The Gunners are Banging Hard on the Door of the Invincibles – Or are They?

In our last match, against Manchester United, our team was at its devastating best.  In spite of that display, doubts continue to linger in the minds of a section of our fans about our ability to consistently perform on that level.  Those fans must be thinking, “We fans have seen it before, haven’t we? The perplexing, now-we-see-it, now-we-don’t-see-it phenomenon that has been the story of our team.”  I hasten to add here, that this phenomenon is not peculiar to us alone but, for some reason, ours is always the most topical. Maybe it is the eleven seasons without any of the two biggest trophies (PL and CL) that brings our blips into the sharpest relief in comparison to our immediate competitors.

There are opinions galore regarding the reasons for our “inconsistency” and, as we would expect, the chorus is being led by numerous ‘respected’ pundits.  Some call for formation changes.  Some heap the blame on parsimony and the absence of “world class” additions this summer.  Others won’t get it out of their head that it is a lack of leadership on the field preventing the team from getting anywhere near the consistency of The Invincibles. Gary Neville staked his reputation on front pages asserting that Arsene Wenger can win nothing with the spine of his team not manned by huge, muscle-bound specimens.  (Let’s not go into what opinion Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and co. would have of him.)  As for me, Neville still lives in the long, long gone era of ‘if you miss the ball, don’t miss the man.’

Is there really an issue?  Can we hit, if not the heights we seem able to reach in certain matches, the consistency of The Invincibles?  With the brilliance we seem capable of, can we, at the end of the season, be champions of the Premier League, or, at the worst, a point or two off the mark? Let us go into this very slowly.

(1)  In most of our matches Arsenal dominate possession.  We dominate games through patient horizontal build up filled with pretty little triangles.  This system not only keeps the ball away from the opponent but also allows the team to keep its shape as it probes for gaps in our opponent’s defense.  While attacking, the team is at one and the same time defending through possession.  The philosophy here attempts to achieve positive balance through the fusion of offense and defense. (Refer: Johan Cruyff/Pep Guardiola).  We seem so well at home playing this way.

(2) Watch our first half against Man U.  It was a blitz.  Quick vertical transition.  This pattern is offensively weighted.  It normally goes with more turnovers than the horizontal build up.  Also, defensive shape is more liable to be compromised as the team stream forward in attack and the players here have to keep alternating mentality very quickly.  Offensive mindset instantly switched to defense, back to offense, to defense, offense, defense… Counter pressing is an integral element of the quick transition play and it is designed to keep triggering the alternating offensive/defensive demands of the system. (Refer: Jurgen Klopp).  In that first half versus Man U, Arsenal showed that they are well versed in this philosophy.

(3) Watch our second half against Man U.  It was a defensive master class.  We were very comfortable letting Man U have the ball, the antithesis of possession play. We sat deep, closing the passing lanes, but alert to the inevitable opportunity that does open up for counters.  Such a tactical set-up normally has the fans of the defending team biting their nails nervously, while the players, drilled in the knowledge that the hunter is in fact a prey, are able to retain their calmness. (Refer: Catenaccio MK2).  We have demonstrated many times that we have great aptitude for this strategy.

So, as a first summary, we know we are good (very good) at possession football, at quick transition play and very convincing sitting deep and countering. We seem to have it all. We can switch from one pattern to the other as situations demand. Yet, on the evidence of the lack of cup winning consistency, there must be something, somewhere, that we have not mastered.  Is it something structural, having to do with the formations that we use or is it the technical qualities of the players, the fitness level of the team? Or maybe it is attitudinal, connected to confidence, to belief, to commitment or to focus?

Formation can be made not to vary from match to match.  Santi Cazorla’s skills or energy level, for example, one would expect to oscillate only within a tiny range from match to match.  On notes such as these, consistency in performances might be guaranteed. On the other hand the human mood can swing wildly. Still, it swings more in some, less in others. Inconsistency, which is a swing in performance, logically, must be an attitudinal issue.  As an example, the handbrake-on-syndrome can only be an attitudinal issue.

Do we have players in our team, lacking attitudinal stability?  Without hesitation, I give a clean bill to Sanchez.  He gives his all, all the time.  Monreal is the quintessential professional.  Coquelin is a rock.  Gabriel is almost overflowing with all that is needed from him, attitude wise.  I like that young man Bellerin.  He is growing up nicely… But wait a minute, am I beginning to get ahead of myself?  First, let us find out what that right attitude is.

Right attitude?  The most critical, the most fundamental demand on which every thing else hinges on, is that a player must be able to sacrifice his will for the will of the team.  In other words, on the field of play, there is only one will–that of the team. It is most important that every player understands this emotionally.  Every action of every player must be to benefit the team and never the self.  The self disappears and beauty becomes only discernible in the group. When that point has been reached, attitudes become correctly aligned, feeding and giving to one another to create a formidable, consistent team spirit or mentality.  No wonder Mikel Arteta is the captain of this talented team.  Do you want to join me in celebrating him?

Attitudinal issues cannot be tackled detail by detail. They are too subtle, too elusive.  They belong to the world of the intangibles.  They can only be besieged with large diagrams and given time, metals will turn into gold.  I have a feeling you have already guessed where I am heading to.  The surest way to tackle the lack of confidence (or the over-confidence) of a player is to redirect that player’s mind to the work of serving the team, of giving his all to his comrades.  Psychologically speaking, the player ceases to exist, only the team, of which he is but a part, exists.  So too for issues of commitment, concentration, and all other attitudinal challenges.  Working with the team and for the team on itself is an instrument for positive self change.

Right attitudes are also skills which require time to acquire or enhance. When we talk about the experience of the older players we are referring, more or less, to their greater attitudinal stability.  Le Prof is a master of the intangibles.  That is why he places so much value on the likes of Mertesaker, Arteta, Rosicky, Petr Cech.  Alchemists all, he knows their value in the dressing room.

In the last 38 epl matches, Arsenal is tied in the first position with Manchester City on 80 points.  We are leading the 2015 table with 58 points from 27 games. For this season we are currently second, 2 points behind the leaders Man City.  We are the 2015 FA cup holders.  WhoScored ratings put us currently at 3rd position in Europe’s top 5 leagues for 2015/16, behind Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.  Amazingly, the roar, from some quarters, of Arsenal’s inconsistency continues unabated.  Mass hysteria is a terrible affliction.

People say that Le Prof does not talk enough, that he does not provide enough information.  To those who have ears, he speaks ever so eloquently. When he said to us over a season ago, “We are now in a position not to lose our players,” he was telling us that the wound to his heart and to our hearts by the departures suffered in seasons past have now begun to heal.  When he said, “Cohesion”, he was saying, healed, completely healed.  We are now on the home stretch, and he, Le Prof, is already banging on the door of The Invincibles.

We are the 12th man on the field. Our job is to lift the team, so that they in turn will lift us. Together, even when the gods insist we lose a match, we will troop home singing our song of victory.

Who next? — Watford.  Here we come. — COYG!!!

by Pony Eye

24 thoughts on “The Gunners are Banging Hard on the Door of the Invincibles – Or are They?

  • I have also had the same feeling that we are always the best but just that we are missing something.

  • Hey PE… Thanks for the very good and very positive post! You highlight all the good things on display vs ManU and the key elements of how a group of individuals can become a real team. I like that you conclude with a word for the fans, even if things might not always go so well…

    In my opinion, these elements are essential in getting us a notch ahead of the “assembled” teams, who, on paper, or ‘everything else being equal,’ should beat us. I’m not sure, with the strength of the new money in the game (trickling down to the lesser teams through TV contracts, too), ANY team can match the consistency of the that 2004 group, however… It all adds to the challenge, so doing something special with this group could be (IMO) even more meaningful…

    To carry on from TA’s previous post, we need a bit of luck–in matches (from refs, other teams not playing blinders, hitting the inside of posts rather than the outsides, etc., etc…) and over time with injuries and players finding the best in their games… I do believe, however, that we can help ourselves get these (very) subtle edges by working together as a real team and putting aside all the negativity polluting our air…

    Pundits and the press will always play ‘Devil’s advocate’ and many supporters will echo their thoughts with worries about how things will turn out. If we must take a long term view it seems natural–and it may help protect emotions from match to match too–to keep expectations realistic. Sliding in a bit of the “I told you so” insurance policy (but I hope I’m wrong…) also seems a temptation for many…

    Hell, even AW said so right after the United match, suggesting that, “We can’t always play so well.” Still, if it’s a love of the ‘beautiful game’ that we share, why not celebrate it and fully enjoy or even cherish a match like that one, while, of course, moving on to the next one… On that note, I need to find time to write a Watford preview even as we try to get out of the house today to start our Euro travels… Argh…

  • PE, this is a little gem of a post and I like your flowery style (and a good edit by 17HT helps as well). You are pointing towards a gradual improvement for us which is the bigger picture many seem to be missing. Instead, we get knee-jerk keyboard hero reactions to the smallest of setbacks.

    I am not so sure about your point re sacrificing the self to the team. Arsene likes his players to express themself and find the rather delicate balance between working for the team and taking the initiative, with a healthy dose of selfishness. Guardiola, Van Gaal and Klopp are more of the total team sacrifice types, whereas Cruijff, Wenger and Rijkaard want ‘system with freedom of expression’. As a Dutchman I am divided as both systems can achieve high rewards, but I know that Wenger is more dependent on the quality and form of his top players in our system which makes us more vulnerable. Mid-nineties Ajax under Van Gaal was probably the best system of football I have seen together with Guardiola’s Barcelona of course. Arsenal have the potential to get close to this, or there altogether, in the next few years.

  • My main worry in the ManU game was the number of gilt-edged chances we threw away. Ramsey, Giroud, Ozil and the Ox could have, should have given us more goals. Genuine title aspirants put away their chances especially when those chances come against main rivals

  • I do not think I am in the right frame of mind to comment on your very readable post Pony Eye.

    If I answer it honestly I am suddenly a self declared Doomer. If I answer diplomatically, using words like ‘rose-tinted’ then I have not gone into enough detail. If I say nothing then I am hiding away?

    So another tack. I think you have identified some of the things that lead to inconsistency, but not really how to get over them.

    The opening premise regarding the ‘Invincibles’ is also flawed, imo. For crying out loud, the history books will tell you they rode their luck and got away with it. They would not cope in the present day league. Yes, it was a certain belief that they carried over from the first half of the season with exceptional team spirit and some fabulous players that gelled perfectly. I am pretty sure were would be a more complete team were we unbeaten at this stage, let alone by Christmas? … But we got beaten on the opening day! That on the back of one of our best pre-season run ins.
    We even got beaten in the game prior to the Man U game. So on the basis of that game we are now supercharged heroes that will keep repeating that type of play week in week out. I see no basis for that whatsoever.
    Why, because of what I have being saying previously. Every opposition that we play against will not be as accommodating as Man U. Please look at the first half again. Yes we played immaculate football, the best I have seen in a long while .. But listen to the commentary by the aforementioned Gary Neville. He was screaming for someone to get back and help their full back, formally a winger. That was meant to be their main attacking line, but their defensive shield was playing on the halfway line, and the speed of our passing left him for dead. I repeat, how many teams are going to be that obliging?
    The second half we could afford to get everybody behind the ball with a 3 goal lead. We know to our own cost how difficult that can be to breakdown, and even harder when you barely get a shot on target and the prospect of getting nothing from the game looms larger. It was absolutely fantastic to see our defence play with such team, discipline. It really was. But building a title winning challenge based on one game is naivety at its very worst … imo, naturally.

    Whatever happened to OGAAT? I will be as happy as anyone if we beat Watford in similar fashion. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We have to build an air of invincibility. One Game At A Time!

    Just as the ‘Invincibles’ would not cope with the demands of the current game, we need more than a core 11 plus 3 subs. There hangs the problem I think. We do not have the players to drop in and keep the continuity going. Every change will require a thorough look at the impact their style will make. It is too simplistic to say we X to cover for Y, or A to cover for B, if either change alters the dynamic of the team. It does not matter if we have a surfeit of midfielders, they all play differently, with different strengths and weaknesses.. Giroud for Walcott, Arteta for Coquelin, Jack(when he returns) for Ozil. Not to take this into account is the foundation for inconsistency.

    I am sure AW will be working on this in the training ground, I nearly wrote ‘playground’ then, such is the difference of putting things in practice in a competitive game. I am not saying it cannot be done, but with the squad we have it is going to be a very hard task to keep the balance, at the same time as rotate, or worse, replace because of injury.

    So, feet on the ground, hope for the growth of understanding continues, but don’t be surprise if it fails from time to time.

  • ‘The opening premise regarding the ‘Invincibles’ is also flawed, imo. For crying out loud, the history books will tell you they rode their luck and got away with it.’

    Which history books, Gerry? Yours only I reckon. You can talk some gibberish mate. I am also still waiting for your quote re Wenger wanting to win the league next season and not during the current one. Just because there is nothing between your fingers and the key board, it does not mean you can get away with this sort of rubbish. Facts please!

  • ‘It is too simplistic to say we [have] X to cover for Y, or A to cover for B, if either change alters the dynamic of the team. It does not matter if we have a surfeit of midfielders, they all play differently, with different strengths and weaknesses.. Giroud for Walcott, Arteta for Coquelin, Jack(when he returns) for Ozil. Not to take this into account is the foundation for inconsistency.’

    Everybody knows this and it goes for all teams. Injuries and suspensions impact on a team, we all agree. How many games did the Chavs win after Costa was suspended? How will Citeh deal with the absence of their super scorer Aquero and creator Villa….? Of course it changes the dynamics but key is to have a squad with depth and quality which we have. You are probably still feeling soar from Wenger not buying anybody other than Cech but that is not an excuse to not look at the facts re our squad.

  • ‘We even got beaten in the game prior to the Man U game. So on the basis of that game we are now supercharged heroes that will keep repeating that type of play week in week out. I see no basis for that whatsoever.’

    Read the post again Gerry and find out how PE is using a longer period of success to base his views on. The one game heroes scenario is NOT what this post is based on..

  • Hi folks,

    My post, in fact no line of it should be interpreted too rigidly otherwise it’s meaning could be lost. For example:
    “The Invincibles” is used merely as the symbol of our pride and hope, while “consistency” does not mean a season without blips but rather a level of performance that guarantees a good shot at the title.

    Sacrificing the self to the team as HT correctly put it is “…….. the key elements of how a group of individuals can become a real team.” It has nothing to do with the playing style or philosophy. It admits styles that are very strictly structured as in Gaudiola’s, or with styles with spaces for on-field improvisation as in the Wenger way. Even with the spaces all acts are for the team and not the self.

  • How can anybody still moan after those impressive numbers on the last 38 epl games, the 2015 table, this season’s table, the FA cup, the respected WhoScored rating. TA, I had to go through your last post to fish out the right word to describe them with. Persimists. I don’t allow my fears to suffocate my thrills or dampen my hopes.

  • In this era of the individual, in a certain way, at least, it’s ALL about becoming more than the sum of the parts… In my humble opinion… Even here on the internet, all of us isolated in our individual lives, we come together to share about our football team, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves…

    Or not. Maybe we get on just to clarify our own thoughts and see our words–in all their supposed glory–reflected back to us in a slightly different font.

    TA is right, it’s always a balance, express yourself as an individual, but maybe do so in a team context. That’s a reason, for example, a couple of posts back, I chose to highlight Ramsey’s contributions in the ManU match. He was there on all three goals (Ozil could have put him in on the right instead of shooting himself for the 2nd…) but many will only see the glaring miss that should have been #4…

    Yes, Gerry, it is a game of failure, repeated failure and then more failure…Almost like life itself. How then do we keep at it?… How do we dare to have a hope or try something new and different? Too much philosophizing, I know, and maybe I’m just geeing myself up to prep the house for winter and get my sorry arse packed up for my travels, which are both expensive and a waste of time…except that–you never know–we might see some interesting things, meet some fun people and make some memories… 🙂

    Kind of like football, if you look at it in a certain way…. Dammit I still gotta write that preview for the match we cannot win at Watford. (You know, even if we win it, it’s only Watford, etc., etc.)

    So, more appreciation for PE’s appreciation of what our team (and our manager) have shown signs they might be able to do… Even if it all evaporates and we take a Watford whupping, it might still (have) be(en) something…

    It all depends on your perspective, I guess… 😦

  • Persimists is the name for footballers who once hit almost every ball into the net and now cannot kick a dent in a packet of butter (as the Dutch saying goes). 😀

  • PE, you beat me to it… 😀

    You can be a rich man with nothing or a poor man with everything, or something…

    That said, we ought to try and get beyond beating each other over the head with our perspectives and our told you so-s and all that… There are elements to be enjoyed (I think) and even ideas for the future (no matter how silly…) to be mooted….

    Thank Dennis we have another match (which I believe we can “win”…) in less than 2 days… 47 hours and 53 minutes, to be exact…

  • The optimism is based on a prolonged period of good football, good results, winning the FA cup twice and a lot of key ingredients being right within the team at the moment. So the base and track record are good but of course it is all about playing it game by game, OGAAT by OGAAT and enjoying the journey more than focussing on the outcome continuously. We had a two week break and it is good to take stock, as I am sure we will do again during the next interbore. From Saturday it is all about winning the games, and hopefully in style, one by one. COYG! 🙂

  • Right, as this will be my last contribution, I’ll answer your points up above.

    No I don’t have a reference of the book concerning the Invincibles, because I was quoting one of the players who was playing in the team, talking about those games. I believe he mentioned a 2-2 draw snatched in injury time/ late on. In fact there were many draws, they just didn’t lose any.

    I declined not to answer your first response yesterday as you tried the misquote trick. I did not quote Arsene Wenger. I said his actions in the last transfer window ‘implied’ that he knew the team were short in a couple of areas. Followed up with similar players that he is inquiring about in the forthcoming window.
    That could be too late for this season, and with all the players out on loan next season could be special. If that is what he is building for, then I agree with him.

    Yes I was partly answering your optimistic post earlier. However, if you are not going to take this season as a starting point, then why not include the similar period before Christmas? We had a good run, but it came to a halt against West Ham. We have had a view on stats?

    One of the reasons I am not in a particularly happy frame of mind is partly due to the fact that I awoke early around 2.0am, spent 3 hours on my proposed CL post, and found your somewhat churlish response to my comment about concentrating on the Watford game, agreeing with JK actually..
    About 3/4’s of my comment was about your post, without being too confrontational, with just one line concerning Watford?

    Your second reply the again got it wrong over injuries, so if anybody should go and re-read a comment it is you. I said that injuries are part of the game, from niggles, to one month out , missing 6 games, NOT 6 months out, which of course would affect any team.

    We had a perfectly polite discussion yesterday on the merits of Ramsey, who it seems I have to keep repeating I really rated his performance against Man U.

    Today it seems is not a day for disagreeing. Not a good basis to contribute to a lively blog?

    Enjoy the game …

  • Lunchtime here, quick check in…

    Gerry, there are a couple of problems here… We definitely don’t have to agree about all things… I’m just questioning why we need to be so very (very) concerned about our longer term results. You’ve pointed out why the squad isn’t perfect (or why you have low expectations) but a lot of that is based on unknown worries about the future. (I’d also take all those press reports about transfer business with a few grains of salt, perhaps the total one might find in Utah…) It’s all good ‘planning’ of course (and we’ll all be happy if you’re wrong) but perhaps it’s also a bit of a joyless exercise… Where’s the (wildly irrational, IMO…) belief that Iwobi and Kamara (not to mention Joel Campbell…) will be the answer when all those other guys in the squad flounder/get hurt/can’t find their headless, er, formless way?… 😀

    2nd bit, Both TA and I will be “on the road” over the next week or more so it may be a little tougher trying to edit and publish posts for submission. It will be all we can do to keep up with the matches, I’m guessing… Remember, suggested length of posts = 1000 words No problem going a bit longer if it’s all valuable information but trying to cover all bases (convey all current Arsenal thoughts…which is my issue too…) tends to make things unwieldy. But maybe your thing on the CL is ‘laser-focused’… More smileys, eh…

    TA, I’ll send you an e-mail in a bit…We hoping to have a low key morning (your afternoon) tomorrow, so I should be able to get out the Watford preview at that time…

    Final thought, about the actual post… I agree that we showed a very nice juxtaposition of a couple of different ways of playing in that ManU match. I don’t really believe we can play that pressing game for more than spurts, esp. when the games are coming every three or four days. It’s a simple game, however, so beginning (and ending) halves in that manner are good spots to try to nick goals and (obvious as it may sound) directly after either team scores a goal is a critical time, too. Otherwise, the scoreline (or the pursuit of an ‘acceptable’ scoreline) dictates just about everything. It’s easier with a tighter squad, harder when we rotate more, but there’s some quality in depth waiting to be expressed, I think. Additionally, that 12th man urging us forward or confident we can hold a result always beats the nail-biting… On that note, I’m looking forward to Bayern’s 12th man skipping the first 5 minutes on Tuesday and then trying to show us a brilliant final 85…

  • Cheers Gerry. We are not going to agree on much if anything and I don’t want to keep arguing with you as you are a nice guy. So no more comments from me to you for a while. 🙂

  • The FA have fined Mourinho £50,000 and banned him for one match, suspended…

    Any other manager would stay silent, but not the Special Needs One…

    Nope, he goes on another rant, calling his fine a disgrace…

    He’s rumoured to have ‘lost’ the dressing room and is 10 points behind the leaders City.

    So, is he trying to get Abramovitch to sack him???

    Maybe he has another lucrative job (PSG) lined up?

  • PE, nice post.

    Good analysis and depth.
    The rest have spoken more or less my thoughts, but there is one point i want to touch on.

    Right attitude is objective. There are some games where we have the right attitude but lost it when we are a goal or man down and thats when we start to panic.

    TA, re the invincibles season, our mentality is so strong that even if we are a goal down we still fought our way back. Look at the number of times we came back that way that season.

    What i wanted to say is that we have the mentality, but if we are not strong enough or have strong headed players among the team in the field to push the players, yes, i am talking about Flams, then we are going to have a hard time. So, one game at a time is more important than looking towards the end of the season. We need to dig deep. And keep our feet firmly on the ground.


  • Exactly Allezkev. He knows his time is up as he gets lost and bored after a couple of seasons at any club, and who would not want to live in Paris with a £10m salary…. Je suis l’un de speciale… 🙂

  • Total, watching that classless club, with its classless fans, captained by the appalling John Terry, owned by a megalomaniac and managed by a scumbag, gradually implode, is one of my greatest pleasures from this current season…

    The French are welcome to him…

    L’un des besoins speciaux…

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