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Did Arsenal “come of age” against Hull?

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Did Arsenal “come of age” against Hull?

By Paul Collins

Looking through the media outlets this weekend there seemed to be a common theme, that of Arsenal “maturing”, “coming of age”, or “growing up” against Hull. Is there any substance to that argument?

I personally don’t think so, and believe that those who spout such comments are either incredibly lazy (most of the mainstream journalists) or Arsenal fans who have intentionally blinded themselves to the progress our team has been making for 18 months.

The premise itself is faulty. Maturity doesn’t happen immediately, in fact most of the time it is a lagging indicator. You don’t get results and suddenly mature. Instead you mature as a team and then GRADUALLY begin to get the results. And those who suggest Arsenal grew up against Hull seem to be ignoring the first 29 games of this season or the final 23 games of last season. During that time, against teams not named Chelsea or Manchester United, our record is P 46 W 31 D 13 L 2. That hardly seems like the record of a team desperately in need of growing up. On the contrary, that is Championship form in anyone’s language.

If there is a period when Arsenal truly began to “grow up” and “mature” as a side, then I would put forth 6th December 2008 until 28th February 2009, the first 12 games of the 46 game stretch that I reference above. To understand my argument, the situation at the start of that sequence must be put into proper context.

On 22 November 2008 we lost 3-0 to Manchester City. It was our 5th loss in 14 games. We were in 5th place. We had lost Cesc and Theo Walcott to long-term injuries, joining Eduardo and Rosicky on the sidelines. We were still struggling to adapt to life without Hleb, Flamini, and Gilberto. Gallas had just been stripped of the captaincy. Adebayor seemed disinterested in playing football.

We followed that up with a 2-1 win against Chelsea, a game that only seemed to confirm our status as a team that could beat anyone on our day, but one that simply dropped too many points against lesser teams to ever be taken seriously as a potential League Champion.

Smaller, less talented teams had a blueprint how to beat us. We were frail. We were young. We were doomed. We lost 2-0 to Burnley away in the League Cup. Our season was falling apart rapidly. The “Doom and Gloom” brigade seemed euphoric, they were in their element and Arsene Wenger and the team were being showered with disdain and disgust. Our top-4 spot was about to be lost, our financial future was in jeopardy, and Arsene Wenger’s job was at risk.

Sitting here today remembering all of that seems surreal. But if anything it was worse than I have made it out to be. Things were truly bleak.

On 6th December we played Wigan at home. We all remember that match. Eboue was booed off the pitch. But we won 1-0. It was the start of a truly ugly 12 game stretch in which we won 4 and drew 8, scoring only 11 goals. The football we played during that stretch was often horrible, staid, defensive stuff.

So how can that stretch be regarded as the period when the team “matured”, “grew up”, or “came of age”?

Well, we didn’t lose.

While many Arsenal fans were calling our players “unfit to wear the jersey” and saying how bad things were, a group of young players with everything to lose, quite simply refused to lose. A team that had been conceding goals by the sackful suddenly conceded only 6 goals in 12 games. It was painful to watch at times, but they stuck with it. The team drew against Liverpool, who were challenging for the Championship at the time. We drew at Everton (in the last minute), at Aston Villa, and at Tottenham (with 10 men).

Young men such as Abou Diaby, Alex Song, Nic Bendtner, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Aaron Ramsey, and Carlos Vela got extensive playing time during this stretch. Arshavin was introduced to the side. Those of us who actually looked closely enough could see all the seeds of our current success being planted.

I personally had huge battles with more pessimistic Arsenal fans during this period as I tried to argue how much improvement the team was showing, how far they were progressing, and how much more positive about the future I was all of a sudden. But still many chose to ignore the clear evidence.

To many Arsenal fans those players were still “unfit to wear the jersey”. Get rid of Alex Song they said, even though he was beginning to overpower opponents on a regular basis. Get rid of Bendtner, they said, even though no defender seemed able to contain him and it was only his own finishing that was standing between him and greatness. Get rid of them all, they said, even though the players were fighting for every inch of ground.

On the 28th February 2009 we drew 0-0 with Fulham, the final game of this stretch. The following day Aston Villa played Stoke with the chance to go 8 points clear of us in 4th place. Aston Villa jumped out to a 2-0 lead and things looked bleak. But they conceded 2 late goals to draw 2-2 and the entire complexion of our season changed.

On 3rd March 2009 we played West Brom and won 3-1 with 2 goals from, yes that’s right, Bendtner. We won 7 out of 8 to move past Villa and reclaim 4th. From that day we have played 34 games against teams other than Chelsea and Manchester United and have a record of W 27 D 5 L 2.

Much of our football has been mesmeric, beautiful to watch. And yet there has also been a steely determination to much of it as well. Against lesser teams we no longer are intimidated by physical approaches. We lost to Sunderland away earlier this season in our first game after Robin van Persie’s injury. We seemed disjointed without him. That was understandable. We lost 4-2 away at Manchester City to an opponent inspired by Emmanuel Adebayor. Chelsea suffered the same fate and we hope Manchester United also suffer the same fate. Apart from that we have dealt with the lesser teams in the League with ruthless consistency.

And yet some people still want to say that we “matured”, or “came of age” against Hull on Saturday? The performance against Hull was simply yet another example of how this team has progressed since the dark days in November 2009. At that time performing as well as we did without Cesc, Gallas, and van Persie would have seemed ridiculous.

But for those of us who have watched closely, the signs have been there all along. This isn’t a sudden change, as many would like to believe, but a slow and steady progression through some truly difficult times. For those who have kept their eyes open, there have been the most remarkable stories to follow, boys growing before our very eyes into men. Those of us who watched closely could have told anyone who cared to listen that Alex Song was going to be a star this year, or that Nasri was going to grow into a true creative force, or that Diaby would be a constant threat as soon as he got proper match fitness.

For those of us who kept our eyes open, this journey has been a true joy, and brings home all of the joys of being a fan, for we have seen a team grow, and now we are able to watch men challenge for the biggest trophies of all with the confidence that we saw it coming all along.

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44 comments to Did Arsenal “come of age” against Hull?

  • Phil

    A great read, nice article Paul. The “coming of age” thing is just a lazy media phrase, it makes for good, galvanising headlines.

  • Wilsheres dad

    You’ve completely hit the spot here..possibly your best ever comments.
    Sadly many “fans” seem to only get their ideas from the media, which is in business to create talking points by (often) writing or talking nonsense…& all of it is short termism.

    Along with “..comming of age…” this seasons top b@llocks comment has been “..they’ll struggle without…” to which you can take your pick & add Van Persie, Fabregas, Song & Gallas.

  • Paul C.

    Wilshire – great call on the “they’ll struggle without……” tagline. How many more players do we have to do without before people actually start acknowledging that our squad is actually pretty darn good? To go back to that period I reference above in 2008/09, we played those games without our ENTIRE midfield AND first two replacements from the previous season (Rosicky, Flamini, Cesc, Hleb, Gilberto & Walcott). How would Chelsea do over 12 games without Lampard, Ballack, Essien, Mikel, Malouda and J.Cole? You can make a valid argument that maybe AW should have signed people the previous summer so that we werent in that situation, but he has committed to the youngsters and if you dont give them a chance to succeed AND fail then you’ll never earn their trust.

  • Brooksie

    great article, Isn’t it great that Arsenal and Nic Bendtner are responsible for Orange Phil getting the sack at Hull! Every cloud…

    RING THE BELLS ………………….TRA LA LA LA LA…LA LA LA

  • Diaminedave

    Excellent read . Thanks

  • Emeka I.

    Fantastic read,well typical of you,truly incisive stuff.Actually saw the players developing but people(arsenal fans + other fans) are just too lazy to believe.keep up the faith

  • walter

    Amen, Paul C. You just have summed up much of my feelings on the past year(s). All these negative comments we had from the press are just ridiculous when you look at it.

    When driving home today on the bus and with all my Arsenal books read (Tony when is your new book ready ? 😉 ) and I ran over the last two seasons in my head and it was such a great ride.
    How many times you have the opportunity to see such a young team develop in the best league in the world, and even when developing still get in the top 4 ? We have and we had the faith to believe in it.
    I was thinking on how right we have been by sticking to our young players and the satisfaction when we take our first prize will be so big and immense.
    And you just wait till next season… we will be breaking things and I don’t mean legs, but records.
    I rather enjoyed my ride back home I must say and your article just ads to the good feeling I already have about this team.
    Thanks for that Paul C. Great article.

  • SAM

    Brilliant article!!!! I must say, it opened my eyes to alot of things that I did not notice. Well done author!

  • Eoin

    This is the only blog that ever talks sense.

  • Coplan

    Excellent post.

    I read it again and again, I’m moved every time. One game that comes to my mind is the game against Liverpool at the Emirates. We took the lead through V. Persie’s superb goal from Nasri’s wonderfull long ball. But Liverpool equalizes short after through Robbie Kean. Then Cesc got injured and Adebayor sent-off. We drew the game but liverpool were very happy with the draw because the youngsters played some wonderfull football. I dropped tears just by watching the youngsters battle with one man short and without their playmaker.

    This group of young players only need a trophy (I hope they get it now) and they’ll rule England and Europe.

  • As editor of the site can I add my thanks for this article. Untold is set up to develop thoughts and ideas about Arsenal and football, that simply don’t appear anywhere else, and this article meets that criteria 100%.

    As soon as I started reading it, it was clear that this was an article for Untold, and I’m really pleased to have had an opportunity to publish it.

    Tony Attwood

  • c.u.r.s.e

    bravo. the media will always look to stifle anything successful that goes against the system until they reach a certain level of success. then its the we’ve always been your friend let us stab you in the back routine. thier not lazy by any means. sure if they were indeed journos. but their job is a lot sinister than that. mind control seems to be working throughout the uk? its deeper than jus hating arsenal. standard morals, values and respect are decreasing every day. this is just a branch. the nat anthem should be long live mr Wenger. if you wanna grab a bible and get religious he promotes the main ingredient from its philosophy about humanity . ‘love thy neigbour’.

  • RVP

    Thank You, Thank You so much for this blog. You guys are on my wave length and i agree with everything you say, and Paul C. you are one very very intelligent man! thanks again and In Arsene We Trust.[and all the players]

  • Toby

    I agree we didn’t come of age on that match it was a progression over the season. Although we are doing very well I can’t help feeling Manchester United and Chelsea are not what they once were and are a still very good. I do believe it will be another one or two years until with the addition of players until we can truely dominate.

    In the mean time I hope for lady luck on our side. We don’t have easy games.

  • Toby

    By the way why does this site link to a ‘Powerade’ advert featuring Wayne Rooney? lol

  • RVP

    Interesting article i read from nicklas bendtner news, thought i’d share it with you.
    ‘I have found some interesting facts, According to Bettorlogic Player Pro, over the last 50 games the Gunners have a win percentage of 52 per cent without Nicklas Bendtner. With him in the side, the win-rate rockets up to a whopping 76 per cent. The 5-0 win against Porto was further evidence of Bendtner’s unique importance to his team.

    Since Nicklas has returned from his 3 month injury lay-off, Arsenal have won every game he has started which is no fluke. Arsenal have also progressed in Europe, one thing is for sure whether Bendtner is scoring hat-tricks or not he is very important to the side in this run in for the Gunners.’

  • Paul C.

    Thanks for all the comments.

    This team is still a work in progress. I dont think we will see the full expression of this side until long-term replacements for Almunia and Gallas are found (or developed internally). But what we can see now is the foundation of a team that will continue to challenge for honours for years to come, with plenty of money available for keeping wages competitive and for the occasional splurge when the right players have been identified. What more could we ask for, really? Everything else is just luck. Trophies are not always won by the best team, but often by the luckiest (in terms of refereeing decisions, injuries, fixture list etc etc). If this side delivers us some trophies in the years to come, then great. But if not, it has still been an absolute pleasure watching guys like Song, Diaby, Bendtner, Cesc, Clichy etc etc develop as players.

  • walter

    Could you imagine that Van Persie or Bendtner would have stayed fit the whole season ? How unlucky we have been that both of them were out for a long time together. And still we are in it….
    I really am convinced that from next season on we will be on top and almost unbeatable if we can keep this team together and maybe add one signing or if Wenger wants two… But even without a signing if you look at who is coming through… just look at Wilshere who is finding a regular starting place in the Bolton team and maybe it’s a co-incidence but Bolton have scrambled themselve to a more safe place in the league since he joined them.

  • 0.9 Calibre

    This article is pure class.. coming from a great fan..

  • Benr

    Brilliant post, well researched and written by someone who really knows what they are talking about. All season I have had this feeling that this will be our year. Relatively, we started the season stronger, utd losing ronaldo, nit signing anyone of note and Chelsea also not strengthening. We signed TV and sold ade which I believe strngthened the team. Re

  • dave

    Nice – one! I would also like to add that this new squad is STILL young and we’ve got another five years of improvement to come !!! P.S Diaby is a don

  • Getty

    Great read Paul C. You have been really fantastic in your comments before and enjoyed reading them. That was so true! No one grows up overnight, but thru time and experience. I have been reading for awhile without commenting, but enjoying just the same. I think this blog turns out to be THE place for intelligent analysis and well thought exchanges of opinion. Kudos to Tony for encouraging and keeping it real. Walter also has been a regular and his in depth analysis of games from different angles is so refreshing. Well done you guys.

  • ugandangoon

    I have instantly bookmarked your site. pity i havent found it sooner. this is a true arsenal fans site. well thought out and a mine of relevance in a sea of desperate hit whores all regurgitating what increasingly seems to be a red and white agenda to distabilise the current board. of course a lot of the nonsense spouted is first heard from the tongues of so called pundits. these rent-a-gob’s are ruining football discussion in this country. god knows i don’t read or listen to these idiots enough to pinpoint specific examples but i am forever having to point out to even fellow gooners that their opinions don’t match events. there seems to be a template laid for every result because of course nobody seems to care just what it takes to achieve it. bon!
    ps PHIL brown/orange got sacked. i raise a glass to what i hope is a shot for sanity in english football sadly the effects will be felt in championship but liverpool should benefit from that in two years time. Salut as we say at london colney

  • Bootoomee

    Paul C.,

    Maximum respect dude! Great piece. I felt like I was watching the playback of the last 20 months as I read your article. Great show of perspective. Excellent post!

    I guess this is why Untold regulars are ‘Arsene Knows Bests’. We consider the past in evaluating the present to predit the future.

    Thanks immensely for killing off the latest talking point.

  • Canadian gunner

    I’m crying because of the beauty of the article you have written

  • gfd

    People called me insane for championing Song and Diaby during earlier times. This blog made me sure that I wasn’t. 🙂

  • phil

    Great, great article. I ve always told anti-arsenal folks to tell me if thee is any club that can achieve as much as arsenal with young players like we have in arsenal. It simply proves that class cannot be bought (Man city and co), it is developed.

  • kharmht

    Classy article ! Absolutely true . For the past years, section of fans has been calling constantly for player’s head on silver plate: Eboue, Song, Diaby, Bendtner, Walcott etc .. without looking carefully at the progress of the team . Certainly, while “growing” as a team, we were short of certain qualities that champions are made of, but we have been making progress and improving all this time. It is only time till we can “get there” . And once we get there , imagine how long it will last considering the average age of the team???

    This is what Arsene has been saying since the beginning, but not many really listened. We have an unbelievably young squad playing consistently at a high level ( maybe not yet the Highest but definitely high), sound financial status , and people are still complaining.

    Right after the Hull match, I stumble on a blog with comments slacking Bendtner, demanding him to be sold as he is “still not good enough”! Amazing huh? But that’s no Arsenal fans . Those are just fake fans who should stick to Football Manager Games rather than supporting a real Club !

    Up for the Gunners ya’all!

  • tim

    Paul C. — Excellent piece. The team is, indeed, a pure joy to watch. Cheers.

  • Gf60

    Lovely article Paul. To me the real “growing up” occurred at the spuds last year. Eboue sent off, since when he seems to have added nous to his talents (I’ll forget that dive one game after Celtic!) and then Alex Song produced a performance that was mind blowing. Especially for a cynic who doubted his ability. And now Diaby is turning it consistently and from being one the most frustrating players I’ve ever seen in over 60 years of watching, he’s turning it on consistently.
    Thank Gawd AW’s the manager and not me.

  • Zack

    Awesome article here Paul! This site is always great to see a different (and usually more sound and true) side to things in comparison to the nonsense we read in the mainstream media.

    And just one point; you wrote that “The performance against Hull was simply yet another example of how this team has progressed since the dark days in November 2009.” Nov 09? Is it supposed to be Nov 08, or am I mistaken here, since we lost against Sunderland and Chelsea in Nov 09 too? Although the axis in this article was on Nov 08 since it was the point where we were in 5th and the D&G were in its extremity.

  • To answer an earlier note about advertisements…

    The ads on the site (apart from the eternal ads for my wonderful book “Making the Arsenal” are handled by an agency, and I don’t have any power over them. So yes, you do get the Rooney advert. I thought it was a perfect piece of post modern irony, but then I always think that.

  • lenny

    Great article Paul. Rarely does one solitary event signal a coming of age for anybody. But looking at the progress our baby faced overachievers have exhibited in these last two seasons, one can truly say the boys are maturing into men and only greatness lies ahead. ‘Keep the faith’, is one very apt phrase right now.

  • critic

    nice article, team’s good but defence is still some way to go.

  • vorke

    this is a well researched article,as an arsenal fan, i must admit i was one of those who foresaw the the end of arsenal but things have turned out to be different this season, at the beggining of this season, most football analyst had written off arsenal form the big four,leavealone being title contenders,whatever happens this season i will be proud of arsenal performance. keep up the good work Mr Collins

  • simon bailey

    nice pice Paul. you have brilliantly put into words what most true gooners believe.

  • walter

    A little remark about the advertisements. Did you know Tony that I get the advertisements in Dutch and for Belgium company’s ?
    At one time I was wondering if the others would see the same but as I don’t see anything about a Rooney advertisement it must have something to do with the country you log in from I guess ?
    Those guys from the advertisement departement are real clever boys 😉

  • well-endowed gooner

    It was Wenger who said the players were “unfit to wear the jersey”. Wenger knows, no?

  • Idris

    I don’t have any problem with this article, but excluding defeats to Man Utd, and Chelsea baffles me, are they not part of the league? We’re still in it because Chelsea blew their chances away, The league would have been a forgotten story if Chelsea had made go use of those gap. I’m a die hard Arsenal fan, and appreciate wenger’s philosophy, but i think at times he goes to far with doing things his own, all this team needs is a little fine tuning to become a world class team. I hope Arsene win’s a trophy to prove us all wrong.

    Best Regards

  • Rhys Jaggar

    You’re dead right. I said the same around March 2007 to my sister along the lines of ‘Arsenal could do really well next season’. You could see that Henry being out freed up the rest to play as a team to their strengths…..

    It happens.

  • Paul C.

    Zack – you are right, should say Nov. 2008, my mistake.

    Critic – no one would disagree with you there. I’d be the last person to say the team was the “finished” article. But we also are not as far away as some would like to believe. As I said in another comment, we still need a long-term replacement for both Almunia and Gallas.

    Idris – for the past 4 years the constant theme for people to attack Arsenal has been “yeah, yeah, they can beat anyone on their day (i.e. Utd, Liverpool or Chelsea) but they struggle against the lesser teams. By excluding Chelsea and Utd I wanted to show that against those “lesser” teams we have not only been consistent, but positively ruthless. In fact, we have been “as good as anyone in the history of the game” good. Do we need to figure out a way to beat Chelsea and Utd? YES!!!!!!!YES!!!!!!!YES!!!!!! Darn it, yes we do!!!!!! Is this team perfect? NO!!!!!! NO!!!!!!! But it also isnt the rank outsider some in the media would have you believe, and it was NEVER going to be as bad as some in the media wanted to believe before the season.

  • Long time reader, first comment.

    This article is so good, if it were a player Wenger would have broken the transfer record for it.

    To your article I’d add that this squad first came good in 07-08 as the shackles were broken once Henry left. Each player came into his own and could bring his personality on to the pitch. When Henry played people just thought passing to him was their only responsibility. I’m not digging for the quotes right now but Cesc, Hleb and others did say that Henry’s departure made it easier and better for them.

    We were really good and were running away with the League, but we didn’t have the mental maturity at that time and that cost us the league. Last season we carried forward the hangover into the start of the season and Adebayor’s temperament was a big issue. Injuries didn’t help either.

    I feel the team was struggling but hanging on in the period that you mention and the addition of Arshavin made a huge difference mentally and on the pitch.

    The effects of the last part of 07-08 season and the 08-09 season did have a negative influence on the players’ psyche. This can be seen in the comments from senior players when they said we could do with some signings. The current winning sequence has taken us closer to the “bring it on” spirit from the early part of the 07-08 season and we have more maturity now.

    I’d say we’ve come of age only if we continue our impressive record till the end of the season and win the title. Till then it’s work in progress. Once this team wins one title, the floodgates will open and Arsenal will be a juggernaut that even United and Chelsea will struggle to contain.

  • LRV

    Fantastic article Paul C. I stated before the season began that this team will surprise a lot of people. I predicted that Denilson, Song and Diaby will become the engine hub in the midfield.

    So far, injuries have stunted Denilson’s progress a bit this season. However, I still maintain that he, like Song and Diaby, will come out shinning. He, without doubt, will become a Makelele.

    The team’s progress will surely continue. Having sorted the front and Midfield, I assure everyone that Arsene Wenger’s focus will, from may, be squarely on the defence. You see, he always gives subtle clues as to where he wants to focus next. His botched attempt to buy Chris Smalling indicates his next focus. Just watch out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  • Wonderman

    Excellent article !!! furthermore which other team in the world could do that whilst maintaining it’s position in the league and build a world class stadium
    @LRV I agree totally our next quatum leap is to become more miserly and aggressive defensively