Friday, 12 August 2011

2010/11: 15 points about Arsenal's season and where it went wrong

Better late than never I guess, my review of last season...

Five myths about where it went wrong...

1) 'Arsene's management of the team is completely inept'
You know, I might have some time for people who say this - or similar things - if they'd been saying this in January and February. I don't remember anyone being too upset on winter deadline day when we signed nobody, but now everybody is criticising Arsene for not strengthening.

I didn't hear anybody criticising this team when they beat Barcelona in the Champions League, or battled through to beat Stoke at home whilst playing really badly.

There are certainly issues, but a change of manager does not necessarily mean success - Pep Guardiola has done well at Barcelona but he's also spunked 60 million on Zlatan. It's a choice of what you want.

2) 'The lack of depth at the back cost us'
Er, did it? This is the argument which dictates that Arsenal should then spend 20 million pounds on Gary Cahill because Seb Squillaci isn't world class. It is bizarre. Despite our best centre back being injured all season Squillaci only played 20-odd games.

I think everybody agrees he wasn't the signing we hoped he would be. But that's why I'm reticent to sit here and write that we should sign two centre backs. If they're the wrong players, it just extends our already lengthy wage bill.

3) 'Our passing game is boring and doesn't break teams down'
We were outscored by one team, despite some horrific refereeing. Our game is somewhat dependent on players picking a killer through ball but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

It plays to our assets. People say we should play a pacey counter-attack, but when your only really quick player is Theo, that doesn't really work.

On the other hand Cesc is the best passer of the ball in the Premier League. When he doesn't play we do seem to work it to the wings more, and there's a case that we need to get our players to work on their crossing more.

But I think there's little doubt that the passing system worked exceptionally well until February, and unless overnight all teams learnt to deal with it, it's more complicated than just to say our build-up play is too slow.

4)'We lack any determination to turn games around'
The amount of times I've hard this is truly astonishing. This is the team which came from behind to beat Barcelona and Everton, who came from two goals down to draw with West Brom, and scored a 97th minute goal against Liverpool. The reality is that Newcastle aside (and that has to be seen as an anomaly), the lack of fight has mainly been in quite meaningless end of season games. Is 2nd better than 4th? Yeah, but Champions League is still Champions League.

5)'Not buying a goalkeeper cost us the League'
This is a very odd argument anyway when one looks at the decisions which went against us throughout the season, which were much more of a decisive factor in the title race.

But more than that, sure Schwarzer could have done a job for a season - or even two, and though I hate to say it, he's probably better than Almunia. But Fabianski seems to be at the least his equal, and Szczesny is a far better keeper.

That's where I sympathise with Arsene. If he'd signed Schwarzer, we'd never have known how good Szczesny is because he wouldn't have had the game time. His contract was up this summer and he could have left. Instead, we quite possibly have our goalkeeper for the next fifteen to twenty years. I know which scenario I prefer.

Five areas where we really did go wrong...

1) The home support
There's a cruel irony that it's our fans who are the most vociferous on Twitter - cos' get them inside a football stadium and they either go silent, or boo and moan at their own team.

Of all the Category B fixtures, the loudest was probably Villa which was just people moaning.

As far as I see it, people want us to win loads of trophies and play super-entertaining football - and if we don't do that then they won't support the team. It's just childish.

But more than this, when other teams have huge levels of support when they're struggling, it makes an impact. No wonder we struggle to come from behind.

2) Retaining injury-prone/crap players
I don't care how good Abou Diaby or Eboue are in training. They're both either always injured or useless. The one criticism I would make of Wenger is that he's sometimes hoist by his own petard in his desire not to be proved wrong.

Sometimes - such as in the case of Alex Song - he's right. But sometimes he's also wrong, and somebody needs to tell him that.

3) Poor coaching
The only explanation for why a team of reasonably sound defenders concedes so many goals from set pieces is poor coaching. Ultimately, the buck stops with the manager; but I would ask what they do at Colney to become so crap at defending corners. I would love for us to appoint a coach in this area.

4) Dependence on certain players
The reason results tailed off was that we basically ended up dependent on one player in the second half of the season: Van Persie.

It's interesting to compare 2010/11 with the year before; then, it was much more of a team effort - 12 goals from Bendtner, 8 from Vermaelen, 5 from Denilson - whereas this season, especially after the turn of the year, contributions from the squad players were rare.

The bottom line is it's clear they didn't contribute enough. The obvious question though, is why? And I think the answer lies in our lack of goals from outside the box.

Those were the goals Vermaelen, Denilson et al were scoring. And arguably our failure to bang a long shot past a keeper when all else failed was what ultimately hurt us.

5) The team gave up
One of the reasons I didn't write a match report after the Spurs game was business/laziness.

But it was also because the team gave up, particularly in the last two or three fixtures. Ignoring the annoyance of a two-legged qualifier against a good team like Udinese, it also sends out a terrible message.

We were unfortunate to drop out of the title race, but we weren't unfortunate to finish fourth.

It creates headlines about us lacking fight and frankly they're hard to refute. Once again, I don't think this is a personnel issue, so much as our players needing to buck up their ideas - not least because of the message it sends out.

After the way we ended last season, the first few fixtures this years will be very interesting...

Five reasons to be optimistic...

1) Robin van Persie
In Van Persie, we have the best striker in the Premiership and a man who is at the peak of his career. If we can keep him fit for the whole season, I have no doubt we will win a trophy. Without him though, I'm more than a little bit worried.

2) The youngsters
I know Wenger's been spinning this yarn for years, but in the past the talent was Ryan Smith and Arturo Lupoli.

Now, it's players like Jenkinson, Chamberlain, Miyaichi and Frimpong - people who really could make an impact at first-team level.

Arguably it's wrong to build them up like this as it puts too much pressure on them. But equally, the best players come through young, and Jack Wilshere has hardly been harmed by it...

3) It's the first summer in a long while without an international tournament
No Confederations Cup, Euros or World Cup means our players are properly rested. Add the lack of long-term injuries (for once) and they should be fresh and raring to go for another season. And players like Sagna and Van Persie must realise they're running out of time to accrue medals.

4) Stability in goal
For the first time in a while, we have a competent keeper who is universally acknowledged as the best at the club. And Chesney is bloody good.

Having a solid goalkeeper obviously has an impact on the rest of the team. Which is why I'm optimistic with Wojciech in goal.

5) We were really f*cking good at times last season
It's easy to forget this but from December to the Carling Cup Final we were arguably the best team in Europe.

We produced comebacks, we played great football, nobody could beat us.

And the bottom line is clearly we can do it. The last two and a half months of the season were really painful, but it doesn't mean we lack ability.

Obviously a lot depends on how the squad looks at the end of August, but it isn't nearly as bleak as some might say...

Keep the faith.

I'll have more to say on Cesc/Nasri, if and when their transfers are sorted out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

agreed on home support!! truly awful in cat B games...