Happy New Years Eve one and all!
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, 2016 has been much the same as most of the last 10 years when it comes to Arsenal. It’s not so bad you want set yourself on fire on AFTV, but it’s not quite good enough that you start party planning for the Premier League Champions procession that dances through North London. You know we’ll be ok, kicking about top 4, you just know our seasons are more of a routinous process over any attempt at something new or daring.
Wenger had this to say on the year.
“We want to show we can go again to the next level. Overall 2016 was an improvement year [in terms of] the quality of our results, but still not where we want it to be. We are conscious of that and we want to put in the effort to get to the level where we really want to be.”
I mean, nice sentiment Wenger and look, we can’t say we haven’t seen some of the efforts reflected on the pitch. But I kind of feel like we’re on the longest goodbye tour of all time. Sure Wenger is a good coach, but he’s not bringing new vision these days, and we’re either waiting for him to die on the job before we change or we’re going to let him run it into the ground, then have one more crack at it before he departs.
However, let’s not close on a rant.Things that I have enjoyed this year in the development of Arsenal.
Things that I have enjoyed this year in the development of Arsenal.
Now, we’ve seen it before where the team starts out the season pressing like demons then it trails off when we start to feel the lactic acid burn after a lack of rotation / discipline falls off. However, Wenger has his little favourite Coquelin in the centre of midfield and that boy might not be good at linking the defence with attack, but he sure is good at ferreting out danger and leading the press. That’s been a consistent mainstay. It’d be nice if we were a little more strategic with our approach and it would be nice if it came from the right players at the right time, but at least we’re now being recognised for having a go at boxing teams in and winning the ball higher up the pitch.
You can’t deny it, Arsenal have made huge strides on the injury front over the past few years. We had to campaign on this site for years before the manager would accept that maybe the problem wasn’t lady luck and hair pills, but we landed where we needed to in the end. Wenger had this to say…
“I believe we have improved tremendously on the muscular injury front in the last two three or years. Last year we were a bit unlucky with the knocks we got, and the joint injuries we got. It was down to blocks in the game. On the muscular front, I think we have done much better and hopefully we can continue that.”
It’s true. It’s still not perfect. Wenger started the season by playing a broken Aaron Ramsey at Liverpool, then ignored his pleas at half time which led to a 3 month spell out. I also have deep suspicions we knew that Mustafi was on the brink for a while. You don’t play a defender that intensely for that long a period and not suspect he’s going to break.
We’re also suffering a new type of problem in the crunch months, that’s fatigue instead of broken bodies. Last season we blasted our first team with no rotation, then in the second half of the year, we just weren’t there mentally or physically. The whole team dropped off. Was that because these guys are weak? Or was it because they weren’t as fresh as Leicester. Not just an Arsenal problem, it’s a Spurs one too… but we spend double what they do on wages, so we should have a squad more able to cope with rigors we have every year.
Mental Strength + Plan B
I think the two are intertwined. This year we have lots of options, I don’t think we use them as well as we should do, which is especially worrying considering the rigours of our schedule, but we have a plan B. We’ve scored 7 times in the last 5 minutes which is Man United of old like levels of horror for smaller teams. We also have interesting ways to shake up games now. If Wenger subbed before 70 he could change our whole set up. We have Giroud who can lumber on and bully
We also have interesting ways to shake up games now. If Wenger subbed before 70 he could change our whole set up. We have Giroud who can lumber on and bully defences allowing us to switch attention wide if we’re not landing anything through the middle. We often have impact subs on the bench who have pace, like Theo or Chambo and we have defence unlockers in Iwobi and Perez (if he ever has a game). On the reverse of that, we also have players who can stub out games. Elneney is a hugely underrated asset who is capable of snuffing out games with some of that double pivot action.
The best tweak of 2016 was the shift from an immobile forward in Giroud, to a striker with blistering pace, outrageous agression and magical finishing. Sure it took three years to realize the dream, but having a mobile front three has given us so many advantages. We can press more effectively, we can push teams back, stopping the highline pressing us into midfield, and we can break at pace, which was tough with Giroud. That’s the blue print moving forward, a Giroud is an option, never a mainstay. Long live power and pace.
So what does 2017 hold?
I think we have some big battles on our hands in 2017. This season, we’re going to have to see how we can cope with playing more games than Liverpool and Chelsea. We’ll also have to see how well Pep pushes his ideas on his players, they’re starting to warm up now and the league is starting to make itself interesting. But look, Wenger is still in the mix, so there hasn’t been a runaway yet. My worry is we don’t look to have the X factor Liverpool and Chelsea are showcasing at the moment… and the worry there is that both those rivals are about systems and instructions. Klopp and Conte have very well drilled teams trying to achieve very specific goals. I’m not sure we have the same rigor. When you don’t have rigor to fall back on, when it goes to shite, you’re relying on individuals to step up. I’m unsure our players always do that. I’m unsure our manager can extract that extra 10% these days.
The biggest potential shift in 2017 is the manager. Does he stay or does he go? If he goes, does he let the board know early doors so the next manager has a non-world cup / euro championship summer to rebuild? Or does he ghost out last minute?
Or, does he move into disaster territory and sign on for another 2 years?
We shall see, but 2017 is going to be a very tumultuous year, so buckle up, it could be progressive in a way we’ve not seen in 21 years!
Finally, as it’s new years eve, I just wanted to once again thank you all for coming here to read the site. It’s been a tough one for me Arsenal wise because I’ve shifted the time the posts arrive and I’m not in the mix like I used to be. I’m also expected to work more, which for the first time means my blog plays second fiddle to my living. Which is shocking.
Anyway, needless to say, we still have a super strong comments section that I really enjoy reading. You still roll in most mornings to read my words. It’s still fun. Thank you all for making it worthwhile. Have a beautiful evening, stay safe, stay drunk and I’ll see you in the morning!
Big love, Team Le Grove