Happy Friday Fellow Gooners…..
First of all, you may experience some odd blogging, as I am travelling to Zambia in a few hours for a family wedding. I hope that the usual cavalry of Debs, Wills, and JAT can share their views with you whilst I’m away and potentially, I may be able to write something on the plane (it is a long flight after all)… but today, before I leave, I just wanted to reflect on the season, where we are, where we’ll end up and why we should look at this season in it’s true light.
I must have spoke about the stadium, the costs of it and the financial burden it’s carried several times, so I won’t repeat myself, but all in all, to fund a £400m stadium within your own means is no mean feat – and to achieve payments ahead of schedule and reduce our debt significantly in the last few years puts us into an even greater position moving forward.
At the beginning of the season, we sold Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure – yes, we got £41m in cash for the pair… on top of that, we didn’t sign a replacement for Adebayor, most poeple thinking we needed one for Thierry Henry – we didn’t sign a partner for Cesc – most people insistent that we need either one or two defensive midfielders to join the club last summer. We did sign one of the two defenders we all thought we needed, but didn’t replace Almunia… (I had to review last summer’s blog posts and comments to come up with that)….
So, our odds of finishing in the top four at the beginning of the season where longer than Man City’s… our odds at winning the title, 20-1. The longest they had been for a while.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking – yes, we didn’t sign those players and it shows, we could have done with X or Y or Z and we wouldn’t have lost to A, B or C… But in reality, when we look back at the season, the main fallacies have not been the squad, the players or the quality.
We’ve played some extra-ordinary football this season, we’ve played teams off the park, beating Everton 6-1 on opening day, and some other very impressive results along the way – but where have we gone wrong, why haven’t we won anything?
It’s down to a few things – emotion, pride and of course injuries.
Let me expand on each one of those topics. Just before I do, let me explain one thing – we were written off at the beginning of the season, we weren’t supposed to win anything, we were supposed to be knocked out of everything at the first round and finish 5th – actually, the Daily Mail said we’d finish 6th behind Liverpool, City and Sp*rs…
So, let’s look into these three things:
We’re Arsenal, a family of players, with a father figure in Arsene Wenger, who has bought players in at a young age and nurtured them. We don’t like it when players leave us, because it’s like a kid going to uni – but when a player says bad things about the club, the other players and the manager, it becomes personal. When we went to Man City and lost (was it 4-2?), the game was overshadowed by emotion. We let it get in the way and it resulted in a loss. Emotion is a big part of the game, but it can also turn a win into a loss. Three points at Eastlands would have seen us joint top of the league right now.
We don’t like getting beaten and after having Man United do one over us last season in the league and Champions League (which made us look very silly), we were determined to beat them. To restore our pride. We desperately wanted to beat them, “like so much”. When we had the chance to play United at their ground, we played well, we were tactical and really pushed them – two mistakes – an own goal and a penalty, meant we went away empty handed. The pride was battered further and when they came to the Emirates, despite any tactics planned, it was purely “gung ho”. We wanted to beat them and we didn’t care, we were going to – unfortunately, it was too gung ho and we suffered – suffered badly. Note for Chelsea – ditto.
We lost our positional discipline when we played Man United, and that’s down to pride, the need to get one over. Yes, it can drive adrenalin but it has to be managed.
Of course, the final part of the three – injuries.
How many of you thought last year was our worst season for injuries? Well, you were wrong – without a doubt it’s this season, and Arsene agrees. It’s crazy to think how many players we’ve lost this season to long term injuries. Of course, before the season started we saw our 3rd choice centre back in Johan Djourou sidelined for the season. Then our first choice left back was injured for a long period of time – not to worry, we had a replacement in Kieran Gibbs, but then he got a season long injury. The story goes on, but without Diaby and Nasri at the beginning of the season, and without them for periods of the season with niggling injuries has been a big blow. Without Robin Van Persie for the season – it’s like United with Rooney – it’s a big big blow. Without our captain for the rest of the season, a player who has been victimised and injured several times this season and without our first choice centre back in Gallas for 2010, it’s been a painstaking level of injuries. Throw in injuries to Walcott for the fall / winter, the big one at Stoke for Aaron Ramsey and also Andrei Arshavin for the rest of the season and it’s crazy to think we are where we are. Oh, don’t forget we lost Niklas Bendter for three months in the middle somewhere too.
There is also the added effects that injuries have had – for example, Diaby took a while to start getting better, and Eduardo is still on his way – we’re not sure if Rosicky will ever recover and Clichy took a while to get back too.
Injuries, in my eyes have been very harsh to us, they’ve been our downfall – and it’s not fault of the manager – you simply can’t predict that level of injury. The main example being our centre backs. We have these players in this order: Gallas, Vermaelen, Djourou, Campbell, Song and Silvestre. Against Barcelona and especially against Messi, we had to field our sixth choice centre back, and that is just crazy.
So, you’re probably thinking – okay, great, I get it, but it is still a little disappointing and we have the right to be disappointed, of course – we’ve seen the team develop and it’s raised our expectations. So what do we have to do next season to make it better? Well, having sold 2 top players, we’ve closed the gap between us and Chelsea and United to 3 points (remember, the season is not over yet…), and have a great young squad. Next season we’ll have our players back, but must understand the level of injuries we have every season mean we may need some more players around. We’ll see Chamakh come in as another striker, and that will see five top strikers at the club (Van Persie, Chamakh, Eduardo, Vela and Bendtner) – we’ll have our strength in attacking midfield and wings – but with Campbell, Silvestre and Gallas all near the end of their contracts, a centre back most likely come in too.
We’ve already addressed some of the injury concerns by putting together a new medical team for next season…. and that could be the best signing of them all…!!
All-in-all, it’s been a massively forward step in the right direction. We’ve reduced our debt significantly, have a slim chance of taking the title this season, have another year under the belt of some youngish players and a whole load of talent raring to go next season.
In a world obsessed with short term gain, our long term strategy is ahead of schedule in more ways than one.