Friday, 28 October 2011

Arsenal's recent form is what you should expect - sort of

The thing which everybody forgot was that it was hardly a great Arsenal side which challenged so strongly until March last season.

Tears were spilt on deadline day 2010 over a refusal to buy a veteran keeper; the centre half whom everyone insisted we signed turned out to be not much cop; the side as a whole was very dependent on Marouane Chamakh and Samir Nasri in the first half of the season, Robin van Persie in the New Year. On top of this, the captain and best player Cesc Fabregas was injured for half of the season.

And yet, this was a team which arguably should have won the League.

What was easy to forget in the midst of that wretched run of form from March until September, was that there was a reason that Arsenal were challenging for all the trophies. Partly, it was good performances - beating Chelsea 3-0 particularly springs to mind; but a lot of it was about other teams not playing very well.

This came in two ways: first, the opposition were poor. Although there were some great individual performances from Arsenal players, the poverty of teams like Wolves, West Ham and Birmingham was striking to behold. In fact, what was so frustrating about our results at the end of the season was that the teams didn't even play particularly well.

The 3-2 defeat to West Brom last September at least saw some excellent attacking play from the Baggies; defeats to Stoke and Villa were largely self-inflicted, clear by-products of our poor defending and inexplicable lack of inspiration in midfield, rather than the result of the opposition playing particularly well.

The second reason we were doing so well was that the other big teams had clear deficiencies, some of which remain: Man United had a lightweight central midfield which led to them being over-run on occasion; Chelsea's experienced squad at times looked very old, and ended up in a terrible run of form mid-season; and Man City, the great success story of the season thus far, couldn't play as a team.

To be sure, our three rivals of last season have improved. United strengthened their team (although their improvement has been greatly exaggerated), Chelsea have changed their tactics under AVB and look more competitive, and City have gelled as a team; it's this which will preclude us from winning the League this season.

But the poor teams in the Premier League remain. Sure West Ham and Birmingham went down, but Blackburn and QPR are equally bad.

And this is a good Arsenal team. Not a great Arsenal team, but a good Arsenal team. Heck, keep Szczesny, Vermaelen, Wilshere and RVP fit at the same time (unlikely, I know) and they could challenge for a League title.

Which is why when the fixture list gives us a kind run like this, we should win seven out of eight matches. We should expect it - we just shouldn't expect to win away at Chelsea.

With no Drogba and Arsenal coming into the match with momentum, I certainly give us hope; but I have realistic expectations for this season. And providing you accept that our ambition should be to finish in the top four, I think you'll actually have an enjoyable season.

Keep the faith.

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