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Beware making predictions from what you see pre-season

By Tony Attwood

11 July 2003.  Peterborough 1 Arsenal 0

19 July 2003.  Barnet 0 Arsenal 0

I was at the first match, but really don’t remember too much of it, although I do recall Mr Wenger being on the pitch before the game, talking to the squad and looking very happy.

So I’m going to focus on the second of these two games, and on what came later, I want to give a full acknowledgement here to Online Arsenal who in that season reviewed these games, and looked forward to the future.  I’m really grateful to the site for their kind permission to allow me to use their data and quote their commentary.

First off, the teams for the Barnet game, kindly provided by Online Arsenal.

First-half: Stack; Lauren, Campbell, Cygan, Clichy; Parlour, Yaya Toure, Edu, Kolo Toure; Thomas, Aliadiere.

Second-half: Stack (Holloway 72); Volz, Keown, Senderos, Cygan (Chilvers 60); Parlour, Halls, Svard, Edu; Yaya Toure, Thomas (Owusu-Abeyie 60).

Yaya Toure played in the centre of midfield.   Thomas and Aliadiere were up front but lacked the strength to make any real impression; the defence was never really tested.   The second half saw Yaya move up front with Thomas. Cygan moved to left back.   Of the youngsters Owusu-Abeyie looked the best of the bunch.

Arsenal’s own archive provides this nice extra note: “With three minutes of normal time remaining, Steve Pankhurst came on. The co-founder of website Friendsreunited.com had paid £5,500 in an auction for the chance to play for Barnet against Arsenal. His arrival brought comfortably the biggest cheer of the afternoon.

“It looked like the 39-year-old would not get a touch but he restarted the play after a drop ball and as he dribbled up field the referee blew for full time.”

The concern of the fans, who of course knew that most of the first team were missing, was that those who were picked should have done more to impress Mr Wenger, showing him that he did not need to go out and buy.

In fact after this game the club did make some purchases although none were considered at the time to be what are today known as “marquee” signings.   These players included Jens Lehmann, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Jose Antonio Reyes and Robin Van Persie.

Reyes was the only expensive play, costing £10.5m.  The others that cost a fee were Van Perise (£3m), Lehmann (£1.5m) and Clichy (£0.25m).   In terms of expectation Van Persie was known as having potential but being something of a wild young man.  Lehmann was I think unknown to many of us, and seemed cheap.  Clichy was just another Wenger kid, as was Fabregas, and only Reyes looked to be a superstar. We expected much of him.   That tells me a lot about my own knowledge of the game at that time, and I’m not sure it has improved over the years.

The team for the season then was looking pretty much to be the team that lost out in the league the previous season, following the home defeat to Leeds.  It certainly looked to many as if another player or two of experience was needed, rather than the unknowns that as usual dominated Arsenal’s transfers.  As one Online Arsenal commentator put it,

“at the end of the season and up to a couple of weeks ago I was so confident that we was going to sign someone and our defence would be strengthened but now I’m not too sure.  We cant rely on players like Cygan and Toure to basically win the premiership for us!  That’s just nuts!”

Of course we look back with hindsight to what happened and know that the writer was 50% right – but let us always acknowledge that none of us could dream what would happen next.

In another post the point was made more strongly.  “He [Wenger] has said we need a keeper and CB, and now we ain’t buying no one cos the squad is good enough and the youths are as well….”   (I doubt that the writer was much impressed by the signing of low-cost Lehmann when it happened shortly after.)
As one Online Arsenal commentator said, prior to the signing of Lehmann, “But who is going to be the gk?    Personally I don’t think Taylor is ready to be in the 1st team for every match, and the defence is a major problem, Campbell is great but its who is going to partner him cause Cygan ain’t good enough in my opinion.”
In fact the next purchase was indeed Lehmann – the only goal keeper ever to play every league game in a season and never to be on the losing side.  And Toure as a central defender looked fine – with Keown stepping in when Campbell served a sentence for his sending off.
 Arsenal played seven more friendlies that summer, winning four drawing three and it is also worth remembering that many in the press were far from convinced in the early stages of the season.  As the Times said after the league match on 31 August at Manchester City (which Arsenal won 2-1 to give them their perfect start), that this was “the worst 45 minujtes that any of their fans could remember”.  But worst or not, it meant that after four games Arsenal had played four won four and the drive towards Unbeaten Heaven was up and running.

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3 comments to Beware making predictions from what you see pre-season

  • GoonerDog

    Keep deluding yourself Tony.

  • Well GoonerDog you are a braver man than me I guess. All the evidence suggests that pre-season results are not a reliable guide to what will happen in the following season – which is what my article is all about.

    You say, and I quote your comment exactly “Keep deluding yourself Tony”. So you believe that you can make predictions based on pre-season friendlies, and that would suggest that we are going to romp away with the title this year.

    Well, I certainly hope so. I am not that confident, but I have hope. Let’s pray you are right.

  • Domhuail

    The title you use, Goonerdog is , like tony says, 50% right…..you are a mutt but not a Gooner, so I suggest you try Dog’s ass….its more accurate in describing you!

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