As Arsenal announced Nicolas Pepe and the memes featuring him alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette started to surface, I couldn’t help but think to myself ‘we’ve come a long way since the Banter Years of Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh and Carlos Vela’.
#WeCareDoYou. It was a question posed by Arsenal fan groups to the Arsenal ownership that was met by Josh Kroenke saying ‘be excited’.
‘We won’t, if you don’t mind Josh’, we all replied.
We still remember Ivan Gazidis’s ‘audacious stunt’ that whipped us into a frenzy only to turn out to be the new kit launch with a few players standing outside the Emirates, only one of whom remains – inexplicably – at the club. We remember the same man’s claims of competing with the Bayern Munich’s of the World.
We laughed when the rumours of Arsenal’s £72m bid for Pepe broke into the media in mid-July. Oh, how we laughed. As if Arsenal were bidding £72m for a single player when they only had £40m to spend in total. If we were lucky, we’d get a player in the mould of the Banter Years – not what we need, but what we can afford.
It’s been a year since Arsene Wenger brought the curtain down on his 22 years at Arsenal and, in that time, I think we’ve been a little unreasonable as Arsenal fans.
At times last season Arsenal’s football was Wenger’s at its worst and there seemed to be no discernible sign that anything was changing. It’s easy to understand why we slipped into misery mode, especially with how the Europa League final and last few league games panned out.
But substantial change can take time to have an impact. 22 years is a long time in the life of a human. It’s not beyond the pale to expect things to take a while to settle.
Behind the scenes, we’ve been given everything we demanded as Arsenal fans. The manager and his cronies are gone, even Ivan Gazidis helped us out by buggering off to Milan, but not before he did his most important deal at Arsenal – bringing in Raul Sanllehi.
In Sanllehi, Arsenal got a real football man with the contacts to back up his reputation. Losing Sven Mislintat appeared to be a blow but would he have helped us do much better in this window? Perhaps. But we’ll never know.
I don’t know what has gone on with Arsenal in this transfer window and I’ll probably never know because I’m not connected in any way to the people that have that sort of information.
But, in my head, this is what I think has happened.
Arsenal played a blinder
They let it be known in ways that could be denied that the club only had £40m to spend. Aim 1: Lower fans’ expectations. Aim 2: Mislead other clubs in the market, namely their rivals in the Premier League.
They knew, as they negotiated for Nicolas Pepe, that even if it did leak that Arsenal were close to an €80m deal it would be laughed at around the world.
Now, it’s Arsenal who are laughing at how they’ve managed to land all the players they wanted with a budget of only £40m that everybody knew about.
I have no idea if any of this is true. Parts of it probably are with the rest the realms of pure fancy. But what I’ve enjoyed the most in this window has been Arsenal’s ability to surprise which I thought had long gone.
Two decades of Arsene Wenger and his team in the transfer window left us all feeling like we could navigate the next one with our eyes closed. We had a clear idea of what sort of players we’d sign and an even better idea of the ones we wouldn’t.
This summer, all bets have been off.
Sure, there are glaring problems in the Arsenal squad that still need addressed but you have to admit this window has been infinitely more exciting and productive than any of us expected. Arsenal look better.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote on this very site of fan discontent and the need for the owner to put his hand in his pocket. Arsenal needed a statement this summer. They needed to show their fans and the wider world that this slide that has been a decade in the making wasn’t terminal. It wasn’t going to keep getting worse and things weren’t always going to stay the same.
One of the biggest fears when Arsene Wenger and co. left was that there would be nobody left at the club who knew anything about football. It’s hard to fault the Kroenke’s in this area with who they have brought in.
It’s also hard to shake the feeling we’ve all been part of a cult for the last load of years and, I guess, in a way, we were. I don’t lay the blame for this at Arsene Wenger’s feet – dear leader – but at the club who used him to manipulate us.
We’ve been conditioned over the last 15 years or so on what to expect from Arsenal because it was always the same.
Now it’s not.
Welcome to a new Arsenal, Nicolas Pepe.
This post was written for Paddy Power