It has been a whirlwind of a season for Arsenal this year. The poor start to the league before the incredible run of form that saw us lead the league table for a mighty long time followed by the collapse in the league and finally the FA cup triumph that ended the trophy drought. For many observers, this seems like a typical Arsenal season and sure enough in some aspects that is the case, but I have seen real progress in this team this term. Of course the proverbial monkey is off our back now that we won the cup, the biggest testament to this growth.
One of the biggest strides we have made this season (if not the biggest) is the assembly of the rock solid defensive unit of Szczesny, Koscielny and Mertesacker. For me Koscielny is the best defender in the league. Mertesacker is Mr. consistent and Szczesny’s golden glove prize says everything I need to. Bac has been phenomenal for us too, but i hesitate to dwell too much on him as his departure is all but rubber stamped. This defensive unit (barring the humiliation at the hands of Chelsea, Liverpool and city) was the best in the league. The aforementioned defeats are a result of our poor tactical nous at the middle of the park but I will get to that in a bit. Defense has been a major achilles heel for Arsenal since the pairing of Campbell and Keown but that is now a thing of the past. In Szczesny, we have a true heir to David Seaman’s throne.
Secondly, has been Arsenal’s ability to grind out wins, which is a testament to the brilliance of our defense. Before when Arsenal took an early lead you always felt nervous at 1-0 because we would eventually crumble and either draw or lose. This season however we have learned how to ‘win ugly’ as many would put it. Perfect examples are the wins against Spurs, Dortmund away and many more.
Thirdly, there is the coming of age of some of our players. Biggest of them all, Aaron Ramsey. I mean we all saw his potential before his leg break but nobody could have predicted what we saw this season. He has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has consistently put in match winning displays when fit, sometimes showing lashes of skill that the likes Ronaldinho and Zidane would be proud of. Another has been Theo Walcott. Though he has been injured for the most part, he has shown that he can be the 30 goal a season player we always thought him to be. It’s a shame we lost both at such crucial times of the season.
Last but not least, is the fact that Wenger has finally shown us that he is willing to spend money on world class talent. With the acquisition of Ozil, Wenger has proved that he is willing to spend big on the right players, something he will need to do more of if we are to build on our recent FA cup success. I find it hard to believe that our first trophy in years after we brought in a world class player is pure coincidence.
There have been a few negatives that saw us surrender the league title to Man City. They can all be summed up in one sentence; Wenger’s lack of tactical prowess. This comes out in a number of ways.
First and most frustrating of all is his inability to manage his squad effectively. Arsene Wenger simply does not know how to rotate his squad. He will play his best 11 week in week out until they either get injured or lose form due to fatigue. In my opinion apart from Theo Walcott, all the other injuries we got this season could have been avoided. Allow me to explain. When we started the season, we had Wilshere and Theo injured but were coming back. Wilshere’s had been long term and Theo’s short term. This meant that Ramsey got his chance to play, along with Gnabry. However, not long after Theo returned, regaining his place on the right meaning we had a midfield of Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott and Santi (our best line up). So they played until Theo was injured again. But Wilshere soon returned. Note that with his well documented injury issues, he needed to be eased back in. Wenger would have none of it. He was played, even at times on the flank leaving a fit Ox and Gnabry on the bench. His worst performances came from the flank mind you. This team played on until both Ramsey and Wilshere (both of who thrive on the B2B role and would have shared the responsibility brilliantly) were injured due to the sheer amount of games they played. All this while, the Ox, Gnabry and Rosicky on the bench. Same to Mesut, a player who needed to be carefully introduced to the English game. He was played until he lost form and ultimately got injured yet Tomas sat on the bench unused. Look at players like Mertesacker and Bac who played almost every single game this year when TV5 was left unused. Podolski, one of our best players played a very small part in our league campaign despite being our best finisher. The examples go on and on. What is the point in having a big squad if the boss won’t use it?
Secondly I feel that our traditional beautiful game has been compromised. Our lack of pace makes what used to be scintillating displays in slow, labored, boring football. Our quick paced passing was seen in flashes like in that fantastic goal vs Norwich but majority of the time it was that slow passing that was at times difficult to watch. This made defences harder to break down, a major reason why we seldom won by big margins. We need some pace in that team.
Finally, Wenger’s lack of a midfield plan. Gary Neville said that at times it is like Wenger picks his midfield and asks them to play as they feel. For most parts I tend to agree with him. He has managed to assemble a very talented midfield but they are all too similar, especially when we lose the ball. There is no positional discipline, no tactical defensive shape, no coordinated pressing of the ball. This leaves the defense open and vulnerable to attacks. This explains the routs we received. Wenger, at the very least, needs to bring in a proper DM who shields the back for properly. Arteta’s lack of pace and aging legs have been exploited more than once this season.
All in all, it has been a good season. The lads have tasted victory and now it is up to Arsene to bring in 3-4 world class players ( a world class DM of the Javi Martinez mould, a pacy, goal getting left sided winger and a 30+ goal a season striker) to elevate us to title and UCL contenders. At this point, no Gooner is willing to go back to the trophy-less years – rather would see our glory days return.
Written by: Marcus