I know you don’t want to. Not yet at least. After all, it’s only a fortnight or so ago since we finished last season with such a wonderful exhibition of glorious cup winning football; us, at our brilliant footballing best. So let’s bask, bask and bask some more, all summer long in fact, in the glory of another trophy won. Why worry about what’s ahead? Please, let’s not enter the sordid world of transfer speculation just yet…I want to be on holiday and re-run the Cup Final goals in my head as I lie in the sun. Crank up the Beach Boys.
Ah, but alas, it’s started already. You know it has. Somewhere, at a football club in England, a signature has signed already, a deal has been done already, a club has invested with the objective of improving their chances already.
Yes, next season is happening, already. Apparently it kicks off earlier next season.
And I’m excited about that…because… well…because I am hopeful and I can’t wait. It’s the most excited I’ve been in many a long time. So I’m already one foot into the next campaign and I hope the club is too.
Hey…the Premier League…it’s up for grabs now!!!!
There, I’ve said it. Not only do I believe it is a real possibility for us but I think it has to be the goal by which we should judge ourselves next season. I think the squad want it. I think they have built up a sense of belief, momentum and determination. They are mentally ready for the push.
There are, in addition, a few players in the squad who may not have too much of another chance. Time is a-ticking and a-tocking. Five or six are at the 30 years of age mark or beyond, key players among them. If next season isn’t the one to culminate in a title push, we just might miss the opportunity and find ourselves in another (long) period of rebuilding.
No, it’s next season Untolders. It’s next season.
So, what is the extent of the task? What will it take?
Here’s a view: Let’s start by looking at what it has actually taken the champions of the last 10 years to become champions. Why just the last 10 years? Because Chelsea, United and City have dominated that period and they are likely to be our main competitors again next season.
If you look at the end-of-season numbers achieved by the champions across the last 10 years you will see the winners normally win between 26 to 29 games with draws and defeats pretty much split evenly. Only in 2011 did United win the league with fewer wins (23) and more draws (11). It’s true that Chelsea did notch up 9 draws to just 3 defeats last season but normally the number of wins, draws and defeats for the team that ends up being the champions varies only by a small margin season by season.
So when you take an average across the 10 years, you get a set of figures which are pretty close to what actually happens: champions need to be attaining 27 wins, 6 draws and restricting their defeats to 5, resulting in an average of 87 points.
Next season might see an anomaly of course but I think it’s fair, based on the evidence of the last 10 years, to expect that next year’s champions might need to be close to these numbers again.
From our perspective, compared to our league campaign of last season (22 wins, 9 draws, 7 defeats, 75 points), to hit the average stats the champions have achieved over the last 10 years, Arsenal will need therefore to convert 3 draws and 2 defeats from last season into 5 additional wins, attaining 12 additional points.
There are, I’m sure, other ways of setting a guide target for us to aim for but this is at least based on what the champion teams have actually achieved consistently to win the league.
What the last ten years also clearly shows, unsurprisingly, is that the champions are always either the highest goal scorers in total across the season or the team conceding least goals.
Arsenal’s tally of 71 goals last season is lower than any of the champions’ campaigns of the previous 10 seasons; by only two goals last season admittedly, but by 13 compared to the average across the 10 years and by as much as 32 versus the highest tally achieved by Chelsea in 2010.
Defensively we conceded 36 goals last season which is just 6 goals more than the average conceded by champions over the last 10 years. That’s pretty good.
So, based on all of that, if you want to win the Premier League against United, City or Chelsea, you need to aim to be in the ballpark of scoring 84 goals, conceding just 30, winning 27 matches, drawing 6, restricting lost games to 5 (if you have to lose any at all that is).
Whether you take the view that with a little bit of luck we might not need to hit these numbers (i.e. perhaps everyone else will take more points from each other lowering the pass mark so to speak) or view these targets as the least we should aim for, Mr Wenger will certainly need to get extra wins, fewer defeats and extra points from somewhere, if he wants to win the league.
How will he do it?
Strategy 1: We’re Good to Go.
Mr Wenger might conclude, with some justification, that he now already has a “Champions-Ready” team that can do it; a team that really only came together in January, playing together for just half a season last year. Mr Wenger might look at the stats and conclude that since this team emerged, its numbers are pretty much exactly bang on Premier League champions form.
From December 28, this emerging “Champions-Ready” team played 20 league matches until the end of the season, winning 14, drawing 3 and losing 3. If you extrapolate these same proportions of 70% wins, 15% draws and 15% defeats to the 18 matches we had already played between August and Christmas, pre the ‘Champions-Ready” team emerging, the numbers for the first half of the season would have been: 13 wins (instead of the 8 we actually won), 2 or 3 draws (instead of the 6 we actually drew) and just 2 or 3 defeats (instead of the 6 we actually lost).
Our season in total therefore would have looked like this: Won 27, drew 6, lost 6. (These figures are rounded up). Yep that’s pretty much bang on the average Premier League stats of the champions of the last 10 years: Won 27, Drew 6, Lost 5. Bingo. Those stats would therefore have put us equal with Chelsea last season on 87 points.
Now you might say that many Arsenal seasons of the last 10 years have seen us show champions form for half or even two thirds of a season and we’ve just petered out or started badly. But last season’s change of fortunes wasn’t just down to finding or losing form or players being injured or not. To me it felt different from previous seasons.
This “Champions-Ready” team emerged in the New Year , almost like a new team, due to some changes made by Mr Wenger in personal and the rebalancing of the way we played. By my count, 8 significant changes happened.
On Jan 11 Ospina became the keeper. On Jan 18 Bellerin became the right fullback. On Dec 28 Koscielny, having rested, returned fitter. Gabriel joined us in the January Window to give us authentic centre back cover. On Jan 11 Monreal became first choice left fullback. On Dec 28 Coquelin was rediscovered, giving us a real DM at last. On Feb 1st Ozil came back from injury fitter, stronger and better. On Jan 11 Giroud came back from a broken leg. Somewhere in there too, Carzola was asked to play deeper. All of this happened in the space of a month. And of course we had Alexis firing on all 600 cylinders.
The facts, the performances and the stats show we had a rebalanced and newly infused team that played together for just half a season and played at a level fit for Champions.
So we’re ready. We know our first team line up. We have good subs. A big squad to last a season. So Strategy 1: focus on getting consistency across a whole season with what we have. That’s the trick.
Any improvements we need to make we can get by being mentally focussed, trying tactical adjustments and line-up variations in training. New players are not needed.
Strategy 2: Minimise the risks in defence.
Ok Mr. Wenger, you are so close. But even though our defence was second only to Chelsea last year (conceding just 4 more goals), can we and should we do something in the transfer market to maximise the chances of stopping those pesky leaked goals at the back. For instance Ospina has been great but our core opponents at City, United and Chelsea each have keepers who are considered to be point-saving keepers. As do Spurs for that matter. And what happens if Ospina is injured? It could be argued our back-up keeper, Szczesny, is still too immature and is just as likely to lose us points as make point-winning saves.
Additionally, the new found balance between defence and attack was partly resolved last season because Coquelin brought more positional discipline, strength, pace, vitality, bite and ball-winning ability to the DM role. If he is injured, or loses form, we lose all of those attributes. For all of Arteta’s great service in that role over the last few years, he is older now, has lost pace (never had it really) and doesn’t have the edge needed. Flamini is edgier but he too is older and has lost his pace. Jack is injury prone and it’s not really his game. Ramsey can do a job there but he is not a specialist and prone to get forward.
Of the 36 goals we conceded last season, the majority (22) were conceded before our “Champions-Ready” team featuring Ospina and Coquelin emerged. Having better back-up or stronger challengers for these specialist defensive roles might be the key to ensuring we don’t drop off when changes are forced on us or needed.
Strategy 3: Maximise our attacking options.
Strategies 2 and 3 are not mutually exclusive of course but perhaps the primary way to strive forward for a serious Premier League challenge lies in scoring more goals. We scored 71 goals last year, just 2 shy of Chelsea. But that’s still 13 goals lower than the average number of goals the champions teams have scored in the last 10 years; extra goals which may turn a few more of the draws and defeats we suffered last season into more points next season.
The big question here is centre forward. Here, in this position, is the gamble. To stick with Giroud, who was, after all, in great form during February, March and April, or to find a new, more mobile, faster, more dynamic striker to suit the Ozil through-ball, or to make Theo the main man, giving him the opportunity to fulfil his undoubted goalscoring promise.
It’s a risk I know but personally I think Theo has so much to offer here. And he and Alexis swopping roles during games throughout the season, as they did in the Cup Final, is also a tantalising prospect.
It’s Giroud that is the question for me. When he is struggling, he is slow and he slows us. His feet are slow to get to a ball. His running is slow. He can be lump’esque at times, static, blunt. The team kinda grinds to a halt. A striker who has the strength to receive the ball, back against goal, but who can also move his feet quickly enough to turn his defender and quickly enough to collect the ball at pace would be an improvement on Giroud. That’s harsh I know but I think there are some more goals to gain by having a change there. Welbeck is a good squad player but not consistent enough, I fear, to maximise our goals.
If there’s such a striker out there, it might well be worth making the upgrade to help unpick the more resilient defences.
Strategy 4: Do a Wenger
Finally, and probably best advised, is to ignore the calls from the uneducated likes of me for a keeper, a DM and a striker and, instead, buy another creative playmaker. Go on Arsene, confound us all. You know you want to. And why not, you’re a winner again.
SO UNTOLDERS, OVER TO YOU. WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO WIN THE LEAGUE NEXT YEAR?
1: WE’ RE GOOD TO GO : no new players needed
2: MINIMISE DEFENSIVE RISKS: sure up the goalkeeping and DM positions
3: MAXIMISE GOALSCORING OPTIONS: upgrade the the centre-forward
4: DO A WENGER: bring in a new playmaker, doing something no-one else thought was needed.
Today’s selected anniversary
9 June 2008: Alex Song signed new long term contract. He continued at Arsenal, but amidst rumours of a dispute with the management he was sold to Barcelona in 2012 having played 160 league games for Arsenal.
The complete Arsenal on this day index is now here with around 5000 major events in Arsenal’s history recorded. May and June recently fully updated.