This post was supposed to go up on Monday but Pedro selfishly pipped me to the post so its a day late, but most of what im saying still applies. Enjoy…
Morning grovers! @aldo_doel here coming to you from 3.24am on Bank Holiday Monday, tired and very grumpy because my flatmate is having a party in her room which is refusing to let me sleep. What better time to write up a match report from yesterday’s game vs West Brom and offer a few somnambulatory thoughts from the season that was and the summer that is going to be. (DISCLAIMER: this is a long ranty post so if you are easily offended kindly f*** off).
The Bacary Sagna testimonial match as it shall henceforth be known was a drab and slow paced affair. Other than a headed goal from Giroud and a few decent chances no one looked like they could be arsed. And why the hell not – we won the fourth place trophy on Saturday after Everton capitulated to ManCity. All we have left to play for now is pride, an FA Cup and the chance of finishing level on points with Chelsea (with the hilarious potential for “the special one” to be given his marching orders).
Following the game there was a lap of appreciation from the players and manager and a resounding chorus of “Bacary Sagna, we want you to stay”. While it’s a sentiment I share, it felt a bit desperate and will have precisely 0% effect on his final decision.
Thoughts on a Season
That’s about all the attention that game deserves. Let’s have some concluding thoughts for the season:
If this season was a relationship how would you describe it? For me it started as a whirlwind romance – totally in love, you’ve never met anyone like this before, and oh isn’t it cute the way she purses her lips when she’s playing Sudoku. By Christmas however she’s making you watch House and go to arts and craft fairs. By mid March she’s reading your texts and watching you while you sleep. There’s a slight reprieve on May 17th when she buys you a PS4 but ultimately you know it’s over when she sleeps with your dad. While there are moments you will always cherish, you’re quite glad the whole thing is done and dusted.
Forgive the laboured metaphor, but should we consider an FA Cup and 4th place progress? Yes if we’re comparing it to last season’s achievements. But if I’m comparing it against the proclamations of Gazidis et al about how we are moving into a new era where we can compete with the likes of Bayern; then no. If I’m comparing it to some of the performances we’ve seen this year – Dortmund away, Liverpool and Napoli at home, playing Bayern off the park before going down to 10 men; then no. If I’m comparing it to the Arsenal side that went undefeated in an entire season, or the one that beat one of the best club sides of all time (Barcelona 2010/11), or the sides that won the double playing incredible football, then no I do not think we have progressed this year. (NOTE: the irony is not lost on me that these are all Arsene Wenger achievements and huge credit to him for them).
And this is the point; our expectations have been lowered so wonderfully over the past couple of seasons that those of us who demand more are accused of being ungrateful. It’s been a merry go round of excuses, some truthful, others not. Hamstrung by stadium move, can’t compete with Chelsea and City’s money, unlucky with injuries, unlucky with referees, lazy players, right players not available in the transfer market etc etc.
What’s been good about this season is we’ve seen each of those excuses slowly dissolve away.
We’ve lived on the promise of jam tomorrow for a very long time now. While that may have been the case in the early years of the Emirates move, enough people with knowledge of football finance have clearly demonstrated we now have the capability to spend and spend big.
As for being able to compete with the oil-rich clubs, well yes we do not have the same resources as them, but neither do Liverpool. They have not had Champions League football, but they have a smaller squad. They have managed their fitness and tactics better and even if they don’t win the league, they will have achieved something incredible with that group of players. If you are not happy with the Liverpool example, look at Atletico Madrid. I’m sure I heard Sid Lowe, the Guardian’s Spanish football correspondent, claim that none of the players that beat Chelsea were Simeone signings. Unbelievable if true. Here is a guy who has turned a club round, got them to the top of the league, ahead of the fantastic wealth of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and into the Champions League final with a starting XI worth less than Eden Hazard. So please don’t tell me that you need bazillions to compete at the highest level. You need smart tactics, a modern approach to fitness and a good squad of players.
Onto injuries – well this year has truly been an awful year for injuries but to hear the manager attribute them to bad luck is a very big concern. Arsenal should be assessing how Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain all picked up injuries while trying to recover from other injuries. That should never happen at any professional sports club, not least one of the biggest in the world with million pound assets to protect.
This season could be disregarded as an unlucky one if it wasn’t for all the injury-ridden ones that preceded it. As the majority of our injuries have been a result of muscle strains rather than impact, it suggests there are still serious flaws in the way we approach fitness and injury prevention.
The transfer market
I don’t want to recall the absolute nightmare that has been the last two transfer windows, one Ozil aside, but we’ve seen big players move in January – Matic, Salah, Cabaye, Berbatov, Sturridge, Torres Arshavin! Our failure to bolster the squad in January, when we were on the brink of something special is truly damning and almost certainly cost us the league.
Needless to say I’m dreading the prospect of this summer. But with frightening punctuality the bullshit mobile has already started up and clunked into first gear, dropping its first nuggets of steaming horsecrap all over our fragile and gullible psyches. Like Donnie Darko, you can almost map out the future when it comes to Arsenal transfer sagas: the “warchest” stories from Ivan’s office, the hedging from Arsene, the bogus leads and false hopes, the super super quality, the market being quiet because it’s a leap year… yada yada yada. All ending with a failed bid for Kalou, Tom Cleverly on loan and the “this is Ryo Myachi’s year” story on arsenal.com. Most worrying is that Arsene has already begun the excuse train: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/transfers/arsenal-transfer-news-arsene-wenger-rules-out-summer-spending-spree-and-insists-gunners-dont-need-massive-changes-9320144.html
Manifesto for Change
So how do we make it all better? Well everyone has their own thoughts on this but here’s my stab at it. It’s what I modestly call my MANIFESTO FOR CHANGE. Enjoy, share, criticise as you see fit:
- The manager – As the possibility of bringing in a new manager with fresh ideas has passed we have to make the best of what we’ve got. So my first change would be bringing some accountability to the manager. How? Give him a contract with clear performance indicators. You want a £2m bonus? Win the league. Fail to qualify for the Champions League, your fired. Light a fire under his arse so he is forced to reassess his approach.
- Director of Football – It’s not just about making Arsene accountable, it’s about supporting him. A DOF to oversee the transfer side of things will stop the dithering, the haggling, the cheap-arse signings and will mean we start using the fantastic resources we have available to us that were the very reason we moved stadium’s in the first place.
- Fitness/Training – Shake up the backroom team. Recruit a world class head of fitness – whoever Dortmund or Atletico use would be a good start. Do everything we can to avoid these perennial injury crises. Look at the intensity we train our players at. Should Arteta be training as hard as Aaron Ramsey? Why do we always seem to have an explosive start to the season then fade by February?
- Squad – Linked to this is building out a squad the manager trusts so that he rotates his players. Mesut Ozil should not be playing 90mins against Coventry in the Carling Cup. Why do we pack our squad with youngsters who we blood in pre-season but don’t get a minute of real game time? Either play them or loan them because at the moment no one wins. We did a great job of shifting the deadwood last summer, now’s the time to supplement the squad with a few world class additions and useful squad players.
- Tactics – Yesterday might have been the first goal from an Arsenal corner I have seen in about 6 months. I would love to know how many goals we score from our corners and conversely how many we concede because of our vulnerability on the counter. While our defensive discipline has improved immeasurably, we have shown a tactical naivety against big teams. The only two tactics we seem to have are Mertesacker’s near post flick on, and SZCZ’s goal kick to Sagna’s head. You can’t beat the best teams without a plan. We need to make more use of all the corners and free kicks we win, figure out how to beat Mourinho, make tactical changes during the game and vary our formation. And please please please stop with the substitutions on 68 minutes – the clearest demonstration of our tactical naivety as you can get. Where are the formation changes, the game plans, the analysis of the opposition. Why does no one stand near to Giroud from our goal kicks, as his flick-ons are clearly effective? Can we recruit a first team coach to look at these things, or give Steve Bould a more prominent role?
- Signings – What’s most disconcerting about Arsene’s recent comments is that he is talking about “starting” to look at players now. Why didn’t we start on February 1? We need to bolster the squad in a number of key positions. My thoughts – Micah Richards as a replacement to Sagna; a mobile, younger upgrade on Arteta in DM; two options of pace on the wing so that Theo doesn’t carry all the responsibility himself; and a world class striker (Balotelli anyone?) Whoever we sign we should be proactive and bullish in the market. We have the resources to bully clubs to sell us their players. Yes its not as simple as buying a loaf of bread, but when you have upwards of £100m in the bank you buy the fucking bakery (I have no idea what that means).
- Delaware – Ok this is nitpicking but break the 70 year contract you have with these clowns. Put out a competitive tender for a proper catering company that offers more than hotdogs and sawdust as a half time snack. Introduce Oystercard style season tickets to get the queues moving faster and have some pop-up food stalls outside of the ground so that people have a choice and a reason to get to the ground early.
- Entrance music – I said this earlier in the season but have a shit-your-pants, loud, up tempo song before the players come onto this pitch. Something to get everyone fired up and intimidate the opposition.
There are probably more things – the youth setup, scouting – but these are beyond my limited, sleep deprived understanding. Needless to say this season could have offered so much more than it did. But there is potential for next season to, if some of these issues are looked at properly.
Apologies if I have depressed you with this rant, ill be back to do it again over the summer at some point. For now this is @aldo_doel signing out. Happy