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This season, last season. What’s the difference

By Walter Broeckx

What is the difference between The Arsenal this season and Arsenal last season?

For this and last season Arsenal were written off by almost all the pundits and it was sure we were the one who would fall from the top 4.   It is not happening.  Why not?

Last year around this time, the championship for us was over. And now we are only 5 points behind first place and played a game less and we have had some tough trips away from home, where other may lose points as well. We always played good football and with some luck we could have won all our games.

There is not much difference at first sight between the team last year and this year. We sold two players, Adebayor and Toure, and there was only 1 new player brought in Vermaelen.

One can say that we have just one central defender replaced by another. Toure was a good player but the partnership with Gallas did not work and now it seems to be working with Vermaelen and so the team is certainly stronger in defence.

Adebayor was sold and was not replaced. On paper because after a few weeks to fully adjust, Van Persie has come good on that new place for him. Assists, goals, … you name it, he delivers the goods.

So where is the difference? For the real difference we have to go back 1 year earlier. We all know how great we played with a midfield consisting of Flamini, Hleb, Cesc and Rosicky and Adebayor and Van Persie / Eduardo front. A midfield with youth, energy and experience.

It eventually went wrong by heavy and prolonged injuries. But it was in the summer when disaster struck. Wenger, who knew that he could put up a brilliant midfield, suddenly lost 3 of his four midfielders. Rosicky was hurt much worse than first thought and to make matters worse Hleb and Flamini were off to go and sit on the rather comfortable bench in Milan and Barcelona.

The result was that Arsenal suddenly had a huge hole in the heart of the team. The core of the team was gone. 75 percent of the midfield had to be replaced. Wenger had to rebuild and fast.

Denilson was put in the team and some fans and most journalists laughed him away and called him lightweight and not good enough. Song was put in the team and some told he will never be good enough. Diaby came, as he occasionally was fit in the team but fell away again and again by new injuries.

Otherwise Wenger excelled in putting players outside their normal position and caused some more surprise and displeasure with some fans.

Up front there was still a player running around, sorry I correct myself and call it walking. After his stunning season before he thought it unnecessary for him to work hard. Just hanging around on the field and wait until the ball fell at his feet was enough for him. Also frequent and gratuitous running offside. Actually one could say that Arsenal last year, almost always played with 10 players on the field instead of 11.

And yes maybe the moaners had last season are partly right. It was not good enough, especially in the beginning.

But we had to fit in 3 midfielders, Cesc was the only regular starter of the season before and he was also out for a long spell. And anyone who knows a bit of football knows how difficult that is. Especially when the replacements were still very young players with limited experience. But Wenger stuck to his team and gave the confidence and let the players know he believed in them. And at the end of January, after the arrival of Arshavin, it slowly began to click and there was a, sometimes underestimated, series of 21 matches without defeat. For many, including myself, it was clear: this group had future.

As said this summer the squad remained almost unchanged and back came Rosicky and Eduardo from career threatening injuries and suddenly it worked.

Song, last years “zero”, is suddenly one of the best defensive midfielders in the PL, Denilson played great until he went out with his back injury. The entire team fit into each other. Not surprisingly, there were almost no changes and the core of the team was a year older and became more experienced. They had learned a lot from the sometimes painful mistakes they had made.

The difference is that there actually is no difference to last year but there is enormous difference between the older team in midfield and the young midfield we have now. The normal growing pains that you know will happen if you are turning a young team into an adult squad came along the road.

Many supporters knew this and could live with a temporary step back to then move forward, certainly seen in the light of the cost that building a new stadium brought to the club.

This year it really seems we have put a giant step forward. Despite once again the vast amount of injuries it seems that we have players at every position in the team who just come in and are ready for whatever is asked.

Wenger has a team, a young team, brought together with many players from our own ranks and with a bright future ahead of us. A team of players currently only known by a few but who  in some 10 years time will be remembered as a team of stars.

It up to us support them and to make sure that we succeed together.

Walter Broeckx

If you know someone who supports Arsenal, and you can’t think what to buy for Xmas – try MAKING THE ARSENAL – £12.99 for the most original book on Arsenal ever written.  Details at www.emiratesstadium.info

And coming soon to this site – a new series THIS IS NOT FOOTBALL.  The very worst of football that we have seen, worst grounds, worst players, worst teams, worst supporters, worst commentators, worst TV programmes – you name it.  Starting later this week.

33 comments to This season, last season. What’s the difference

  • diceman1984

    Good one Walter…..

    One thing that is very different though is the formation!

    It’s THE formation that will give these players their best chances in bringing tangible success to us.

    And the other difference is that we are rid of c****s, zero! Wenger has done us a favor by selling them for a fortune.

    If only Wenger could sell his ungrateful and demoralizing supporters…

  • walter

    Very good point Diceman, when I wrote the article I was concentrating on the players. And on the fact that it sometimes is better not to change that much in the players.
    Also agree on the selling, the very intelligent selling one could say, of players who didn’t want to work anymore (Adebayor) and a player who couldn’t get along with his fellow defender (Toure).
    The formation it self has changed and the playing the players “out of position” last season was, maybe, a way of preparing them for the change of formation ?
    On Adebayor: I have read somewhere on a blog that some City fans are already questioning the commitment from him and complain that he seems just to walk around on the pitch with no intrest. Sounds familiar.

  • Chrism

    One major difference is we no longer have Adebayor so pass the ball to every other attack who’s first touch is good and can actually hit the target!

  • Cujo

    Nobody believes arsenal will win the league this year, that just makes it all the more sweeter when we prove them wrong! How can people honestly watch arsenal play and not be in awe of the football we place? Are people really that blind? No, i doubt it. They’re just jealous i reckon. Either that or they know nothing of football and just go with the popular opinion. I cant wait for the arsenal v chelsea game.. If we win, then nobody can call us ‘boys’ any longer. It would be a proud day indeed.Go Go Gunners!

  • Cujo.

    When we beat Chelsea, not if.

    @Walter, I tend to think that the team has gone through a predictable and organic growth, giving them the opportunity to mature together. For this reason, they are a much better team than they were a year or 2 years ago.

    I think the bigger problem is that a group of so called Arsenal fans (fickle glory hunting time wasters) if you prefer the industrial definition) have a lot of growing up to do themselves. This group of fans have an innate hatred for the virtue of development and its costs, and would prefer short term solutions for the sake of earning bragging rights in pubs and offices. They don’t even appreciate the growth that the team has made so far – and short of a 6 nil victory in every game with opponents rolling over and dying in embarrassment, they won’t be happy, and will spend a considerable amount of time and energy slating the team for not being good enough.

    The scary thing about this team is that they literally have the next decade to dominate.

  • diceman1984

    “On Adebayor: I have read somewhere on a blog that some City fans are already questioning the commitment from him and complain that he seems just to walk around on the pitch with no intrest. Sounds familiar.”……

    I had told many citeh fans who bragged about their “top” player before about this c***t (sorry for the language, I just can’t stop myself from using bad words when referring to him). After scoring some 3-4 goals, he went missing and now will never ever be the same player that he was at Arsenal again. The already got the best out of him, signing for man citeh was just a way of making quick bucks and hoping for a day when Milan will be interested again……dream on Mr.Adebayor! (as RVP said it).

    And Wenger is always the man, he’s the man!

  • LRV

    Very good article, Walter, Very good. The boys are growing into young men right infront of our eyes. We are all witnessing a maturation far greater and beyond our wildest expectations. Even the most ardent doubters are salivating in a secret openness that they are far too ashamed to now admit; while they are still awaiting some misfortune that will bring them to a semblance of rightness.

    The sale of the ‘deadweight’ and the ‘imbalance’ is a Wenger masterstroke that grants the rest of the team an affordance of confidence and freedom to express themselves without hindrance, but with renewed understanding.

    The change of system gives them a freeing License to play with justifiably exhilarating and awe-inspiring abandonment.

    The fickle, glory-hunting doom mongers are doing there utmost best to wreck the good work. If I know Wenger as I think I do, he will insulate his players from them adequately. As diceman1984 rightly opined, “If only Wenger could sell his ungrateful and demoralizing supporters…” If I may add, sell them to Man Shitty.

    As for AdebayWhore, The ManShitty fans have not seen anything yet. The guy is only just starting with them. He will soon show them the real meaning of worthless and ineffectual.

  • Ade certainly looked like he was missing on the MOTD highlights – which was all I managed to get of the Wolves match.

    But in terms of people who themselves like to moan and moan, I do think that if the various history projects take off in a big way it will convert a few of them, and give those of us with a broader perspective something to point them towards.

    The Woolwich Arsenal daily blog got 20,000 individual readers last month – which I think it is a terrific number. And when AISA launch the Arsenal History project (which I have the honour of having been elected to run) with its own wiki style web site, I think that will help as well.

    Of course the focus will always be on NOW NOW NOW because that is the society we live in, but the more historic resources we have available which are written in a modern way, the better.

    In one sense this is why I wrote MAKING THE ARSENAL as a novel – not as a history book – because I wanted to try and draw in some people who would never touch history with a barge pole.

    We’ll see over time if any of this works – but it is does I would certainly get old feeling I had made my own small contribution.

  • daf

    Excellent post (and excellent English, Walter).
    Some words on the fans.
    Global appeal of Wengerball. Pandora’s box. Arsenal fanbase 1996 vs 2009. Modern life in general. Cheer more loudly than those booing. Vive la difference. Come on Arsenal!!

  • Cape Gooner

    Walter, your analysis is excellent. There seems to be general agreement that having Adebayor out is a positive. I agree that although Toure is as good (or better) than Vermaelen, Gallas is twice the player with his new partner.

    I’m not sure about the formation. It is very similar to the 4141 we used to play, so I do not see that as a major difference.

    I see the big difference being that there is no hangover from Birmingham. Without Hleb, Flamini and Cesc, and with Ade & Kolo, we went on the 21 game unbeaten run. No, the difference was in our heads. Birmingham was huge big deal. We were in a wonderful position. If Chelsea and ManU drew their game, we could afford to lose to both of them as long as we won all our other games. And all our games against middle of the table opposition were at home. Away we only had bottom of the table clubs to play.

    That game took an enormous amount from us. The Edu injury made players physically sick. Adebayor’s failure to pass to Bendtner for a tap in was mentally damaging. The penalty and Gallas’ behaviour were knockout blows. It took nearly a year to recover.

    We are a little unlucky this year in so far as Chelsea do not seem to be in the suicidal, owner created, situation that has been evident for the last couple of years. I think it will be nip and tuck between them and us, with ManU a long way behind, but well clear of fourth.

  • Stu

    I think another major difference is our skipper…. Fab got the armband last season and I personally felt that it was a bit early for him and he didn’t really look like a leader. That has changed immensely and he has really grown into the role and now looks like the leader we need him to to be. The difference is amazing in my opinion. We seemed to have no leaders in our team last year and now all of a sudden we have a few: CF4, TV5, WG10, RVP11 and even TR7 to an extent. These players are taking responsibility and it shows. WHAT AN IMPROVMENT!!!! I do also feel that the home crowd has improved a little too (nowhere near to the same extent of the players but it all helps)!

  • arsenal4

    Was thinking the same thing… as the team becoming more mature, the other signification development is we do have 5 captains quality playing (and sober) in our team … Fab, Arsh, Verminator,Gallas & Rosicky … I am pretty sure this add some steels to our system and confidence .. here’s to Arsenal all the way…

  • diceman1984

    Sorry to be off topic but I have to express something:

    I know that if I hate their views I shouldn’t even care to read but I did it anyway – I read and answered, rather rudely, to posters who said this: chelsea will run away with the league and we will probably finish 3rd……..now I know us here do not care about that but as an Arsenal fan I have to reply for once, maybe the last time too, to those retards.

    And what do I get? I got a racist reply like this here : “I don’t get concerned when some super-dupa fan cretin from Honduras starts calling me kindergarten names because he can’t argue with Facts-based arguments.” I’m not making this up, it’s from a source which I won’t write it down here but some of you may or may not know that already.

    Why am I writing this? Well, first it makes me sad that someone who call himself a gunner would make a semi-racist comment about me arguing for the sake of respecting for my team. Second, I’m not from Honduras and I don’t think the poster even know where it is. Last, do we deserve this kind of fans? I mean, if not us, does Wenger? Why are there still people out there who think being born somewhere make them better?

    I probably won’t go read any written by this so called gunner again, it’s a shame ’cause he made some good points too. But yeah, all I can do now is wait ’til May come when Cesc lift that trophy, it’s going to be me going mad with revenge…..

    Sorry Walter to be off topic but I just can’t let this go without you letting it out to you guys, very sad indeed…..

  • Paul C.

    Diceman – it is one of the problems of the internet and the rise of the blogosphere. It has brought us some wonderful and stimulating commentary but one also has to accept that it also gives a perfect platform for those of, how shall we put it, differing views.

    Tony – I was thinking this weekend about Usmanov and David Dein and wondering what must David Dein, who loved our club so much, be thinking now given that Usmanov wouldnt be around had Dein not sold him his stake. I wonder if Dein looks at our revenue now, and looks at the destabilising influence of Usmanov, and thinks “what on earth did I do?”

  • cescophreniac

    Hi ppl. Really want but can’t pay for it with credit card since I’m in Ghana. How can I get a copy? Cheers

  • cescophreniac

    I mean “making the arsenal”

  • cescophreniac

    help me out here Tony. I need it arsenal evangilasion purposed. The Arsenal gospel must be spread.

  • Flint McCullough

    Interesting perspective Walter & some good comments. I particularly agree with Darius, as ever.

    First of all there is no guarantee that we will finish any better than last season. At this stage I am getting the feeling that we are really ready to at least strongly challenge until the end. Actually winning can depend on so many things that do or don’t go your way, so I would never predict a certainty of winning anything. To me enjoying the football is the most important thing, with the trophies the sweetest bonus.

    My differences in no particular order:

    A seemingly much improved team spirit & attitude;

    Much better confidence shown within the team (Darius’ point important here);

    Another season on in developing a young team, personal improvements in a number of players;

    Fully fit Cesc accommodated in a system that suits him & the other players much better;

    No Euro or World Cup in the previous summer;

    TV has been an excellent signing, replacing a Kolo, who had not looked properly fit for most of the previous 18 months;

    Injuries so far have been in areas where we have strength in depth;
    Much better support at the Emirates, I think a boil was lanced with the march in support for AW, when he seemed threatened by the anti-support.

  • LRV

    Yes Flint, a boil was lanced. However, I ‘ll feel more at ease if and when we are able to drown out the ever increasing voice of the “anti-support”.

  • don't believe the hype

    Really interesting article Walter with well argued points. Wenger has been saying for a while that the young players would improve exponentially and I think we are starting to see that now. Most of them are nowhere near their peak and now that they are over their injuries we have a few of the older players like Rosicky and Eduardo to guide them through.

    Flint makes a good point because there is ‘many a slip twixt cup and lip’ so whether we can sustain the level of performance and get the good fortune to see us to silverware is yet to be seen. But as supporters all we can do is enjoy the performances and lift the team up in the low periods. It’s not all about them giving and us taking, we have to give something too if we want the shiny trophies. That is what the anti-support fail to grasp.

  • stuartlondon

    Another high quality post, Walter. A further crucial factor in my opinion has been the blessed Wenger’s determination to take a supportive rather than a punitive approach to team management, a key source of conflict in the debate bettween supporters.

    Our players know that when they sustain injuries, or go through a temporary loss of form, they will be given every chance to recover and regain their place in the starting lineup. This is so important in creating a sense of optimism and of loyalty to the team and the manager.

    Of course, he has also made it clear that there is an expectation that every player will put maximum effort into their preparation and their game, and where this hasn’t happened individuals eventually lose their place and go elsewhere.

    Contrast this with the sudden death approach to management advocated by many of the moaning minority. If a player is underperforming, they assume it is due to lack of effort and motivation to win, and say simply, drop him. Following this advice could well have seen the loss of many of our best players and the rapid disintegration of our team. If you want an example of how unsuccessful this method can be, look no further than Roy Keane’s managerial record. Scary, yes, effective no.

  • Paul C.

    “Dont believe the Hype” and “Stuart London” – great points.

    As a manager, you MUST take a supportive approach when dealing with young players. They cannot feel as if they will be replaced by a “high-priced replacement” the moment they make a few mistakes that are due mainly to inexperience in the first place. Young players MUST be allowed to learn from their mistakes. I can remember the likes of Tony Adams as a teenager and yes, he was indeed every bit the “Donkey” that opposing fans said he was. Man, he made some blunders. Given the way some modern fans are impatient with certain players you would have to think that Tony Adams would NEVER have been allowed to learn and progress as a player nowadays. The fans would have crucified him. I think a lot of modern managers that have gotten used to “chequebook managing” have forgotten the art of developing young players, something Fergie and AW have never forgotten. You have to be patient and you have to allow them to screw up. Luckily for Fergie, he has always had the biggest chequebook as well (except for Roman) so he could cover up mistakes with the most expensive talent as well.

    And “Dont believe the Hype”‘s point about supporters needing to give as well as take is a hugely important point as well. When that young Arsenal team of the mid-80’s was developing there was very much an attitude around Highbury of “the fans have to help these kids learn by encouraging them at all times” that is nowehere near as prominent nowadays. The need for instant success seems to overwhelm many fans, and that is a great pity since watching a TEAM grow and build and mature is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest joys that a supporter can have.

    I think watching young players develop is insanely exciting, and so much more rewarding for supporters than “chequebook” success.

  • One little point – we are now quite rightly so focussed on the squad we have that we may for a moment forget that as always we have another squad coming through ready to join the big boys.

    I am sure many readers knew all about Gibbs before he suddenly appeared on the scene – but he slipped under my radar – yet there he was a year or two back, suddenly ready for action.

    We can and should rave over the first team squad, but we should also know that the moment any of them get a touch of the Adebayors or Coles, or a tragic injury we have the likes of Ayling, Barazite, Bartley, Coquelin, Cruise, Eastmond (where the f*** did he come from???) JET, Freeman, Fimpong, Gilbert (feels like he has been here forever), Hoyte, Lansbury, Murphy, Nordtveit, Randall, Simpson, Sunu, Watt.

    Those on loan are playing sensationally – I was raving about Lansbury the other night watching him for Watford, and just listen to what the managers of JET and Simpson are saying during their loan spell.

    We urgently need another team.

  • walter

    Paul C, I really think that the day we win our first trophy I will be very emotional.
    Winning things with TH, DB, PV and all those other already big names was great.
    But the day our kids do what Wenger has told them they would do will be one of the best days since being an Arsenal fan.
    Yes, I want to win trophys but not in the way MU or Chelsea do with just buying the best players with money you don’t have.
    They have been laughing with Arsenal the past years but as an old and wise Dutch saying goes: The one who has the last laugh, is the best laugh.
    I’m sure we will have the last laugh in the next decade.

  • Paul C.

    Walter – you know what, there is actually a part of me that doesnt care about trophies, especially the Cup competitions. Sure, they are nice and are fantastic for bragging rights and all that. But really, only the Championship matters for me and only 1 team can win that each year and as long as we are contending then that is the important thing. And I think we now have a team, and a club structure, that will allow us to contend consistently for years and years now.

    At the moment, I would actually be very dissapointed to see this side fall away this season as I think they are very well equipped to handle the pressure of a full season at or near the top.

    I NEVER felt that way about our team last season, and even the season before that I was wary.

  • don't believe the hype

    Good points Tony @ 8.40 pm – I do keep an eye on how the even younger gunners are doing so I had seen Eastmond in the Youth cup run last season but mostly at right back and seen him in central midfield for the reserves. But I was still shocked by Wenger’s left-field decision to start him in the CC game against Liverpool. Arsene can be relied upon to ignore the obvious and go for the player who shows he is ready by his level in training and playing. It must be great for the young players to know that if they keep working hard, Arsene is not afraid to give them opportunities. That has to be a great motivator.

  • Diaminedave

    Its like making your own bread or better analogy growing your own veg! Put in all the hard work on the preparation and tending and watch it grow (and it tastes so much better than when you have gone to the supermarket and brought it)
    Great comments and article and you guys are all so right.
    Wenger has got such big balls to have the vision stick to it and take all the flak from the ‘if only you did that’ brigade.
    all the best
    Dave

  • terrylane

    @walter
    nice perspective…but hindsights great isnt it?i mean the reason fellow gooners moaned was because we all loved toure,i still hav immense respect for him to the extent that i now sympathise with how wrong he got it in opting to leave us for an inferior outfit..hes gonna miss out on big things…we lost him and,as excited as we all get when we make a signing,no1 could hav anticipated how good a player the verminater woiuld be for us…wot a leader and in this respect we wer fortunate,not least because of how quickly he adapted
    also im not sure mate the loss of hleb and flamini was as destructive as you say…they wer losses but all big teams let guys go and still maintain thier philosophy,we wer too easy defeated especially at home and lacked leadership..also you forget nasri,walcott,bendtner,eboue and diaby wer all in the frame still aswel as song and deni,we wernt threadbare across the middle
    you are quite right now we really hav matured and hav REAL leaders in cesc,verm,gallas and especially RvP,he and gallas are such a great example and are leading both ends of our team by example,which makes it easier for song,deni,nic,eboue and occasionally diaby to keep their concentration and performance levels high at all times,these 2 are demanding a level of excellence on the atrackin and defendin fronts and imo this is has played a huge part in our form this season
    theo other huge factor is the manager…before we sold toure and plonker we wer being written off so after their departure and lack of new arrivals the pundits wer basically laughin at us,these guys are still prayin for failure in our camp so they dont hav to wipe the egg off their faces come may….but do we care what they think???as long as wer winning im happy and this is where i come to hear sense and honest insight spoken of our team…we dont need outside approval or praise to know our club is going the right way

  • RHAZ

    It is so, so refreshing to come to a site and not see a single posting slating Diaby!

  • mark

    Last season it seemed obvious after Liverpool:
    stick Arshavin in the hole and stick 10 players around him,
    any 10 players, and we would be club world champions.

    But Arsene has fashioned his new team more around Van Persie and Fabregas.

    Uprooting Fab from his Alonso role and transplanting him into
    Gerrardo role has been an incredible masterstroke.

    That’s the reason why AW is a manager and we are armchair critics.

    Arsenal are great, Arsene is sublime!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Another fine post ,Walter .We are mostly in agreement with the fine job AW is doing and the progress of the team.This time last year the league was all but over for us but we had good runs in the FA and CL.This season we are all optimistic of landing one of the big cups.I read an article where RVP has requested AW to play him in League cup against Man.Shitty -probably seeking revenge.I hope he waits patiently for the home game in the league to destroy them.Let us hope that the young guns do their stuff and knock them out -that will be a joyous occasion.

  • walter

    Terrylane, One could say that Hleb and Flamini are replacable. No problem I think with what we got for the moment they are more then replaced. But just the fact that they had a big game time in the season before meant they had to be replaced by far more inexpierenced players or new players like Nasri.

    Last year we played a great part of the season without any of our 4 regular midfielders from the previous season. Name me one team that could do this and even get 4th spot. Or name me one manager who could do this apart from Arsene Wenger ?

  • Samir8

    I beg to differ with the author of ths comment.. Last year the problem was not in midfield bt in the striking force. We had the laziest striker i have knwn in ths world of soccer,Adebyegone. 2nd our defence was ruined by Toure n Gallas 4 luck of communication bt now they are gone n forgotten..Thnx God 4 letting ’em go. Now we have a squad full of passion.