If you’d said…. Some end of season thoughts
If, at the beginning of the year, you told me: “Arsenal will finish about Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and all of Manchester, and do so by a margin greater than 1 game (3 points) in all but one case” .. I would have figured, we had won the league! And rightly so on past seasons and expectations
So, clearly, we did all that, and didn’t.
So, what changed?
If you said, Arsenal will have injuries, but perhaps not hugely more than others, depending on the countering. I would have agreed wholeheartedly, and been happy.
And we did, but strangely, I am not too happy about it…
So, what gives?
Taking the points in order from above.
So, what changed? On finishing second:
The Leicester story seems one for the ages, and one that by the end wasn’t going to be denied, it seems. It brought back a flood of memories from watching the “miracle on ice” in the 1980 Winter Olympics. To paraphrase, “it shoulda never happened, but it did!”
An American might say “that’s why we play the games”. If we hadn’t, we would have all ranked the teams wrongly.
What I don’t believe are things like “the league was weak this year” and all the variations on that theme. It implies that all the other teams were “weak”. Yet, Manchester spent the usual fortunes (plural), as did Chelsea, from last year’s very strong teams that finished above or near to us. The players brought in did the usual ratios of very well to not so much as well. The managers were all keen to win.
No, what I think we see here are two things. One, is a bit of magic in the Leicester story, mixed with a magical coming of age of Vardy and Co. Who’da thunk it!?
The second, is more germane, but one that will only grow, I think, with the new money coming for TV contracts to the EPL next year. Parity. A dreadful word that means “less likely to dominate” in the sporting world.
This year, perhaps more than any other year, there were no guarantees. The best players and 3 deep squads of national team stars, were not enough to “guarantee” victories like they used to, give or take the rarest of upsets. Draws and occasional losses are now more routine, barring playing the disaster that was Villa this year.
Look only to what happened to Spurs on this last, St Totteringham’s, day of the season. Newcastle had no right to do much, but … 4-1 or was it 5?
For now at least, I think the days of expected victories will decline. Yes, “should win” will be there, but “will win” is losing its definiteness. Parity, a word in sports that favours good organisations over great teams – something to which we can claim to have
So, what gives? On “what if” and injuries:
So, a final thought, for those who wonder “what if?” … If I had to summarise our season, I would call it bad luck. I did a bit of a troll about and counted injuries. We are injured more or less, depending on how you count, but I think that it misses a point. The bad luck is where you get injuries, not how many you have per se.
Our main losses this year, for longer periods, include: Santi, Jack, Ramsey, Coquelin, Ox, and Theo from the “stars” if you will, and: Flamini, Arteta, Rosicky from “yesterday’s stars” perhaps. Yes, others, but this list is the key point.
Where do almost all of them play? Central midfield… The exceptions are Theo and (some of) Rosicky who liked to drift inside anyway, and Ox. And in our system our wide midfielders drift in to create space for Bellerin and Nacho, so they could all be seen as being there to an extent. Still, the main point is that Arsenal lost about 2 teams worth of central midfielders. People who could start for many teams, and in the deeper lying defensive/distributing and box-box area that drives Arsenal’s style – and many teams these days.
A top duo there and you are on top, say like Santi and Coquelin early going, Ngolo Kante and whomever this year for Leicester. Confusion in any sense around there (eg a disinterested (?) Yaya), and you have serious issues against even mid table teams.
And there, I think, is the luck factor that drives things. Imagine, the what if’s! What if:
- Santi had remained healthy
- Jack had stayed fit and gotten fitter and appeared more
- Coquelin had not gotten hurt
Or just one of those things and we might have seen a different season. One where we didn’t rely too much on an aging Flamini before we got Elneny, one where we didn’t have to wonder where the central magic and holding would come from because we had Santi to Ozil to everyone else on pace – and as an aside, I think that’s what hurt Ozil’s second half season a lot. Recall finally, there was only one team that took full points from two matches with Leicester this year, and it was a largely fully healthy core central midfield on both of those occasions.
Every team can go through this exercise, and do. We could well ask, are the injuries due to Arsenal’s style? Something that must change to be more injury free? The player’s style? A curse that requires stirring burnt offerings in the middle of the Emirates?
Who knows? But, for Arsenal, for 2015-16, I think the concentration put too big a hole in our middle to cover, and did so at a crucial juncture. Over the summer, this will hopefully close in some useful way, with some leaving and others coming, but for now dat’s dat!
What are your thoughts? I am completely off base? Or, have I explained all, like a mighty oracle?
Now on to the mindless madness of the mid-summer window of doom, and have a great summer, we aren’t too far away from game 1 again!