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by user Bobo
Arsenal's 2005-06 season has been one of the more successful in recent years, having managed to get through to the Champions League final for the first time, despite never previously progressing beyond the quarter-finals. With their game against Barcelona fast approaching, it's useful to note that although their international form hasn't entirely manifested itself in the league, with a total of eleven defeats this season, their highest since their considerably poor 1994-95 term, which saw Blackburn Rovers win the top division title for the first time since 1914, they have nevertheless made a good fist of it.
Much more telling, however, is their goalscoring ratio. Having put eight past twelfth-placed Fulham, seven past Wigan, including four on the last day of the season, and eight past an ever-battling Middlesbrough side, they finished fourth in the league, and have a decent record over the last six weeks of the season, having only dropped only four points since mid-April, less even than champions Chelsea, who themselves have now gone two games, both losses, without scoring a single goal.
And given The Pensioners' dominance in the transfer market, it has to be said that there has been a lot of activity within Arsenal's ranks this year. Coming in are names like the omnipresent Mart Poom, loaned since the beginning of the season back in August and bought immediately as of January 2006. Thus far, however, the former Derby County man is without a start in either the first team or on the substitutes' bench. Their other players include wünderkind Theo Walcott, favourite of Sven-Göran Eriksson and by extension candidate to break Wayne Rooney's record as the youngest ever England player.
Walcott's presence goes further than this, however. As an Englishman, he has pushed out from the squad such figures as Darren Bent, the Premiership's top English scorer, and as a young man who has never started a Premiership match, he is one of the most uncharacteristic decisions of Sven's career as England boss, soon to come to an end.
Other star players this season include Jens Lehmann, who, as the principle goalkeeper in their European campaign, has now gone 658 consecutive minutes without letting in a goal in European competition.
Arsenal's most promising new signing this year is without doubt Belarus’ Aliaksandr Hleb, long-term defensive replacement for Arsenal's gradually maturing squad. His first goal for the club was scored within two minutes of him coming on for his first appearance. Their other signings include Armand Traore, formerly of AS Monaco, Nicklas Bendtner and Vito Mannone, a rookie Italian undeserving of the Serie B football his previous team, Atalanta, would have given him. Traore has been dubbed "the new Evra", but with Patrice at Manchester United, there isn't much Arsenal can do about that...
Having seen 22 players offloaded since June last year, Arsenal's team has been greatly adapted from that which had such fantastic youth potential.
Too much has been said about the squad already, so let's focus on the season. There's little doubt that nobody any more expects from manager Arsène what we saw from him two seasons ago, but given his managerial record overall, I think we’ll let that slide.
More than just football, Wenger’s appearance at Arsenal eradicated the culture at the club which back in 1996 was much less one not just of repute, but of the most important people of all, tomorrow’s players who look at Arsenal’s squad and yearn one day to be amongst their ranks.
To be honest, the junk food, drinking and drugging culture is not one that any team wishes to be riddled with, particularly the team which is perhaps most susceptible to a surfeit of young skilful players without the pressure of knowing needless extra millions have been spent on you, as the case would be with Chelsea’s young superstars. That’s the beauty, however, of the bottomless and continually supplied pockets of Jose Mourinho (notwithstanding the fact that whatever you have to say about him, he is extremely tactically sound as a manager).
Arsenal’s venture into Europe this season saw them in Group B of the Champions’ League along with Russia’s Lokomotiv Moskva, Dynamo Kyiv of the Ukraine, and Italy’s Internazionale. The Kievans are close to my heart, having seen my brother stand in the very spot the stadium is situated.
Next season sees a rejuvenated Arsenal squad, including several of their team who will have been present at the 2006 Football World Cup for teams from Côte d'Ivoire, England, and many other national teams, probably looking as strong as they’ve looked for a good few years. Looking forward to some good tussles, some new players, and some brand new battles on the pitch involving promising-looking newcomers Reading and Sheffield United, as well as the winner of the playoffs. With Reading looking most likely of the three to consolidate their position, it's going to be interesting to see how the new boys cope against the big guns this time round.