A Fine Line Between Pleasure & Pain: Thoughts On Opening Day.

It’s finally here, the new season is upon us. For the next nine and a half months we can all soak up as much football as we can lay our hands on. There’ll be plenty of games to look forward to and review. Plenty of form to analyse and discuss with our mates around the water cooler at work or perhaps over a few pints at the local. For us over here in Australia, the season starts, on the East Coast , at 4:30am Saturday morning and for many of us, who will wake up bleary eyed and a bit miffed in less than 12 hours to watch our beloved Arsenal put us through the wringer once again, it is a return to trying to enjoy the game without disturbing those trying to sleep around us. There will be many times during the season where you might wonder “why the fuck do I keep doing this?” And yes, as with any sport – you are going to go through your good times and your not so good times. If there’s one thing that keeps us, especially myself, going on and getting up week after week when a nice warm bed and a solid 8 hours is on offer it’s the fact that we want to participate in the Arsenal journey and community.

The journey this season is one that poses several vital questions. Questions like: Can we return to the Top 4? Will we hold our nerve over Alexis? Did the board make the right decision in extending Wengers’ contract?

For me, the main question is; What can we now safely consider to constitute a successful season?

A simple return to the top four is probably not enough, after Arsene escaped his blushes by securing a record-breaking FA Cup victory at the very end of a disappointing league campaign. Make no mistake, it wont take long for the heat to come if things don’t go well from the off. For the most part 2017 was a total disaster, with the boss himself finally admitting in the off-season that speculation surrounding his future may have directly impacted the performance of the team. When things were their most dire, the seemingly desperate switch in formation to the back 3 actually sounded the turning of the tide and we salvaged what we could from the remainder of the league season (despite still missing top 4) and of course the famous victory at Wembley. Our patchy long-term form over the course of recent seasons has been something that has frustrated the hell out of us all and when it happened again last season, many of us lost hope that Wenger would still be the man to lead us back to the level we had not only been promised, but one that we had seen glimpses of during those seasons.

Yes, we can string runs together that see us right up there in the lofty echelons of the league table. But we have seen those runs abruptly end among injury crises, fan turmoil and a never-ending carousel of media speculation for more of our recent history than I care to remember. This season will see the club under as much scrutiny as we have probably ever experienced while Arsene has been at the helm. You can understand why, there is a great narrative for drama here again for us this year. Out of the top 4 for the first time in 20 years, one of the games living legends trying one last time to prove that he can take his team back to the glory days of the late 90’s and early 00’s and a fan base that shows as much passion as any team in the league but on a scale that dwarves nearly all and sundry.

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So can Arsene take us back into the top 4 and more importantly, is that enough for us to expect this season? For me, if we are not in the reckoning at the end of the season then I will be hard pressed to be convinced of anything other than failure. The goal has to be on winning the league. Europa cup…fucken what of it? Carabao Cup? Jesus don’t even start me. FA Cup? Respect, but mate we’ve got the record tucked away, no one can take that away from you now. The league is the only way to restore the gloss that has been scratched away by the recent tribulations of the recent past.

It starts on a Friday night in North London against a Leicester team that snatched the league title from our grasp only 18 months ago. We go into the game missing several players many of us would consider key starters and in the case of Koscielny and Alexis, I completely agree.

Our other absentees will definitely include; Gabriel, Coquelin, Cazorla, Wilshere who are all at varying degrees of coming back from respective injuries.

Question marks linger over the availability of Ozil, Ramsey (both of whom returned to first team training this week after slight knocks) and Mertesacker which could mean we start with a team in the vein of;

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Whatever the lineup may be, this is an opening day that cannot repeat the debacle that was an opening day disaster against Liverpool last time around. The first half a dozen games are as important as any period of the season, more so. For the mentality of the team moving into the critical Xmas/New year period, it is essential to be with the leading pack and not struggling to keep up with them. The run on the other side of the new year has been the bane of many Arsenal fan for too long, it’s time to put those and many other demons to rest.

Arsene is a man of immense pride and stubborn bullishness, he will be as keen as any of us to go out this season and prove everyone that he has been wrongly written off by far too many. He is the master of his own domain. Success this campaign will see him justly returned to the pinnacle of managerial recognition, failure will see his legacy tarnished far more than his efforts deserve.

We will be back with a brand spanking new podcast next week as Matty B and I look over the remains of the opening day results. The blog will also continue to tick over at least once a week for your reading pleasure, so stick around for that too!

This also marks the start of our 5th season here at Gunners Down Under so without getting too teary eyed and emotional, thanks again for all of your unwavering support in getting us to where we are today. We couldn’t do it without the support of you all, who download the pod, read the blog and chat with us on social media. We’ll keep up the hard work to make sure there’s always good Aussie Arsenal content available to you for as long as we can.

Cheers again and Come on you Gunners!

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