The FA Cup win in 2014 was a relief, yes; but, it was unconvincing. Both mental and football flaws were still evident. I didn’t see how that Cup win would be used to build a challenge for the Premier League in the following season.
The first half of last season saw performances that verified my concern, whilst others showed some progress.
For example, the loss to Dortmund pissed me off because it wasn’t the first time we played them, it wasn’t the first time we were subject to their pressing game, so why on earth hadn’t we adapted or learned how to deal with it? On the other hand, the return fixture was thoroughly enjoyable because Wenger’s boys were passing around the press. Our players had more energy and willingness to get into positions to help each other out whenever Dortmund pressed. The home game versus City was also memorable but to concede an equalizer on a set piece, again?!
However, for me, the turning point was the loss to Monaco at the Emirates. Personally, I felt there was a change in mentality after that game that translated into wins on the pitch. There were a string of games we grinded results out of interspersed with commanding performances. The football seemed a lot more confident and purposeful. Unfortunately, some familiar troubles with breaking teams down reared their ugly head again near the end of the season.
Nevertheless, the win at United was convincing, even the draw in the league was an improvement. You won’t believe I’m going to say this; but, the encouragement from the Chelsea game at the Emirates was the final minute chance that Ozil didn’t convert. We consistently struggle to create a solid chance versus the Blues under Mourinho and it took all of 93+ minutes to do so at the Emirates but we did! We finally got behind their defense and evaded a typical last minute block from a center back to have a clear scoring opportunity.
The signs were there and the emphatic, to say the least, performance in the cup final was a stark contrast to the season before. I, as a supporter, felt more at ease when going into the season break.
Now, you’ve heard this before; but I’ll repeat it – squad depth. Actually, ‘depth’ still doesn’t justify a feeling of ease. It’s also the talent.
Don’t worry; I’m not going to detail each individual player, or a select few, to tell you why we should be more positive. I’m sure you’ve heard and read plenty on that.
So, despite the talent at Wenger’s disposal, I do have other concerns. Let’s go through them:
1. Optimal Utilization of Talent
Just made that term up but I couldn’t think of any other way to put it really! This doesn’t only entail who to play where; but, also about playing time.
A lot of players need to play regularly and in their preferred position to be effective. For example, playing Ramsey out wide for 10 games in a row may keep him on his toes; but, you won’t get the best out of Ramsey and at some point his performances may also stagnate in such a position. I’ve always wondered if our title challenges would have differed in the past had Nasri or Arshavin played centrally more often.
Anyway, back to the concern – how will we get the best out of Jack, Aaron, and Cazorla when all are at their best from the same position? Barring any injuries, how does the manager give each one a run of games that will benefit both the player and the team? Yes, it can be argued that Jack can play behind the striker as well; I’m not a proponent of that but if it works then it works. I’m also not a proponent of Santi as an alternative no. 10; I don’t think I’ve seen him as effective as he has been from center mid. Though, to be fair to him, Santi is decent on the flank but it seems that ship has sailed from Wenger’s perspective.
Even if Jack or Aaron is used once in a while to give Coquelin a rest, it’s still once in a while i.e. not a run of games or, more importantly, their favored position.
I’m not as concerned about the forward line in this context because we have players, barring Giroud, who are quite effective in any of the three forward positions so rotation in that aspect might be easier. Plus, the game from the flanks is less an attempt at dictating play so fewer games for any player here may not necessarily mean we’re not getting the best out of the player.
I’m not too concerned about the back line in this context either, except for Chambers perhaps – he seems to be a player who needs a run of games to be effective. Even Gibbs for that matter. However, there doesn’t seem to be a too-much-depth problem here.
I’ve spoken about player optimization and it’s a one-sided view – the good for the team. What about the player?
Footballers like to play; except for Sagna perhaps! Jokes aside, I hope that our players have the maturity, patience, and temperament to deal with the increased competition in the squad. Wenger speaks about us not having to sell anymore; but, if a player feels he should have had more game time at some point and isn’t getting any then surely he’ll seek football elsewhere?
Ideally Wenger will be ruthless with dropping players if they’re not performing so players have tangible proof that they will get a chance – keep the motivation levels high. Of course, sub appearances also help.
Assuming our players remain motivated, and are used effectively, will the results come?
3. On the Pitch
This is my last concern. You can have all the talent in the world, and yet that isn’t enough to win you trophies sometimes! Think the Galacticos, especially once Beckham joined. Think of the countless Netherlands national teams. Spanish national teams before 2008. Inter Milan always had a talented, talented squad but Juventus or Milan just could not be ousted for the title; this is pre-relegation for Juve of course.
So, despite saying earlier that I do feel we turned a page post-Monaco at home, you just do not know if familiar frailties will turn up. Everything does seem to be in place in theory; but, will we see another unnecessary challenge high up the pitch that will take a center back out of the equation? Will Coquelin be found wanting against the bigger teams? Not through any fault of his own, but because of our midfield’s tendency to drop back a little slower.
Will we continue to see, if Giroud is up top, crosses flying into the opposition area hoping to find one head?
The positive is that this group of players has been playing together for some time now and you can see the understanding on the pitch. The point of concern is Wenger’s priority of attack over defense. I’m a strong believer in the midfield dropping back quickly to support the defense; a defensive midfielder cannot save you every time the opposition throngs forward.
Which leads us to contemplate, as many fans have, whether we should sign a defensive midfielder and play a double pivot?
Ah, Transfers and What We Need!
Should I address the double pivot question first? It’s only fair that I do since I brought it up!
The answer is: I don’t know.
Who am I to state that a double pivot would work or not work? I’ll now expand that question and ask:
Who am I to state which player would benefit Arsenal and which would not? Which position, considering our squad depth, still needs reinforcement?
I barely watch any other matches now, never mind other leagues. Even if I did watch other matches or leagues; how can I say for certain that a player would replicate his form for his current club, at Arsenal?
I’ve mentioned this in a post before, and I’ll ask it again: How do we know who is good enough?
What allows a striker, for example, to beat a man, find space, and finish with aplomb week-in-week-out in one league and then find him struggle for the same in another?
What are those elements that tell a manager/scout/coach that this player is good enough for this league and will help my team? So many managers seem to get this wrong as well – Rodgers and van Gaal to name a few. If managers/scouts/coaches at the top level of football are getting it wrong, I’m not even close to being in a position to pass judgement!
We speak of needing another striker, a World Class striker, a finisher, one who has pace and trickery. How do we know that Wenger and the players will not find a way to utilize Theo or Welbeck as that pacey striker through the middle? How do we know they won’t come through next season?
We can only speculate, which is fine I guess; but, to make statements which show we know it all – slightly premature to say the least!
Wrapping it Up
Anyway, I know the bit on transfers and what we need, will have been read with blinders but, as always, I try to offer some perspective.
The other point is yes, we have a great squad and several fans are happy with it; it does not mean they don’t have concerns and I’ve highlighted just a few.
I’m a bit of a romantic and would love to see this squad win the Premier League; a squad that mostly comprises talent that has come through the ranks or was unheard of and few superstars. It will be a footballing victory over a financial one. You can call me deluded or a fool even; but, for once I’m not in panic mode during pre-season and the talent at our disposal is responsible for that.
‘Till next time!