By Cosmic Kid
In the aftermath of another last 16 knockout to Monaco in the Champions League this week, I have come across numerous articles and people heavily criticising Arsenal. These critics have said amongst other things that the Gunners have failed to improve this season. However, I do not agree with that statement as I believe that the team have shown signs of progress in the last few months. It is always easy for people to look at only a few facts when presenting an argument; but just like with a book you should never judge by its cover.
The first point I want to make is that yes, when you look at the Premier League table after 29 matches this season, we are 5 points worse off as compared to the last season. We led the Premier League for most of last season before falling away towards the end. However the 5 point margin really says nothing about our form. On the 22nd of March 2014 we were in the title race and had a match at Stamford Bridge. A victory in that game would bring us within one point of Chelsea with a game in hand. Ultimately, we lost that match 6-0 and that was effectively the end of our title ambitions. Last season, we lost our way at the start of February with the 5-1 loss at Anfield; and ultimately stuttered to the finish line in fourth. This season however, we are on a 5 game winning run and looking good for 2nd place and direct Champions League qualification.
The point I am trying to make here is that we are on an upward curve, and were it not for a very poor start to the season where we only won 2 of our opening 8 matches then we would be serious title contenders. I think it is obvious that the team struggled post World Cup and couldn’t find a settled formation to play with. Another point that people seldom mention is the fact that we had numerous players that needed time to adjust to life at the club. We bought 5 new players over the summer; Sanchez, Debuchy, Ospina, Chambers and Welbeck. It is unusual for Arsenal to add 5 key players to the squad in one window so it’s obvious looking back now that time was needed. It turns out that 3 are definite starters (Sanchez, Ospina and Debuchy), while Welbeck would be ahead of Walcott in the pecking order. Chambers would be the only new recruit to serve mostly as a backup, so doesn’t it make sense that it would take the team time to adjust?
That also brings me on to my next point which is quite simple; our squad depth is much better. I don’t want to go into this in too much detail, as it has been all done before. I am sure that everyone would agree on this part. The one big area of concern for every Arsenal fan and really the only place we were weaker this season was central defence. Everyone likes to point out that we let Thomas Vermaelen leave, but we also let Sagna leave and he filled in at centre back as well. We virtually let two centre backs leave and brought in a single inexperienced defender to replace them. That was Wenger’s biggest failure this season, and was a major factor in our poor start. However we have fixed that problem with the purchase of Gabriel, who now offers us plenty of options at the back; especially with the emergence of Hector Bellerin as a viable option. In attack, I think, suffice it to say that we have so much depth and quality there that we can afford to loan out Podolski and Walcott looks as though he will stay on the periphery for the foreseeable future. Imagine saying that last season, when we were all calling out for Theo’s return?
To add further to the above point is the fact that numerous players have improved immensely this season. I have said on numerous occasions that Monreal has been our best defender this season. It looks as though the time he was forced to play at centre back has helped him develop his game and take it to a new level. I have been hugely impressed with him and would have him in my team ahead of Gibbs every time, this season. I also think Olivier Giroud has improved greatly, and is scoring goals against the big teams to prove that (Man Utd, Everton, City, Liverpool etc.) I also have to mention Bellerin who has really stepped up from the periphery and Coquelin who was recalled from loan in December. Coquelin has been a revelation this season and has provided a temporary, or possibly a permanent solution to our defensive midfield woes. Santi Cazorla has also added another dimension to his game this season; he has been irreplaceable for us but such is the strength in depth up front, people were debating whether he should be the one dropped in order to fit Ramsey back into the starting 11.
I also believe that we have been far better in the big games this season, particularly away from home where we were criticised the most. We have beaten Man City away, drawn at Anfield and only lost a tight 2-0 game at Stamford Bridge after giving away a penalty. We still have to travel to Old Trafford but we have beaten United there in the FA Cup already. On the other hand people will point out that we beat Spurs twice (three, if you count the cup) last season and this season we have only a draw to show for our efforts. That is a perfectly valid point; however, I would ask, is Spurs really one of the big games? It is a derby match, which makes it an important match; one of the most important games in the season, but I wouldn’t class it as a game in the same category as Liverpool, Man United, Man City or Chelsea. I would also say that if you want to include Spurs, then we should include Everton also, who pushed us very close for 4th spot last season. We have 4 points this season compared to the one draw against them in 2013/14.
What I can say with confidence however, is that we have improved our performances in these games. In football, as the manager often says, all you can do is focus on your performance and hopefully get the right result. It can happen that you put in a great performance and lose the game; that is the nature of this sport and that is what troubled fans most of all about last season; losing in such an unacceptable manner. Let’s hope we can continue to improve in this area with our more effective counter attacking method.
I would finally like to say that even in defeat there are signs of improvement and I think we have seen a lot of lazy journalism in the type of criticism Arsenal got for not qualifying for the quarter final. It certainly is right to criticize the team for not qualifying; but to say that there are no signs of improvement in the team is daft. I genuinely believe that we are a better team this season. Although I have pointed out my reasons for why I believe this, it will mean very little if we do not secure a Champions League spot, and retain our FA Cup as well. It will be difficult to retain it with a dangerous Liverpool side still in the competition, but we can certainly do it should we progress against Reading first. Let’s hope we can take these improvements in the squad on into the next season and really challenge for the Premier League; I definitely believe we are capable.
Follow me on twitter @Cosmic__Kid and also have a look at my blog Arsenal: The Wild And The Innocent.