There is no doubt that 2013/14 is going to be a monumental turning point of a season for Arsenal. With new financial deals in place, hopefully a summer of transfer ins rather than outs, and possibly Arsene’s final season in charge, it will be the season that will hopefully see the return of Arsenal to glory.
But in order for us to achieve that, what needs to change?
1 – Sort out the squad by the middle of July, have a consistent first team and timely rotations
One of the biggest issues that I’ve felt has had a huge impact on the club is the fact that our transfers for the last few years are all over the place right up until August. As a result, in the preseason friendlies the squad doesn’t get too much time to gel in. In 2012/13, a large part of the business was done earlier, but for some reason the first team did not really gel in well till late in the first half of the season. In fact, I don’t think we knew our first choice team till late in the season. TV, being the club captain wasn’t performing and yet was played in the hope that he’d regain some form. Poldi, Giroud, Theo and Gervinho all were tried in the CF spot before Ollie took the role as his own. Similarly, I’m still not sure who Arsene thinks is his first choice keeper, RB and LB. Ramsey came into his own in his correct position late in the season after being played in a variety of roles.
Now of course, during the course of a season, players have ups and downs, and the first team evolves. But I’ve had this nagging feeling that our first team hasn’t been what it should have been. With a consistent formation earlier on in the season, the new players coming in hopefully having had time to gel in through pre-season friendlies, and a clear thought out squad with defined back ups, I am quite certain we can start the season in good stead unlike the first two 0-0 draws this season. Also, the fact that Poldi, Ollie and Santi will be in their second seasons, and Poldi hopefully fitter, we should be stronger.
It’s also important for Arsene to be decisive in terms of picking and dropping form/out of form players. That’s another thing I believed let us down till late this season. There has to be genuine competition where back up and first team players will raise their games in order to be part of the playing eleven.
Finally, rotate the squad at the right time. I believe this season Ollie, Santi, Jack (at times), Arteta amongst a few players have been overplayed. This has partially been because there were injuries and partially because there were no viable back up options. That will hopefully change next season, because we finally have a good base of a squad with the strength of character, and with new players coming into improve the set up, players should be rotated so that form is retained and burn out minimized. I kept shaking my head when I’d hear comments in the middle of this season that so and so player was mentally or physically tired.
2 – A strong vocal performing captain
This point is again vital. Ever since I can remember it has been strong performing example-setting vocal captains who dig teams out of holes with the sheer force of their personality. Look back to Tony Adams, Vieira, even Cesc and RVP… these players believed and that belief shone through.
It’ll be interesting to see who Arsene gives the armband to if TV stays. I’m not sure if there’s been a precedent to a club captain being stripped of captaincy. Personally, my vote would go to Arteta. I wouldn’t want to give the armband to Jack just yet. It would put added pressure on him.
Or perhaps if Cesc returns, give it back to Cesc 🙂
3 – Capture the fans imagination, change the press narrative
Think of Arsenal FC, and the narrative over the last few seasons has been about the club’s financial security, selling key players, lack of ambition, sub standard signings, lack of bottle, manager losing the plot, unhappy fans etc etc. There has been little positive news.
Despite the fact that all of us, as fans, have our own opinions regarding the club, we are strongly and unconsciously swayed by the noise from news media, blogs and social media. The narrative we are being fed becomes vital in this regards, because this narrative plays a huge part in the fans going against the club rather than supporting it through thick and thin. Of course, with modern media, the fickleness of all of us has become pronounced. We don’t have patience nowadays. We need everything instantly.
Because of the above, I don’t believe the fans have been excited about the club or particularly proud of the direction of the club. It is hence vital for Arsenal to capture the fans imagination and change the narrative being spewed out by the media. So, Arsenal must make a statement of intent.
The narrative I would love to see for the next season would be “Arsenal mean business”. For this it is important for something monumental to happen. Hark back to the era of the unbeaten invincibles, did we not get excited about that? Hark back to the battles between Arsenal and Man U, despite winning/losing titles. Hark back to Lehmann keeping clean sheets leading up to the Champions League final and the run itself. Hark back to beating Real 1-0 away. Hark back to leading Barca for 78 minutes in the final. Hark back to the 0-0 FA Cup final vs. Man U when we were battered but we won on penalties. Hark back to winning the league in Old Trafford and Spurs. Hark back to Jose Antonio Reyes and Arshavin’s captures. The 4-4 vs. Liverpool. Even the 3-0 vs. Milan last season.
The funny thing is that the memories become less exciting in the last few seasons, so that has to change. My personal favorite way to achieve that would be Cesc returning. Or, perhaps another marquee signing to show we mean business. Or perhaps another unbeaten run… here’s hoping!
4 – Be strong against the top six, and clinical against lower half opposition
We have been quite abysmal this season against the top six, and I felt that has played a huge part in our struggle. This partially for me has been due to the fact that we have had many new players, and partially because of a general lack of belief in the team that we can compete with the top teams. This in particular was most visible in the first half of the season, and partially has come about because of the massive loss to Man U last season. I believe the psychological impact of that loss still resounds, and it is vital that we show the world that we can beat the likes of Man u, City and Chelsea when it matters.
Interestingly, in some of the previous seasons, we did quite well against the top six, but let in draws and losses against lower opposition. This is again something that needs to be guarded against.
We need to be consistent and clinical, and have that collective belief about us and the bit between our teeth. I was unbelievably proud of how we harried Man U in the first half of the game on the weekend, and that is how we need to play consistently. With hunger and intensity.
No fan will complain if that level of quality remains.
Against the top six, pick up home wins and away draws, and we’re laughing! Against the rest, be clinical and finish them off!
5 – Do the basics right and have clear objectives
Finally, I believe that for a large part of this season, we lost track of the fundamentals. The basics are vital, and even a poor team can get a result if the basics are done right. Solid no nonsense defending, making the right pass while up field, and pressing and harrying are things that we can be good at, but struggle to do consistently. If we get these basics right and don’t panic as we are liable to do quite often, then we will be sure to have a solid season.
At the same time, in terms of the basics, the manager and the squad need to be sure about their objectives and priorities in achieving those objectives. For me unless we don’t make the right buys, we are not in a position to challenge for the EPL, so therefore the realistic bet for getting a trophy can only be the FA CUP or the League Cup. The manager needs to know what he wants for the team, and make the right basic decisions to achieve the said. Buying an expensive quality player is just one of those decisions.
It’ll be interesting to hear what you guys think of some of these points and if you feel there can be further things that need to change!
Written by: Umair Naeem.