“We are not going to challenge unless we buy a DM and that world-class striker. Giroud is not good enough to win us the league, while we are one injury away from using Arteta whose legs have gone”. Apparently Arteta’s legs have left Colney in Diaby’s pockets on his way out, but I’m not here to defend Giroud (because I a) have already done that b) don’t think he needs defending). I’m also not here to point out United have won the league with Carrick, who’s exactly the type of player Arteta is… Oh, wait. Seems I have already pointed it out.
Anyway, Arteta is perfect back-up to Coquelin and I won’t dwell on the matter any longer as an abundance of articles have been written on the subject in the immediate aftermath of our lego-haired Spaniard signing a one-year contract extension. In my view Arteta is a great leader, both on and off the pitch, a consummate professional and is perfectly capable of 15-20 games a season to allow Coquelin some rest and/or offer something different to Francis.
Rather, this article will be about squad balance and why I believe we can win the league even without further additions. To prove my point I’ll do a very simple thing: set a benchmark.
I think we can all agree Chelsea won the league deservedly this season? Yes, yes, we hate the club, the owner, the manager, a certain racist captain and a lot more about Chelsea, but let’s not deny Chelsea finished the season top of the table for a reason: they were the better team over the course of the WHOLE campaign. And so I’ll go over what I believe helped them win the league and search for these ingredients in our side.
But first an important note: the team is the microcosm of the manager. It adopts the manager’s respective style. Chelsea won the league relying heavily on their rock-solid defense, especially in the second half of the season when they were robbed of Costa and Fabregas suffered the usual dip in form.
That doesn’t mean the only way to win the league is to play defense-first. In fact, Chelsea has won the league for the first time in five years and I don’t remember them playing boring, boring football under Ancelotti. Before that their last league success happened under Mourinho, in 2006.
In ten years Chelsea won the league three times, the other seven times were shared between City (two titles) and United (five!). Neither team played the kind of football Mourinho preaches. So it’s entirely possible to win the league playing beautiful attacking football.
With that in mind, let’s go!
Chelsea went into this campaign with one (!) right-back in Ivanovic, two left-backs in Azpilicueta and Luis and 3 recognised centre-backs (Terry, Cahill, Zouma). You can also count in Kalas and Omeruo, depending on how much you trust them.
Now get this: Terry and Ivanovic played ALL league games. Every single minute. 38 goddamn appearances. Cahill clocked 36 outings.
The left-back duties were shared more evenly: 29 appearances for Azpilicueta and 15 for Luis. Nonetheless, Chelsea had a truly stable back four the entire campaign.
On paper, ours defense that season looked better, dare I say: two right-backs in Debuchy and Bellerin, two left-backs in Monreal and Gibbs and three centre-backs in Mertesacker, Koscielny and Chambers. Our downfall was injuries: by Christmas we have played around 15 different combinations of these 7 players.
This year our defense looks even better. We can truly count on Bellerin, Chambers is chomping at the bit at centre-back, while the addition of Gabriel made us reach the Promised Land: two defenders for each position. In fact, our defense looks so good we had to ship out Jenko on loan once more. We showed how a team can benefit from a stable defense in 2015, if we manage to keep our defenders fit, they no doubt have the requisite quality to win us the title.
DM. D-M. DeeeeeM.
Yes, Chelsea have a romping DM: Matic. However do they have back-up? Yes, Obi Mikel. He made a whopping 15 league appearances.
But, you’d say, that’s a lot? True, however, here’s another fact: Matic played 36 games. Don’t you think Coquelin, you know, incidentally, can also play 36 or even more?
Even if he doesn’t wrack up that much, do you honestly think Obi Mikel is a better player than Arteta? More capable? So explain to me, why the hell should we spend ridiculous money on Kondogbia or Schneiderlin to play him 10-15 times a season?
If you want backup at backup prices, Arteta is your guy. If you think Schneiderlin is a better destroyer then Coquelin stop watching football now. If you think Schneiderlin should partner Coquelin in midfield look at our bench. Then at Schneiderlin and at our bench again. If Wilshere can’t make the squad and Ramsey was forced out wide to get some minutes, how probable it is that Schneiderlin will play a lot alongside Coq?
Yes, Costa is a better forward than Giroud. But he also operates differently, facing the goal. Giroud’s role is more subtle: he is a springing board for our wingers: as such he plays with his back to the goal.
Nonetheless, Giroud scored 14 goals in 27 league games last season. A goal every two games is a decent return for any striker in any league.
When Costa suffered a series of injuries in the second half of the campaign, Chelsea’s goals dried up. In the period from mid-January till the end of May Chelsea almost couldn’t rely on Costa. They played 16 league games during that spell, only scoring more than two goals three times – and in two of these three occasions Costa was present. They had to rely on their defense and occasional goals from Loic Remy to rack up points, narrowly escaping draws and even losses on more occasions than one.
Unsurprisingly, our hardest period (September till beginning of December) coincided with Giroud being out. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s hard to score goals when your main striker is not starting week in, week out.
However, that’s not my point. Rather, who did Chelsea have as back-up? That’s right, the aforementioned Loic Remy. With all due respect to the man, he’s not much better (if at all) than our backup options: Walcott and Welbeck. Walcott on form is just lethal (however he was also out from September till December!), while Welbeck is also far from the flop people make him out to be.
A couple of words on midfield
We have (and had last season since no one was brought in yet) the best midfield in the league. It’s not the Arsenal fan speaking in me, I genuinely believe we have a brilliant midfield.
The problem was, you guessed it, injuries to Ozil and Arteta. Coquelin was yet to resurface early in the campaign. How do you think Chelsea would have fared without Cesc, Matic and Obi Mikel? Not nearly as good as they did with them, I’m sure of it.
Wrapping it up
I’ll make a bold statement: we are a better team than Chelsea. I’ll go even further: we were the better team at the outset of the last season. Why didn’t we win the league then?
Simple: stability. We lacked stability all over the pitch, not the least because key players spent a lot of time on the sidelines. As soon as they returned, we started killing it. Our last five league games weren’t nearly as good as we hoped, but I put it down to securing a Champions League place early. The players kind of…burnt out.
Chelsea won because the spine of their team played together for the whole campaign. If we could keep our players fit for the duration of the season, we will challenge, even without additions.
Over and out from me