As within any community or family the strength of the whole is driving by the bonds and relationships within – For the business end of the season the Gunners team now has these relationships and understandings.
A sincere apology is without a doubt in order. Last time we spoke was around September of last year. That is, without a doubt, disgraceful on my behalf. I’ve armoured myself against myself with excuses around workload, life’s happenings and various other non-specific “reasons” for the absence, but all of them come up lacking against the backdrop of the length of my absence.
The more observant of those amongst you, you’ll notice the apology comes with a heavy dose of self-import. You’ll forgive this of course, you understanding lot. Arsenal aside, I am the most important thing in my life after all.
So without any more excuses we now move on to the today’s post. Much has happened in the last few months. We’ve had crises’, resurrections, more crises’ and now, believe it or not, a respectable run of form. To continue with the theme of excuse-making, let’s start with my take on our early-season inconsistency.
2014/2015 started off with something Arsenal fans aren’t used to – Warranted expectation. The post-coital glow of the FA Cup had not quite yet begun to ebb, we’d made some very, very smart purchases in the transfer window, we sat with the expectation that more business would occur before the end of said window and no essential first teamers (barring the bench-warming Mr. Sagna) had left. Add all of these factors together, slap on our beach-strolling manager returning to form and his quotational best, add for consideration the shambles of previous windows, and our newly-found optimism was understandable.
Fast-forward a month or two and we find ourselves more than a couple of points behind the galloping Chelsea with far too many draws to our name. The beginnings of disappointment in the season began to fester as draw after laborious draw (with the occasional loss and win) saw us become a part of the chasing pack as opposed to our hopes of being neck and neck pace-setters this year. There were a number of contributing factors, but 3 stand out for me as the main aggressors.
“We love you Arsenal, we do. We love you Arsenal, we do. We love you Arsenal, we do. Oh Arsenal for the love of good tennis biscuits would you stop breaking every time you put on your blasted socks?”
We really do seem to have some terrible, terrible luck. We’ve had bone breaks, fractures, dislocated shoulders, impact injuries, muscle injuries, bouts of sickness, etc. You name it the sporting injury; we’ve done our best to provide a test-case since the beginning of August. Our injury situation has been appalling and is a major contributor to our lack of a challenge this year. All I can really say is thank Cthulu for Sanchez and his lightning form at the beginning of the season. Let’s all be thankful that he waited until we’d had a number of other players in fine form to injure his hamstring.
Something, however, ought to be said in defence of the Coaching staff. Our players seem to be coming back sooner than expected. Jack’s back a little earlier than expected (originally beginning of March) Giroud returned a good 2 / 3 weeks ahead of schedule and Diaby was able to recover enough to feature in a team photo this week. His previous projected photographic fitness date being sometime late 2020.
Ah depth, you beautiful bastard you. This year has been a bit of a funny one in this regard. We’ve shown some wonderful depth this year across the middle of the pitch and up-front. The injury to Giroud might have been the main motivator behind Welbeck’s recruitment, but his flexibility along with the presence of Walcott, Sanchez, Chamberlain, Ozil, and to a certain extent Akpom means that we’re quite well-stocked up front across the line. The 2nd part of the season will really start to show how important this is as we start to reap the benefits of competition from some world-class players.
In midfield we’ve been pretty resilient too. Santi covered for the recovering Ozil to great effect, Wilshere and Ramsey are going to push one another for that favoured role (that is when they can be fit at the same time) and we have 1 of 3 options in CDM. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of getting ourselves another re-enforcement here, not just from a qualitative point of view, but also taking into account the number of years left in Arteta and Flamini. However, being able to call upon Coquelin in our time of need (the very definition of depth) is a decision that played a very big role in turning this season around. Add to the list the energy and professionalism of Rosicky and we’re not looking too shabby in midfield.
Defence – This is where we’ve lacked in terms of depth this year. We’d stocked ourselves quite well with fullbacks and made sure that Szczesny had some competition, but the lack of a “1st choice 3rd choice” Central Defender has been telling at times this year. This isn’t a criticism on Calum Chambers, but the stories of world-class defenders playing for world class teams at the age of 19 are few and far between. Add to that the fact that he was signed originally as an understudy to Debuchy, and there really can’t be any surprise at our results with the constant rotations of full-backs into central areas. The acquisition of Gabriel looks to be some very smart business, if 6 months late.
Herein lies the crux of our early travails in my not so humble opinion. Our relationships almost throughout the pitch were upended at the beginning of this season.
Over the course of the summer, the following changes occurred to our starting team.
- Welbeck became a new focus of our attack up-front, needing to learn to play in a completely different system to his days at Man Utd.
- Sanchez has been played in all positions across the front 3 to great success, but sometimes to the detriment of the flow of the team around him
- Welbeck then began deputising on the left at Giroud’s return, needing to form a relationship with a changing left-back.
- Chambers and Debuchy are both new to the team this season, and with Bellerin’s break-through this season this means that we have 3 right-backs that prior to this season hadn’t played in our 1st team.
- Monreal has had to deputise in a position that he’s never played before, quite literally, learning a new position on the job.
- Chambers (the 19 year old) has also been asked to play in a central role, which at times has highlighted his inexperience.
- Midfield, the one area in the team that didn’t see an overhaul, was trying to come to grips with a new system at the beginning of the season.
All of these things considered, we haven’t done too badly this year. We’re seeing the results of understanding in this team beginning to manifest. The fans and the players now know that when Monreal and Bellerin start, we’ll attack primarily down the right and that we’ll change it up down the left if it’s Gibbs and Chambers. We now know that we’re easier to nullify in midfield with 2 ball-carrying box-to-box types in Jack and Ramsey as the opposition then know where the ball will flow from. We now know that Welbeck and Sanchez like to drift centrally but rarely do at the same time. The number of trends and patterns we’ve learnt about this Arsenal side are quite numerous indeed, especially considering that many of them weren’t possibilities last year. Now consider – the players had to learn these things themselves on the pitch before we could begin to recognise them. The fluency we’re seeing now is the by-product of the mistakes of the beginning of the year, and that’s fine for one crucial reason:
Arsenal are not going to have another major overhaul like we did last summer for a number of years.
We’re going to pick up a CDM here, a striker there, and that’s it. Maybe a youth prospect or two, but by and large we’ve got the squad that’ll be playing for us for the next 3 years, and that’s an exciting idea. The relationships we battled with at the beginning of the years have now been made, and the incoming players will add to it and augment it, not require that it be torn up and re-examined.
To finish off today’s post, a quick word on the draw with Man Utd. I’m both excited and terrified. I’m excified!! On the one hand, we could do them at their home and prove to ourselves that we’re over the hoodoo of the big teams, or we could fall off the rails and take a rather huge knock to our still fragile confidence. I’d personally be happy with a draw and a replay at home.
Keep it classy, Arsenal fans.
Editors note – The whole blog on team relationships and blend and either intentionally or naturally no a mention of Theo – Mysterious or sinister Bryan?