In truth, we should just play the games and get our answer afterwards. Of course, since we can’t do that right now, and, because Gooners need answers, we must speculate.
Some might say, “Hey we’re top of the table, so why not?” If that’s you, you probably cannot consider yourself a true purveyor of Gloom and Doom. Those words both rhyme with Goon(er). Must all Gooners be Doomers?
While I’m a firm believer that low expectations are the key to happiness, I also believe that being overly pessimistic isn’t absolutely necessary. It may help prevent against jinxes and what-not, but, if that’s the factor which makes you throw in the towel , I have to say I don’t think you’re quite ready for full Would-Be-Wenger certification.
Even tough-guys know that Jinx is a pussy cat…
Brace yourself, Fokker, here it comes… the away fixture list:
January 13: Liverpool
January 17: Stoke City
February 7: Bournemouth
February 28: Manchester United
March 5: Tottenham Hotspur
March 19: Everton
April 9: West Ham
April 23: Sunderland
May 7: Manchester City
Look at that list!! Seven of our remaining (nine) away matches are against teams in the (current) top eleven!! That’s it, it’s done. We’re done. Better if we just could forfeit those matches and try to win the home games and maybe catch a break in the FA Cup…Assuming we can get past Sunderland next Saturday.
In truth, it IS a daunting schedule. ALL of those teams have taken some major scalps already this season except perhaps Sunderland. Even that one is trouble. We play them near the end of the season when they may be scrapping to stay up. Remember that the Black Cats took points from us at the same time last year–in our stadium.
That’s where the doom ends…at least for this article. Here comes the spin… And, it has to do with tactics…
But wait, Arsene Wenger doesn’t do tactics… OK, that’s it for the doomers…
More serious observers will have noted that, in fact, Wenger–or at least his team–can alter playing strategies. In fact, some of our most notable victories this past year have come by ceding possession and playing on the break–a tactic which, I believe, is easier to employ in away stadiums.
The blueprint, of course, was Manchester City away almost a year ago when Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla marshalled the troops with a double defensive midfield formation which got us a very big result.
But they’re both injured. (Ugh, those doomer voices aren’t quite silenced…) True dat, as the kids say, but Le Coq is up and running again and could be available for the majority of the away matches. Santi is further off but we should remember who we didn’t have for that ManCity game. At that juncture, Mesut Ozil was almost back from injury and Aaron Ramsey was only fit enough for a bench appearance.
But they’re both “attacking” midfielders. (Shut up, I say, but the voices of doom might have a point…) To answer, I say (DM/RB) Flamini, (RB/CB and now DM) Chambers, PLUS, El Capitan (Mikel Arteta, the original and older but better coiffed, Santi, perhaps…) and a certain Egyptian who might borrow his solidity from the pyramids famous in his country of birth or from the Swiss Alps where he’s been plying his trade. By the way, El Capitan, where I’m from in the mountains of California, looks like this:
Regardless of who plays, I think, with the correct team mentality, i.e. tactical approach, this Arsenal squad has a very good chance to get some results from these matches. Home teams, if given the ball, naturally want to venture forward with it. That’s just how things work. Home crowds get excited when their team has the ball (and nervous when they don’t) and players play to those emotions.
Another factor could be set pieces. With Ozil delivering and big fellas like Giroud, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gabriel attacking them, we suddenly can play for these moments. (Being the least cynical team, i.e., bottom of the league in fouls committed, might help too.) With those same players defending, and clean sheet record-holder Cech wearing the gloves, we might nick some points by gaining a positive differential in goals from these plays. Regardless, they are always nervy moments in the home stadium so another element which should help on our travels.
In fact, we might wish to worry about OUR home matches for these very same reasons. For that, just see my match previews, where I always worry…
Would we be playing for nil-nil if we set up to play on the break? I don’t necessarily believe so, but a few results of that sort wouldn’t kill us either. The league is such that almost every match is tough and there’s enough talent up and down the league (thanks to that big television contract, equally distributed to all 20 PL clubs) that, as we’ve seen, almost ANY result is possible in almost any match. It’s true, teams will wear down and have bad patches where they will really struggle–especially on the road. Still, overall, I think, things are changing.
Here’s one I wrote way back in September.
Four rounds of league play had been completed and this was the stat:
Home Teams: 40 played, 9 Wins, 13 Draws, 18 Losses.
In other words, the away team, at least based on that sample, was twice as likely to win their matches (!!!)
I’m sure things have leveled out (and, like Pony Eye would say, reverted to the mean). If anybody can find (or compile) the stat, I’d love to know. The earlier sample, I think, however, does say something: things are simply different than they used to be. This article, by my favorite US-based stats people, still applies. It’s worth a read, in my opinion.
I realize that people cling to their outlooks and the narratives which support them. If you prefer nothing but doom and gloom, have at it. Nonetheless–if that’s not your bent–I’d encourage Gooners to keep an open mind.
I think a move or two here in the transfer window and then a bit of luck with the bounces of the ball and with injuries (or lack thereof–believe you me, I’m touching all the wood I can…) and maybe with the guys who’ve got the whistle in their mouths, and this Arsenal team can build upon the lovely team spirit we’ve already shown to face up to these tough away fixtures and do enough to at least give it a real go for the league title.
It won’t be easy and yes, we’ve got a lot of top half teams to play in their stadiums, but, perverse as it may seem, it might just work to our advantage.
Besides, who wants easy, anyhow? The bigger the mountain, the sweeter the view from the summit, when you (finally) get there.
What do you think, fellow Kampers?