seen Arsenal in a cup final, high on nerves and anticipation, wide-eyed and happy.

And that’s the FA Cup final right there, for me. A massive day, different to all the others; hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it. I absolutely love it. I try to soak it all in, but end up forgetting most of it. Having won it a lot, and coming this far two years running, doesn’t mean the feeling changes one iota. For me, the FA Cup final is a glorious day. Always was, always will be.

I want Theo to start, but I think Giroud will. I’d like Sir Chez to start, but I think Ospina will. But all of this is out of my hands.

Time to head to Wembley, gulp in the atmosphere and wrestle with my inner anxiety.

Come on Arsenal.

May the best team win. So long as it’s Arsenal.

Arsenal 4-1 WBA

Walcott’s pootled along this season, slowly recovering his potency – oh so slowly – not always convincing on his infrequent forays off the bench, and nobody would have given him a cat’s chance in hell of making the starting eleven for the cup final on Saturday.

Until yesterday.

As timing things to perfection goes, that was straight from the It’s Up For Grabs Now handbook.

Theo was phenomenal, playing through the middle, causing absolute havoc. If he’d spontaneously combusted towards the end of the first half I don’t think anyone would have been massively surprised. He was that hot.

I’d say the general view is that Giroud will start, but I’m not so sure. Compare and contrast yesterday: when Giroud came on he looked languid and tired, much as he has done for the last handful of games. Walcott was the polar opposite. If you were picking the cup final side on form, you’d have to play Walcott, wouldn’t you?

It reminded me of the game he got injured against the Totts. Almost everything he touched turned to goals – that first one was just outrageous from that angle. It was, as my nephew says, ‘toast and meatballs’.

The second was less Hollywood but more deft, a shimmy then a smart finish, and by this point there was no stopping him.

The third, a tap-in, sealed the deal. I’d like to think I could have scored that one but the reality is I’d have been 50 yards back with my arms on my hips, searching for my inhaler, as red as a beetroot.

Wilshere was equally as convincing, though I’m not sure he has as good a chance of starting as Walcott does for the simple reason that the player he’d need to displace – Ramsey in all likelihood – is himself playing very well. Welsh Jesus hit the bar twice when he came on, a gentle reminder that Wenger is going to need to double-dose on Anadin ahead of picking his midfield.

As for his goal, it was a rising rocket. Vieira v Newcastle in 98. Goals don’t get much better than that.

The second half was a non-event by comparison, but that always happens after first halves that scintillating. Plus, who wants to get injured ahead of the cup final?

Everyone else contributed to the spectacle, with the only worry being the form of Ospina. He did not cover himself in glory either for the Baggies’ goal or for the fumbled long-ranger. Can Szczesny expect a call? I can’t see it. He’d surely have had a warm-up game first. The relationship there is irrevocably broken.

Overall, pretty much the perfect way to end the season, a return to goalscoring form after a mini-drought, and some lovely, lively and convincing auditions for the big one on Saturday.

WARNING: POINTLESS LINE-UP CONJECTURE IMMINENT.

My mind is racing to Saturday already. Don’t lie to me – yours is too. How would I line up for the final? Based on form (and in Ospina’s case, other factors) I say Ospina, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerin, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez, Ramsey, Walcott.

Sorry Jack, sorry Olivier. Some amazing potential stories in that line-up though, if it came to pass. The rise of Bellerin. Monreal displacing Gibbs. Coquelin the phoenix from the ashes. Walcott coming from nowhere.*

*But what do I know. Plus, I reserve the right to change my mind between now and Saturday.

It was only a few days ago that I was thinking how Rosicky’s Arsenal career was fizzling out and destined for a disappointing end. Barely featuring, last year of contract – it seemed likely that the cup final would come and go and it would be a case of ta-da Tom.

Some players leave and I don’t much care. Other leave who I’d rather hadn’t. But Tom Rosicky, the Little Mozart? The little man is a stick of dynamite. He’s fantastic.

He’s never been the pivot round which the team was built. Maybe that’s because he had the kind of layoff between January 2008 and September 2009 that would make Diaby blush. But when called on, he’s invariably been excellent, with close technical skills that stand up to the best of them, surprising pace even at 34, and an energy that lifts the team whenever he comes on.

He’s not shy of scoring either. And belters at that – he’s good at long-rangers, good at placing goals with Exocet-like precision, and good at running with the ball from distance. Best of all, he has a knack of scoring top goals against our chums up the road. Twice in consecutive 5-2 routs, and then that curving, unstoppable rasper in the 1-0 away win (the goal that may well end up being the one people remember the most).

Forgotten how good he is? Of course you haven’t, but here are some gentle reminders anyway.

Does he have weaknesses? Not many, if you ask me, other than advancing years. Games rarely pass him by entirely. He plays with a smile on his face. He’s no agitator. He has excellent hair.

Eight starts and 16 sub appearances is not bad for a 34-year-old – he could not play a whole season even if we wanted him to – so perhaps it was no surprise after all that Wenger has exercised the right to extend his contract by one final year.

The cynical view would be that it’s a way of getting some money for him while offering the player some security in the meantime. But no, I genuinely think it’s the right call for both parties. He’s still a lovely little player. An impact sub of the highest order. So I hope he is here for one last, testimonial-season hurrah.

Gilberto played the mandolin and he was brilliant. Rosicky plays guitar. In the close season Wilshere is a wandering minstrel who plays the Dulcimer.*

*One of these facts is untrue.

I raise my plectrum to unsung midfielders with string-instrument skills.

Super Tom Rosicky. No word of a lie.

When we lost to Swansea ten days ago I detected a whiff of endofseasonitis. We’d already qualified for the Champions League and the title was long gone – dusted, boxed up and packed away. We lost and we weren’t great.

All it takes is for a few percent of the usual performance to evaporate for what we’ve seen over the last three games to occur. Not horrendous, but not very good either. Too predictable and a bit slow of body and mind.

I know that the difference between third and fourth is not to be dismissed, nor is the notion of finishing one place higher than last season something to look down at, but once that Champions League qualification had been reached, maybe a little bit switched off.

Feels that way. I suppose it’s a bit like being a marathon runner. Those last few miles are the hardest. (I don’t know this of course, as I’ve never run one. I have eaten one, but that’s as near as I’ve got).

It explains why teams that are imperious until the point of winning something often end up losing straight afterwards (and it makes Arsenal’s 2004 achievement – to not lose having won the title with four games to spare – all the more admirable).

So all of this, despite my frustration last night, I understand. I just hope that this dip in form – goals are suddenly nightmarishly hard to come by – can be shaken off for the cup final.

I’d like to think our recent appearances there have inured us to such whimsical Wembley form. But ‘Wigan’, ‘Hull’ and ‘Reading’ are three words that will point to another truth: that playing a cup semi-final and final is not remotely predictable. Arsenal don’t do it that way.

All fingers point to it being anyone’s game. But at the very least, we need to find a way of rediscovering some mojo and some of the technical silk that we have seen since the New Year. We look leggy and a bit dulled.

Wenger’s worried we could be fatigued for the final. It’s easy to see why. I get why he’s played the same players, but there’s little to gain from doing that on Sunday. Giroud is dead beat. Alexis is running on empty. Ozil is making weary errors and even the metronomic Cazorla is misplacing passes.

Big changes on Sunday – I’d be amazed if there was anything else. It’s not like the preferred eleven is currently nailing it.

Hull City 1-3 Arsenal

There I was with my worry beads, thinking this could have been been a mouldy old banana skin, and here I am now looking a little bit stupid.

Turns out the concentration was fine after all, and if anything, somewhat heightened. So much so that it was one of the more complete performances of the season. I won’t try to compare it with any other matches, mostly because I can’t really remember very far back in any great detail, but have you seen a better display of passing than that? No Sir, I have jolly well not.

Orchestrating it all were three fleet-footed amigos in the shape of Ozil, Ramsey and Cazorla, the latter two in particular competing for the most outrageous defence splitter. Dead heat on that front if you ask me.

Both Ramsey and Cazorla were phenomenal, once again sinking my pre-match fears about a lack of width below the waterline. Pah, what do I know. It’s not like you come here for informed tactical and motivational insight. (It’s not like they come here at all – Ed).

Cazorla was magic again, and I’d hoik his future right up the agenda. There has been hearsay for a while about him leaving this summer (though I’m not sure where the rumours have come from) but right now he’s a stick of fizzing dynamite and we should pull out all the stops to keep him. Who else would have him in Europe? Who wouldn’t.

Jack Wilshere deserves a mention too for an excellent cameo. His direct running literally threw a real cat amongst the actual pigeons. Up for the challenge? We see you Jack, we see you.

Sanchez was brilliant, point-blank refusing to play at anything less than 100%, far better on the night than a strangely lacklustre Giroud. I thought at one point a month or so ago that Giroud would overtake Sanchez in the goalscoring charts, but I can’t see it now. In the league – perhaps. But not overall and 24 goals is an excellent return.

So, great defending and dynamic attacking – with the added bonus being the chiming of the bells of St Totteringham. What’s not to like.