A Season Review: Springboard To Success?

 

nosWhen the final whistle blew at Wembley, there was something tangible to settle the argument. Third place in the Premier League and retaining the FA Cup was an improvement on fourth place and winning the trophy twelve months earlier. Tangible is the crucial word, everything else is a feeling based on a viewpoint. In simple terms, progress was made. Whether that progress was enough is where the argument shifts to quicksand.

My view is that Arsenal stand on the cusp on something better and that surely is the over-riding view of last season. It started in a rut of mediocrity and blossomed after Christmas. Your view on why that happened will be coloured by your general perspective of Arsenal life but I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to believe that Arsène wouldn’t be looking beyond his current deal had the season continued in that vein. And it would have been his own choice; he’s too much of a winner to accept such a fall in circumstance.

As it happened, hard work, effort and experience, sprinkled with some luck, brought about a transformation in the second half of the season. Imbued with the confidence that winning breeds, the next campaign can be looked at with an optimism which extends beyond the hope that a new season brings. Arsenal might genuinely challenging for the title once again.

Yet we’ve been here before, in the not too distant past. Arsenal remain a half-season team at the moment. When there was an unbeaten run, optimism about the squad knew no bounds; this was the squad that could really kick on. In many senses, the surge of positive thought was emotional because when it ended, there was an air of deflation far deeper than you would normally expect. Possibly because the peak of reaching second went with it, almost like losing a final against a backdrop of scrambling into the Champions League more often than not.

Hope springs eternal and all that but we need a good summer. There’s no need for a signing just for the sake of it, we’ve had enough journeymen in the past to know we don’t need any in the future but we do need to strengthen the squad. There’s a good depth across most positions, we just need it in every position which is a lot easier said than done. We don’t need to kill off youthful careers by blocking their path to the first team just for the sake of appeasing the fan base but you can kill the same career by throwing them in at the deep end and seeing criticism from all quarters wreck their confidence. It’s about finding the balance between the two.

And as usual, there is a cautionary note to add. Just as we can get too fixated on the mistakes which led to the torpor in the first half of the season, we can pin too much hope on the form post-Christmas which saw Arsenal claim one more point than champions Chelsea from the final nineteen fixtures. It’s a shame we gained thirteen less in the opening nineteen. Don’t believe too much in one scenario just because it fits your view. Finishing third will be disappointing for the manager, especially since second was within Arsenal’s control until the home defeat to Swansea. Going into next season having been runners-up? The confidence in those circumstances, ought to be rock-solid. It should be high now, improving year-on-year is a step in the right direction.

It was a season contradictions. The highs of the FA Cup, not just at Wembley and Old Trafford, are offset by the all too familiar home defeat in the first leg of Champions League Round of Sixteen to Monaco. An eminently winnable tie that was almost thrown away, only to be rescued by a late Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain goal before being lost by the decisive third goal. Monaco weren’t that good a team as Arsenal found in the scant comfort of the two-goal away win in the second leg. For all the trumpeting of qualifying for the Champions League for nearly two decades, it doesn’t feel like we will ever progress in that competition.

Even the second half of the Premier League season wasn’t all plain sailing with the comprehensive victory at The Etihad in stark contrast to the abysmal efforts put in three weeks later in the North London Derby. How could a team switch so quickly between the extremes, especially as the five matches preceding the defeat at White Hart Lane had been comprehensive victories. That scenario identifies the step that Arsenal have to overcome to become title challengers; they have to find consistency over the course of the season and not in five or six game spells – more of the ten-match unbeaten run that saw the climb from sixth to the eventual third-placed finish. It’s no easy task but becoming champions never is.

But the potential to do so is there with judicious strengthening. We saw the impact of having a third experienced centre back in the squad. Gabriel’s signing bred confidence when he was playing, there was no nervousness about an out of position full back or a youngster who had been on the receiving end of a torrid afternoon. Had he been in situ during the opening half of the season, the impact of Mertesacker’s loss of motivation or Koscielny’s injury in October, might have been mitigated. No guarantees of that, of course, but the evidence suggests, the stumbling inconsistency could have been halted.

And signings have a two-fold impact; their ability and the boost they bring, none more so than the arrival of Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean had a phenomenal début season in English football. He was the ‘go-to guy’ when things were going wrong in the first half of the season, when Olivier Giroud was absent and it was capped off with a stunning Wembley goal in the final. A marquee signing who produced the desired impact.

How his second season will turn out, who knows? More of the same or will he become the Marmite footballer that Mesut Özil has. The master of the ‘pre-assist’, the pass before the eye-catching moment in a game, Özil was outstanding at Wembley in a performance which typified his value to the team; Coquelin won the ball, Cazorla made the first distribution and the German passed and moved. It wasn’t just against poor opponents, he did it week in, week out to varying degrees. He suffers from the FIFA Disease; a generation of supporters who, if a £42m-man isn’t scoring every week, condemn him as rubbish. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

But it depends on the formation. Arsène was forced into using a defensive shield by injury and the blinding necessity for the back four to be protected. Flamini and Arteta couldn’t do it in the way needed, the latter’s combative style of yesteryear not working for the ageing midfielder whilst Arteta is not a naturally defensive player. Step in Francis Coquelin, a genuine success story whose path to the first is subject to revisionism. On loan, by his own admission waiting for his initial spell to be renewed, Coquelin was recalled as injuries struck.

He took his opportunity brilliantly, for the most part controlling his aggression and bringing a discipline to the role that served the XI well. It was this role in the side that provided the pivotal change of fortunes. Santi Cazorla was liberated in the deeper role, his artistry creating attacking momentum on which the XI was able to build and exploit the pace and power of the forward line.

The likes of Giroud and Walcott in the final two games – Welbeck to a lesser extent – were able to thrive in this environment. It offered something different for opponents to deal with and for the most part, made Arsenal harder to beat, particularly as it allowed a rope-a-dope tactic to flourish. When it worked, as at The Etihad and Old Trafford – it was astonishing. When it didn’t – White Hart Lane – it was abysmal. Like the squad, it’s a work in progress, almost there, a little refining and it can take the club back to the position of challengers and not fighting with the also-rans.

And that’s why I think we’re on the cusp. We have depth in most positions, some open to debate and Arsène will know where he feels we can be better. The confident Szczesny of Wembley offers a path to redemption that didn’t seem likely after St Mary’s. We need depth in the forward line but I suspect that is Theo Walcott. Defensive midfield may well be this summers big money spend.

It’s not necessarily about replacing what we have, the squad needs competition so that playing levels continue to improve. It also depends on who leaves; what’s said in the media now has no bearing on the next three months. But it’s a summer that can be faced with a huge amount of optimism. Whether that gets eroded or not will be shaped not just at Arsenal but at other clubs. It isn’t just about what Arsène does that decides next season, it’s what the others do as well. But few of them have such a good starting point.

’til Tomorrow.

133 thoughts on “A Season Review: Springboard To Success?

  1. @LSG

    Nacho has done the business for us outside of his first couple of months here. He has always been consistently good as a defender but really started to show his worth and talent attacking wise this season. I hope he extends too and stays for at least another 2 years while Gibbs figures out how to become a more reliable defender.

  2. I don’t think it’s s bad idea to rotate and I doubt it would hurt. Perhaps it might even help, who knows? However, the idea that what we do is out of line with what other clubs do and that if only we rotate it might make a huge difference in the way our seasons play out seems like a big stretch of imagination

  3. Mid-July. I’ll be sad to leave London. But you are right, I have lots of opportunities to come back for conferences and research. I will always try to make it in April/May when possible. Nicer weather and end of the season!

    I have to say though that I have never spent a colder and more miserable May. When it is warmer in Toronto than London in Spring/early summer, this is a problem!

  4. I agree, C. The price rose, Arsene froze, and Higuain went to Napoli. We could have used him over the last two seasons. Maybe we would have challenged properly both season, possibly even won it the season before when we led the whole way until February. During that period, as Pistol pointed out, OG couldn’t hit the side of a barn and was distracted in his personal life. We had Sanogo starting big big games in late Feb/March!!

  5. Agree LSG re Bellerin.
    Have been super impressed with him all year, and I think he is the number 1 RB.
    He will have the normal growing pains associated with an emerging career. But I can’t seem him being replaced by anyone now.

  6. You wonder what the league would have looked like, if we had offered say £45m rather than £40m +1.

  7. @LSG

    Agree, but the question now turns to would he be a good buy now if we had the chance, I still say yes and others have said no. Sure if a player like Lewandowski was available then lets pounce but I still think Higuain would be a good get or even the likes of Lacazette or Martinez.

  8. Rotating would in my opinion might cut down on the injuries we receive which really hurt us the first half when Kosc, Giroud, Ozil et als (I’m too lazy to type the whole damn list) were injured. We do play people at risk. Le Coq played every game once we went on our roll. Kosc was played while on anti inflammatory steroids. We were lucky Le Coq didn’t go down because I bet he was concussed a few times. Seems he had his nose re-figured a lot. We gambled last year on the health of our center backs and we dodged that bullet, this year we paid for it. We gambled on Le Coq this year and dodged that bullet. What if he’d taken an extra nasty elbow to the head this season? We’d have had Flamini in for the last 10 games. We have some decent players like Rosciky and Gabriel who can be used to eat up minutes against EPL fodder and lower division cup games.

  9. I’m expecting something about Blatter to come out of the woodwork – he wouldn’t go if he was convinced he’d done nothing wrong which was the case only a few days ago.

  10. I know we have 12 points to make up on Chelsea but that could be done more easily that it seems. If we’d won both our games with the chavs and beat Manure when they were shit in fall 2014 that would have made up the gap. The chavs would have had 4 less points and we’d have earned 8 more. We just need to keep improving our results against the top teams.

  11. All those charged now have an idea of the evidence that prosecutors have used to charge them. Plea bargaining may have already begun. Blatter may have been told by one of his FIFA co-racketeers that he is going to implicate him.

  12. Limestone.

    The chances created stat is another of those misleading stats. How is it possible he could play with Germany who won the World Cup and supposedly be one of the leaders in chances create but only get one assist in 8 games in the World Cup? The Germans were not bad finishers? Either by some strange happenstance the Germans just missed all the good chances he provided while scoring we the other players crested chances or a lot of the plays that were recorded as chances created were not really great chances. I can’t prove it but I favor the latter. The fact the same thing seems to happen with arsenal adds some credibility to my suspicion. He got 8 assists in 34 games for us despite being a great chance creator.

    Perhaps I have always been a bit harsh on Ozil. Part of it was the hope that bringing in the worlds best #10 was supposed to help change our pattern of play. He should be the guy who controls the tempo and helps drive us forward and keeps us from falling back into our pattern of sterile possession without penetration. Another big part of it is my belief that midfield creativity and ball possession are over rated with regards to how they actually affect our results. Bringing Ozil into our team and seeing that it did not really a lot about our pattern of play when we are off form nor did it improve the inconsistency has strengthen my bias in that regard. Ozil and Santi may have been fun to watch against Villa but the reality is that the things they did were not really part of any of the first 3 goals we scored and that observation is certainly not isolated to just that game.

  13. I saw it here first. He is going. Thanks.
    Unfortunately he is just hanging around long enough to fry the really bad evidence and ensure that one of his many minions; like Platini or dust Bin Alley will take over and keep the gravy train rolling, and he gets awarded 5 million dollars a year for life.
    No thanks to the old great footballing nations; it has been left to an even bigger footballing , but new one. Not only did USA have the greatest number of travelling fans in South Africa (not sure about Brazil) but they are now the safeguarders of the game. USA USA USA. I hope they keep going till Sepp in is in Alcatraz.

  14. Philmar
    Couldn’t agree more. They are all crying like babies in their cells. While the body keeps twisting and the machine keeps delivering the bundles of cash to offices no longer occupied.
    Everyone was wondering what happened to the yanks a couple of years ago, of course they have been quiet, even Jack Horner’s two sons have been ‘cooperating’ with the Feds.

  15. This is where Uefa adn the Euro FAs have to play a proper role now restructuring FIFA. If we continue with the existing voting system there is no guarantee that Blatter’s power structure will not be used to ensure the corruption continues.

  16. In actual fact even thought the King of World Corruption has agreed to step down, I don’t think he has heard the clarion call for his resignation. He is talking about organizing a vote in December of this year or January of next year. I don’t think anyone wants him to organize anything other than his immediate withdrawl from world football poste haste. Yes, I agree, the Island off the coast of San Francisco would be a suitable dwelling for this man and his merry band of envelope passers.

  17. All this talk of Higuian. He would be no better than Giroud and in actual fact it was 9 games ago that we all started realising how good g is. For my mind he must be in the top 5 players of his type in Europe.

  18. I think the Higuain v Giroud has been done to death and extrapolating Giroud’s mid-season run of goals over the remainder of his career makes absolutely no sense. Higuain has a proven record at both RM and Napoli (and also for his country). He and Benezma were pretty much head to head in their respective goal scoring records.

    Bladder gets to stay around until some time between December and March. Plenty of time to cover the tracks if need be.

  19. Cover the tracks Wavey and ensure that his vast influence is used to buy the necessary votes for the next continuation of the disgrace that is unfortunately still FIFA.

  20. All this prolonged talk of clinical strikers, yet how many titles did we win with the much mentioned RvP? I guess I must have missed it or them.

  21. i think the team with RvP and the team now are different to be honest and with that it makes you winder whether or not a more clinical striker couls bw the difference between the title or not.

  22. We don’t need a striker.

    OTOH keep hearing rumours on Isco.

    32m apparently if you believe the trades.

    Would be a fantastic addition if Walcott does not sign and I’d trade in Campbell in a heart beat.

    He has the sort of tight dribbling skills that can transform our play even further.

  23. Isco? Why? So we need another AM and not a striker? Pffft. Nonsense. He wouldn’t replace Theo, his strike rate is something like a goal every six games for a team that regularly plays against far inferior sides in a league where they have a couple of serious rivals.

  24. CA (MA) – It’s a tough one arguing that a more clinical striker doesn’t make it more likely you’d win titles 😉 As for RvP I think that it’s universally accepted that he dragged a very mediocre ManU to their last title.

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