Last summer, as the usual suspects were trying their best to defend Arsene Wenger’s policy in the transfer window and suitability as our manager, the noisy neighbours were busy signing any 2 legged footballers Franco Baldini could get his hands.
According to the know-it- all media back then, Arsenal needed to follow their path and appoint ourselves a Director of football. This was the same Spurs who had signed a feeder club agreement with Real and were being written an IOU in exchange for Bale.
Meanwhile, the media darlings kept reminding us clueless AFC fans that finishing 3rd or 4th in the previous eight seasons was a total failure. But those same folks were insisting that the only way Spurs or Liverpool could guarantee finishing above us and get the coveted 4th place was for them to splash £80 million on players without any prior premiership experience and for them!
This summer, after the early signings of two very effective players, most fans I know have suddenly developed very high expectations for the upcoming season. Personally, I am a lot more apprehensive about our new campaign.
In my view, whilst most managers try their hardest to compete on all fronts, Arsene as we have come to know him, is always trying his best to assemble the most minimum of squad required. Wenger’s Modus Operandi has always been to have 16 or 17 senior players and fill the gaping holes with potential and inexperienced players when required.
As we will be competing on two fronts per week for the majority of the season and then possibly four fronts come January, I find this a huge gamble considering the magnitude by which the gap between the so called smaller teams has narrowed in recent seasons as compared to the non-Gazprom teams like ours .
Last summer, for some odd reason I strongly believed we would do the double which unfortunately didn’t materialise. Friends kept asking me why I thought that.
My reasons were:
· We had a back 4 that had conceded the least number of goals in 4 years. We had conceded only 37 goals and Per was beginning to find his feet in this league.
· That was the first time under Arsene that we had not lost a major player of our squad.
· King Fergie was no longer around to point to his watch when United were a goal down with 10 minutes to go.
· Statistically Giroud had scored 20 goals in his second season and therefore rumours that Arsene was looking for a more effective no.10.
· Ramsey and Arteta were forming a midfield pivot that in the 12 games of their partnership had become as ruthless at protecting our back 4 as any double pivot in Europe.
· We were beating the teams we were expecting to beat.
· Most importantly Wenger had also rotated his squad far better the season before and I was counting on a repetition of that.
Additionally, Arsene and Arteta our actual captain since his last minute transfer to us in 2011, had on a few occasions during the summer, talked about how it was important to improve our home record after dropping so many points over the last 3 seasons at home whilst we had maintained one of the very best away records in the top 5 leagues in Europe. The rest of the squad had also noted and commented on how it was essential to start the season much better than the last 3 seasons.
In my opinion one thing Arsene was most probably overlooking, was that our home record was firmly linked to his transfer dealings. It was proving a challenge by all accounts for even the reasonable die- hard fans who frequent HH to back a manager who was not matching the ambitions of the fans. It felt to most fans or according to media reports at least, that Wenger had overstayed his welcome.
For most Wenger supporters it was even more imperative that the club and Arsene got off to a very strong start before the annual deadline day ‘supermarket style sweep’ took place. After all that talk about our home form and the scrutiny the club was under, I was extremely saddened when Wenger decided to line-up Wilshere and Ramsey in central midfield against Aston Villa.
After that opening day defeat, some very strong performances against Fulham and Spurs lightened the mood slightly but the icing on the cake was the arrival of Mesut Ozil at least for a brief moment.
As the season unfolded and around the time when we were leading the challenge for the title late November, I became extremely concerned about 2 specific things.
To me it appeared that Wenger was reverting back to his usual stance of over playing his key players whilst other experienced managers were trying to keep their whole squad involved and match sharp. It appeared that he had again, started the season with several players he had no confidence in but had failed to move them on.
However, things were going better than we could have envisaged. For once we did not have our annual November collapse and Giroud, our slow coach who was the media’s punching bag, was coming up with goals when needed. Even our avid protagonists like Owen and Hansen were beginning to consider us as potential challengers even though they couldn’t help themselves proclaiming that we would have won the title by then if the club had coughed up for Suarez.
According to the media, the reason why we were able to finish fourth was because Jose was still getting his feet underneath the table at Chelsea. Not surprising, the same media experts who at the start of the season declared Moyes a better manager than Wenger, quickly backtracked and declared that Moyes after all was not good enough for a top 4 team let along the biggest club in England as they had said all along.
I have even read that had AVB been a better manager and not bought as many players who were not good enough we would have struggled to finish above them. Dear oh dear; the level these experts will stoop to. The pundits had forgotten the fuss they made when Wenger said last August that Spurs buying so many players would destabilise their already good squad.
Looking at the way the league ended, I am compelled to believe that even without buying a fast mobile striker in January we could still have won the title had Arsene managed his squad better. Etched on most fans minds are the humiliating defeats we suffered at Chelsea, City, Liverpool and to a lesser extent Everton. Those fans may not be wrong because we conceded 20 of our 44 goals from those games. That was an astonishing 45% of all the goals we conceded.
Irrespective of those score lines we just lost 3 points each after those defeats but we came back and got respectful draws against Chelsea, Swansea and United after those defeats it may be fair to say that those awful results did more psychological damage to fans than to the players.
Conversely, it could be argued that had we not been thrashed excessively in those games we would have won those aforementioned games.
In my view the league was lost because of our home form. Picking up points at home remains the bread and butter requirement for any team, regardless of the league they are playing in, or the height of their ambitions. But, in order to mount a genuine title challenge, winning on the road is an important factor and one which could prove to be the difference between success and failure.
It is no surprise that City became eventual champions as they had the best home form and held the longest winning run at home in the league.
Comparing us to our rivals, Man City took 52 points, Liverpool 49 points, Chelsea 48 points, and Arsenal 44 points. Had we not lost against Villa, drawn with City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Everton & Swansea we would still have had enough points to run away with the title.
I wish I could put my fingers on why I am less optimistic as compared to last summer considering the business we have done.
Make no mistake I still believe we will win a trophy but I have this deep rooted feeling that we will be sailing close to the wind again than we should be doing based on our purported resources. My fears are further compounded by the fact that our lynchpin in defence over the last 7 years has been allowed to leave whilst our club captain is manoeuvring for a move away from us to a rival and without appearing pessimistic, I believe we will need lady luck on our side for Per to replicate his form from last season.
As we all know winning this league epitomises how a marathon should be won, however, Arsene tends to prepare for the competition like a boxer who decides to throw caution to the wind and go for a few drinks the night before a multi-million dollar PPV fight in Las Vegas.
Maybe I am just bitter because Arsene has not bought Morgan Schneiderlein who in my view has been the best defensive midfielder in the league since Southampton got promoted. But then again am I?
If any of us was in Wenger’s shoes especially at his stage of his career we’d be doing all we can to go all out with a bang. But Wenger is always Wenger. A true gent who has continued to put his reputation on the line for the future of a club he might not have had any affection for 20 years ago.
As sections of fans will point out football is about winning. Looking at it in that light will compel even the most deluded of Wenger’s excuser like myself to admit our squad is still not deep enough for the modern challenges of winning this league even though this squad looks the most balanced it has been since 2005.
We are Arsenal and therefore we can all assume it will be us verses from match day one onwards….
Have a blessed day!
Written by Tsgh