Bit of a guest post for you today from William Rance, who has been a long term poster in the comments section. Enjoy!
Praise be to Shad!
The finest of mornings to you fellow Arsenal aficionados! Hope you are all of a well and happy disposition. I’m Will and I’ll be your host for the next few paragraphs of your lives. If you don’t like what I have to say then in the words of Eminem, “Please don’t write anything nasty about me in the comments section, cyber hate is crime yo!”
Remember those words people, remember them.
Right that’s enough of my amusing banterings, let’s talk Arsenal things. Opinions are significantly polarized at the moment about whether we have shown any signs of genuine progress this season or not. Some fans do see improvements, some don’t. I wanted to have a look at both aspects of the argument as personally I feel there are justifiable reasons for both parties to feel they may be right, at least on the face of it.
If we were to look back at this season gone with our slightly cynical spectacles on we could easily say that things have been no different, actually if anything slightly worse than the preceding 2013-14 campaign in which we were top of the form table for the calendar year (trophy anyone?), and in which we were kings of the league table for an impressive 128 days! This year we have been top of the form table again for the calendar year but with the massive added bonus of having spent NO time at all at the top of the table! On the face it then one could conclude that we have indeed regressed from last year, but before getting the valium and whisky combos out let’s examine things a little more closely.
There is one obvious difference between this year and last, and you can make up your own minds whether it’s relevant or not but I think it is. Last season was punctuated by a poor finish this year a terrible start. Although this ultimately means we will probably end up with similar points, crucially these two events tell us very different things. I’ll take a look at why.
The 2013-14 season showed us a team that were beginning to have what it takes to be up near the top of the table fighting for the premier league, but that as squad we were light years away. By February many of our players were seriously entering the arena of the unwell. Players like Ramsey had been shamelessly overused without rest by Wenger as he again seemed to not fully trust the squad of players he had at his disposal. Also what seemed like logical, basic rotational strategy was being ignored by our manager and as a result many fans and pundits alike pre-empted exactly the collapse we would inevitably suffer, which of course we did. Even I was starting to wonder if Wenger had been drinking his green tea all these years from a mercury lined
Even I was starting to wonder if Wenger had been drinking his green tea all these years from a mercury lined tea pot as his refusal to do the obvious things seemed to be getting more and more strange, especially for a man who has generally over his time come across as a high level thinker, if not an immeasurably stubborn one. Another thing stinking out the 2013-14 campaign was that our record against the top clubs again was pretty darn poor. We lost to a pitifully bad Man U side under Moyes and our points total against the rest of the top 4 was a total of 4 from a possible 18. A bad show indeed. Plus we had to deal with the stress of losing 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in what was Wenger’s 1000th game in charge. Not pretty at all. We played straight into what were many people’s preconceptions about us at the time. The “Flat track bully” tag was justified as was our label of being a side that didn’t have what it takes either physically or mentally to play well and win when it absolutely counted the most. A season that had started with so much promise ended so… well…. predictably.
Another thing stinking out the 2013-14 campaign was that our record against the top clubs again was pretty darn poor. We lost to a pitifully bad Man U side under Moyes and our points total against the rest of the top 4 was a total of 4 from a possible 18. A bad show indeed. Plus we had to deal with the stress of losing 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in what was Wenger’s 1000th game in charge. Not pretty at all. We played straight into what were many people’s preconceptions about us at the time. The “Flat track bully” tag was justified as was our label of being a side that didn’t have what it takes either physically or mentally to play well and win when it absolutely counted the most. A season that had started with so much promise ended so… well…. predictably.
The positives from the campaign were of course, the Fa Cup win, which in isolation is a great achievement and broke The Emirates trophy hoodoo at last, but still wasn’t enough to convince me that we as an overall setup were prepared to compete consistently over the course of a season, I mean it’s a cup run. Cup runs are great but luck can play a serious part in them so winning the Fa Cup in my mind can’t really be used as a marker for “progress”, although in reality the importance of that result as a whole can’t and should not be underestimated. In terms of team/fan moral it a was massive, almost priceless victory, not to mention one that kept the press off our backs for a bit. A decade without a trophy would have been a complete carnage fest in the media and I’m not sure how well the team and indeed the fans would have coped with it all. I may have had to go into full TAMBO (Total Arsenal Media Blackout) mode just to save myself the pain.
A decade without a trophy would have been a complete carnage fest in the media and I’m not sure how well the team and indeed the fans would have coped with it all. I may have had to go into full TAMBO (Total Arsenal Media Blackout) mode just to save myself the pain.
On a positive note, a sign of progress I did start to feel during the 2013-14 campaign was that we started to show more signs of defensive solidarity. It started to feel that we were getting better at seeing out games and far less likely to suffer nervous breakdowns than seasons before.
So we began 2014-15 with three world cup winners in our squad and a shiny new Alexis Sanchez. We signed a striker to go with Giroud in Welbeck ( not everyone’s dream but still a solid signing). Chambers came in, and other than losing Vermaelen to Barca we looked to be a relatively stronger unit than the season before. Many called for someone like Cabaye to come in but Wenger saw fit to go with Arteta and Flamini as our pivots and that was his call (albeit wrong). In fact it was the most active transfer window at Arsenal in ages , we lost no important players and for the first time in a while we had reason to be positive going into the new season. Well, as we all know we started absolutely horrifically, in fact it was our worst start for 32 years, collecting a piffling 17 points in 12 games. Doom prevailed across the land with some people including myself wondering if Wenger would even last the season.Then, something happened that changed everything. We got beaten by Spurs.
Well, as we all know we started absolutely horrifically, in fact it was our worst start for 32 years, collecting a piffling 17 points in 12 games. Doom prevailed across the land with some people including myself wondering if Wenger would even last the season.Then, something happened that changed everything. We got beaten by Spurs.
After this game it seemed very much from the outside that certain members of the team took it upon themselves to tighten things up in areas that were causing us to be so vulnerable. This change was evident when we went to the Etihad and won with a display so un-wenger like that I thought that Jose had snuck onto the team coach , done an Indiana Jones on Arsene, nicked his coat and taken charge of us for a game. We were superb, we focused on our defensive shape and on stopping city being able to play the way they wanted to play. This allowed us to use our pace well on the counter, which we did, scoring 2 goals and winning the game comfortably. This really was a watershed moment for the Arsenal side that we have come to know under Wenger since 2007. We for once put the result over the performance and as a result our performance improved so much from the 6-3 pantomime of the previous year. We looked like a completely different team. Credit has to go to Wenger for a) admitting that his team had asked him If they could approach the game in a new way, and b) for allowing them to do it! Both those decisions took guts so fair play to him. It showed that he at last was willing to listen to those around him. Our record against the top clubs this year has been 5 points out of a possible 15. If we can beat united that’s 8 out of 18. Not dramatic but I’d consider that progress, especially considering we had such a poor start.
Since January Arsenal have been the most inform team in Europe playing exceptionally well except at home to Monaco where we know we seriously fluffed it. We now have the second best defense inside the top 6, we’d only have to score 3 more goals to better our tally from last year and we’d have to concede 8 to have shipped more. Win all our games and we finish three points higher than last term with a considerably more favourable league position and goal difference. All this to me is re-assuring and feels like progress. Plus we have another stab at the Fa Cup.
I spoke at the beginning about how although on the face of things it could be viewed as irrelevant whether Arsenal flunked at the end of 2013-14 or the beginning of 2014-15, it all amounts to the same thing right? Not enough points to win the league. Well I’d argue differently, I’d argue that the timing of the slump is actually hugely relevant. Why? Because it’s all about our fitness. It’s all about Shad. The man was able to take our systemically injury ridden squad and within 8 months get the entire first team squad training together for the first time in a decade. That is almost legend status already! This has aided us in finishing the season as the most inform team in Europe. Most of our players look fresh and when was the last time you could say that about an Arsenal team at the end of a season? Or at the beginning of one for that matter?
Some real true behind the scenes progress right there in yo’ faces.
Another major sign of progress this season is that we now have more than one way to play, the elusive plan B. I think that Wenger has had a little bit of a change of heart in the respect of his philosophy. In fact I’d go as far to say that he’s almost had a personality transplant. I suspect that he has realized that his dogmatic approach to the way the game should be played can actually have a restrictive effect on his team and their style.
Even though he is essentially giving them the freedom to play as they want the mental solidarity that can be gained from shutting out teams tactically when needed supersedes the sense of freedom that his style gives them. He now clearly has given the team the freedom to mould it’s style to suit playing against stronger teams. He seems to be being less of a control freak in that sense and for that I think he deserves credit. It’s so good for the moral of the team to know that if they needed to that they can shut up shop. There is also a different intensity to the way we have been pressing of late, probably again a result of improved fitness. Also other teams don’t know exactly what to expect when they play us. Again, when was the last time you could say that?
Also as a side, after the Fa Cup ¼ finals I remember Wenger commenting that Reading were far more motivated than “what we had seen on the tapes”.
I almost spat out my almond milk cappuccino when I heard him say that. I think things are changing on that front as well and I he wants to let the fans now about it. Wenger also seems to be rotating his team a little more now which suggests that he is starting to listen more to those around him regarding the fitness of the players. All good things!
So what do you think? I would say that although the points tally and trophy hall may not be dramatically different from last season, if you look closer at what we have been doing then you should see that we have shown a lot of genuine signs of progression this year, on the field and off it. Fitness wise and strategy wise we are finally moving in the right direction. Amen.
That’s all. Hope you all have a pleasant day!