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Still On The Right Track

By Ian Jenkinson

@Gooneriano 

One of the last articles I had written, So Far So Good, But Why?, was in September. We had only played 5 league games, two Champions League qualifiers, and an away Champions League group game at Marseille. Life was good, we sat top of the Premier League, top of our Champions League Group and we had not long signed Mesut Özil.

After such a short length of time it was hard to judge whether our great start would continue. But the general feeling of that article was not to boast of being top of tables but more about the general good feeling around the club and why I thought we were on the right track.

The main reasons i cited in that article as to why there was a feel good factor were:

1. We had not sold any of our main players as in previous seasons.

2. The further development and maturing of current players (Ramsey, Theo, Jack, The Ox, Gibbs, Kos and Szczesny).

3. The now powerful mix of experience (BFG, Sagna, Poldi, Arteta and Rosicky) and youth (see players in point 2!).

4. The new signings, Flamini and Özil. In particular, the steel that Flamini gave us that we missed and the class and overall feeling of having a superstar signing in Özil. At the time of writing that article we had not really seen Sanogo play but having seen him against Munich and Liverpool in the FA Cup I think the lad can do a job for us.

All of the above points are vital, and as we are further into the season let me just dip into each one.

On point one, last summer for me should be the starting point from which we judge Arsenal’s trophy winning capabilities. In the past and due to the stadium move I really believe Wenger worked miracles to keep us in the Champions League and with a bit more luck could have won a cup or two. As and from this summer just gone we no longer need to sell our best players. The financial monkey now seems to be off the club’s back. I think the club had a 10 year plan to move from Highbury to Ashburton Grove and be back in the financial game.

So have we gone 8 years without a trophy/not competing or are we actually 2 years ahead of the plan? You decide.

Point two I felt was hugely important, we had kept the nucleus of the first team in place. Especially the younger players mentioned. And each of those now have a further year under their belts. Keeping those players at Arsenal and tying them down to long term contracts has been massive for the club.

Point three is a no brainer; having a mix of exciting talented youth and highly skilled experienced players is huge for any club. Having the likes of Flamini, Arteta, Mertesacker and Sagna yelling orders and being the glue that holds the team together is paramount. And we have seen those towering performances from Mert, Sagna and Flamini as the season has gone on, they have defended staunchly in games that last season we would have lost. Experience.

Point four, well we all said that we needed new signings, a lot of people moaned about Flamini but not me; I thought he was a very astute signing. Özil has been slated by the media and opposition fans (and some of our own fans) but i think that is utterly hilarious. In some games he wasn’t at the races for sure but nobody plays perfectly in every game, especially not in their first season in a foreign country.

What Özil does is very subtle, he is a classy retainer of possession. Just because he isn’t going past three or four players every time doesn’t mean he is a bad player. When he is back and fit, watch how he gets himself out of difficult situations and retains possession, possession that other players would concede. He keeps play moving for Arsenal and is a vital cog in our system. I also don’t think it is any coincidence that Özil’s form has seemed to dip while Ramsey and Walcott have been out injured.  One of Mesut’s main strength is finding killer balls through to onrushing midfielders and attackers.

Would Begkamp have created so many chances if he didn’t have the likes of Freddie, Bobby and Thierry running in behind? Özil needs those types of players alongside him. Those who have deputised for Ramsey and Walcott are very talented players in their own right but they do not have the same style as Aaron and Theo. Bursts of energy from midfield. Just like Ronaldo was the burst for Özil at Real Madrid.

But what about now? 29 games into the season? Some people put our good start down to our “favourable” fixture list. They can’t say that now, all teams have played each other by now. Sure, we aren’t top of the league any more but we are not far off. I have looked at our games from last season compared to this season to see how we have done in the corresponding fixtures. Of course we don’t have a full comparison because there are still nine games left this season. But the numbers did throw up some interesting data.

Firstly, let us look at our positions from the last two seasons after the same number of games:

Pos Season

P

W

D

L

F

A

GD

Pts

Points from top

5th Arsenal 12/13

29

14

8

7

55

32

23

50

24

3rd Arsenal 13/14

29

19

5

5

53

28

25

62

4 with game in hand

The first thing that stands out is that we have managed five more wins so far this season than at the same point last season and we have 12 more points. That is a lot. So can people now still say that the fixture list was favourable? No.

Surprisingly our goals scored, conceded and goal differences are relatively the same in both seasons. When you dig deeper into that there is a story to be told because there are anomalies in those figures.

Last season we scored more goals at this stage so should that mean we should have had more points after 29 games? No, because last season we scored 7 at home to Newcastle, 6 at home to Southampton, 5 at home to Spurs (hee hee!) as well as 5 away to Reading.  That is 23 of our 55 goals up to that point contained in just 4 games. Very misleading. You can only win 3 points per game. I would have swooped some of those 23 goals last season for tight games like our opening two 0 -0 draws or our 3-3 draw at home to Fulham. Spread the wealth so to speak.

But this season we have conceded just 4 goals fewer than last season. How can that be when we are 12 points better off? Well it is simply because we conceded 6 away at Man City, 5 away at Liverpool and 3 at home in the Anthony Taylor debacle against Aston Villa. That is 14 goals contained in just THREE games. That is half of all our 28 goals conceded this season in just those three games. The other 14 goals conceded were from our other 26 games. And therein lies the reason why we have improved this season.

We are meaner.

What is the opposite of spreading the wealth in a defensive light?! If you looked that up there would be a picture of Per and Kos underneath it, with Bac, Gibbsy and Szcz just behind them (Flamini and Arteta would be trying to photo bomb them to get his plaudits)! Giroud’s defensive performances shouldn’t go unnoticed either.

On top of that, other than those 3 games, we have only conceded more than 1 goal in a game once – away to Southampton in a 2-2 draw. So that means of our 29 games so far this season in 25 of them we have conceded 1 goal or less including 13 clean sheets. And to go a layer further than that… Of the 12 games that we conceded 1 goal, only twice did it cost us any points. The 1-1 draw at home to Everton and the 1-1 draw away at West Brom. In 10 games that we conceded 1 goal they were simply consolation goals.

And that is why we are 12 points better off so far this season and an astonishing 20 points closer to the top team (with a game in hand). I understand that this season doesn’t have a runaway leader like Man Utd (remember them) but it is still hugely significant and massive kudos must go to Wenger, the players and of course Steve Bould.

I then took a look at some individual team comparisons. Firstly we won all 6 of our games against the three teams that were relegated last season. If we beat Hull City away (which will be a tough game) we will have taken the same points from the 3 teams that replaced the relegated teams from last season.

Other than that we are worse off in three fixtures:

Against Aston Villa we are -1 point from the home and away fixtures from last season. Liverpool and Stoke City are the same. That is a net loss of 3 points in those three fixtures.

Whereas we gained 2 points against Fulham, 3 points from Spurs and 2 points from Sunderland from last season. A net gain of 7 points.

We had the same points total against Southampton and Man Utd. The biggest disappointment for me this season compared to last season is that we didn’t take more points from a very vulnerable Man Utd. Although, both times they played us they happened to have their full squad which they didn’t have when they dropped so many points against others.

They are comparisons from teams that we have played twice so far this season, but what of the teams we still have yet to play?

We got 0 points from Chelsea last season, we have 1 so far this season and a trip to Stamford Bridge to look forward to this week. We took 1 point from Man City last season with none so far this season but they have a trip to us. Wins at home to Swansea and away to Norwich will see us gain from last season. Although even a win at home to West Brom will see us down on our tally from last season. We had two draws with Everton last season. One so far this season. Could we nick a win at Goodison?

So what does all this mean? It simply means we have improved. It doesn’t mean that we will win the league but it means we are getting closer and that was all i had hoped for pre season.

And all this while we have had a lot of long term injuries. Walter’s series of articles on injuries since 2002 is still running. It is well worth a read. What I have done below is listed our injuries from this season alone. The numbers are staggering.

The following 1st team players have missed large chunks of the season with various injuries each, it is important to note that these are injuries added up from the whole season and not just the players latest injury:

These figures are from the wonderful www.arsenalreport.com/injuryroom

Jack Wilshere: 4 weeks so far (plus 2 more weeks scheduled).

Aaron Ramsey: 12 weeks so far (due back any day now).

Theo Walcott: 19 weeks so far (plus the rest of this season).

Mesut Özil: 4 weeks so far (plus 3 more weeks scheduled).

Mikael Arteta: 9 weeks. (Currently fit).

Podolski: 16 weeks. (currently fit).

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain: 20 weeks. (currenly fit).

Yaya Sanogo: 23 weeks. (admittedly he isn’t necessarily a first team regular but what impact might he have had if he was fit? His Arsenal career would be a bit more experienced at least).

Thomas Vermaelan: 20 weeks (our club captain whose absence saw Bacary Sagna at times play center half).

And not a Diaby in sight! That is 127 weeks of injuries (not including further scheduled injury time), you could pretty much say that 1 week represents 1 game give or take. When you factor in international breaks and midweek games it roughly averages out at that. Maybe even slightly more than 1. So that means that the 9 players above have missed on average 14 games this season. Astonishing. And yet we are still there or thereabouts at the top of the table.

You could easily argue whether our rivals could handle those injuries to first team players or not for that length of time. Even if you narrowed it down to just Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Arteta and Özil. Take the entire first team midfield out of Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City plus a few borderline first team players (like The Ox, Podolski, Vermaelen and Sanogo) and see how they get on.

But we have no squad depth apparently.

Every football club has injuries. We just seem to take the biscuit when it comes to that and i am delighted Wenger and the club have come out and said they are looking into it now.

Can Arsenal win the league? Absolutely. Will they? I don’t know. But i do know that we are pretty much as i expected us to be. I said in the article linked above that all i hoped for this season would be to close the gap to around 6/7 points from top (we were 16 points off top spot last season) and to hopefully nick a cup. And for now we are right on target for that.

I did also pray that this season would have been different when it came to injuries but alas they were not answered. Would we be top of the league right now with less injuries? Maybe not. Would we have more points than we do now? Almost definitely.

And that my fellow Gooner loving family is why we should all be very happy and optimistic for the future including the rest of this season. I don’t mean that we are going to win the league but we will be close and we may nick that cup i spoke about. We have a very tough game against Wigan who are not letting go of their FA Cup title for love nor money. If we do manage to beat them then we are in the final. We have a great chance but it is far from certain.

I said life was good after 5 games, i say the same and more after 29. Who knows what we will be saying after 38?

@Gooneriano

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17 comments to Still On The Right Track

  • Georgaki-Pyrovolitis

    An excellent roundup, thanks!

  • insideright

    Good positive thinking – and thank you for it. Think what might have been the case if even one of the major injuries had not happened or if that total number of weeks lost had been reduced by maybe a third.
    Our dramatically improved finances will begin to look even better as those of other clubs become more restricted by FFP.
    There’s already good reason to think that next season could be another step forward and the chance of picking up a trophy or two will increase yet further.
    Keeping the faith seems to get easier if you never lost it in the first place!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Very well put ,Ian .thanks. Hope our players do their very best and the fans get behind them and roar them on .
    There is potential for upsets and potholes for all and how each team negotiate each hazard will determine who finishes first.
    Lets start with weekend by shutting up the Moaning one !

  • Emmanuel Ongiertho

    I love this analysis for it helps particularly those who do not understand the situation our clud has to contend with. The blocks are being laid carefully and well; the house will be too strong one day. What a calculation!

  • sukebe

    superb article!! this XI is the future foundation of Arsenal..

    nevertheless, arsenal is still shite though… :E

    Btw, howcome i don’t see any “cazorla” in your article? am i missing something?

  • Mohamed

    Well done for this analytical article! People do not appreciate the fact that a good team has to be painstakingly put together. Only then will the team be able achieve more than the sum of the individuals in it. It is gratifying that we could be in the title chase with Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool who have spent tons of money more than us. We have achieved this with a healthy financial situation, having no fear of any issues with uefa on ffp. This is exemplary and I am glad to support a team that has achieved this feat. By God’s grace, we will crown it all up with a trophy or two by May. The gaping hole that I see is the need for a world class striker as shown by our weak goals scored segment compared with the other contenders. That could hurt us if there is a tie on points.
    I want to close by asking for the where about of Adam kemp who epitomizes fans that are overtly critical of our club but have gone dead silent when things are looking bright now.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Great article Ian!
    And I somehow feel already very cheerful about this season but you put it in numbers and it sure looks impressive.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Good points and very well expressed. With the exception of the three games you mentioned we have been far more solid defensively than last year with far fewer feelings that we are going to concede at any moment. Offensively we have lacked pace with our injuries but hopefully Campbell plus one new arrival and the return of Walcott next year will put that right.

  • nicky

    Can’t wait for Campbell to take his place at the Emirates.
    We could do with him NOW!

  • Damilare

    Thanks Ian for showing our improvement in numbers. Reading this and AW 1000 article today has made me more proud and emotional about my club Arsenal. Things can only get better now.

    And Ian, I strongly believe that if we have had fewer and shorter injuries this season, we would have not only top the league, but also have blown our closest rivals away.

    Forward, onward and upward to burn down the bridge this weekend. I am all for a historic win – break maureen’s home record on Arsene’s 1000th game. Tony/Walter, thats the part of match report I would love to read.

    COYG

  • Sammy The Snake

    Great points, thanks.

  • OMGArsenal

    Superb summary and AAA x-lax article (makes them shit themselves it is so positive and truthful) Ian….we need one of these every week until the end of May….please!

  • IGooner

    Great!

    How I wish more of our gooners could learn to support the team on the lines of your elegant big-picturesque analysis!

    Thanks.

  • Sonic

    Exceptional quality if, little bit, long.

  • Ian Jenkinson

    Hi All,

    Thank you very much for taking the time to comment, it really means a lot.

    @Sukebe, leaving out Cazorla was unintentional! He has been such an important player for us this season, especially when Ozil wasn’t on fire or wasn’t playing.

    @Sonic, thank you! Tony did think about making the article a two part article but decided to go with the one!

    Thanks again all, and here’s to 3 points at “The Bridge” tomorrow…..

    Ian.

  • Menace

    The injuries caused to Arsenal players are by other EPL players. The officials are supposed to insure that injuries are not ignored and perpetrators are punished. It seems that Arsenal players are not protected by PGMOL officials as a matter of course. PGMOL and the FA act in collusion to damage Arsenals position in English Football. It is obvious to everyone but seems to be overlooked by racist media that have an agenda against Arsene Wenger because he is French.

    Racism is not name calling but is this ugly avoidance of the truth. Arsenal players are targetted to be kicked. This is not new. Racists work outside the Laws of the Land and outside the Laws of the Game.

  • Strus

    So far Arsenal is 2 points better in similar fixtures than in the previous season.
    62 points is the most points gained in such fixtures for last 5 seasons(62,60,50,52,58). I don’t get further away than 09/10 in my stats.

    Now we can update how many fixtures clubs will have to play till the end of the season
    Chelsea: 8 EPL+ 2-5 CL ( 1 home, 1 away from top 7 + at least 2x PSG)
    Liverpool: 9 EPL(3 home from top 7)
    Arsenal: 9 EPL+ 1-2 FAC( 1 home, 2 away from top7)
    Mac City: 11 EPL(4 away from top7)
    The rest of teams are too far away