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October 2016
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State of the Arsenal Nation – Phase one of the season is over

by Tim Charlesworth

And breathe…..

So phase 1 of the season is over, and the reviled interlull is upon us.  The first four premiership games are played and the transfer window is closed.

This was perhaps the least important ‘phase 1’ for years.  There were several reasons for this.  Firstly, we had no major squad gaps to fill (I appreciate that not everyone agrees on this point).  Secondly, the PL results are not that important at this stage of the season.  Thirdly, and most importantly, we didn’t have to play the dreaded CL qualifier, a terrible tie, with very little to gain, and an awful lot to lose.

Overall, the start is mildly disappointing.  We have scored 7 points from 4 relatively benign games.  This is not good enough to win the Premiership (1.75 points per game – Chelsea won with 2.26 pts/game last season and we scored 1.97 in 14/15).  We are level with most possible competitors, significantly behind City and slightly ahead of Chelsea (way ahead of the tiny tots if you are interested in such things).  This is OK, but we have a tough run of away fixtures coming up, so don’t be too perturbed if we slip back a little.

I think a few things have combined to make the start seem a bit worse than it really is:

  1. Losing at home on the opening day against a minor team is always going to be a horrible shock which is difficult to recover from psychologically (for the fans particularly)
  2. There was a lot of talk about how important it was to make a good start, after failing to recover from a bad start last year in the PL.
  3. Our poor start last season was repeatedly blamed on the 2014 World Cup – I think we all hoped to start better in the absence of a World Cup
  4. Both indicators of ‘form’ – the finish to last season and the pre-season games suggested that Arsenal would start well.  The team failed to live up to these form guides.

It is tempting to say that: – if only Ramsay’s goal against Liverpool had stood we would have 9 points at 2.25 per game and all would be well.  I don’t really like this analysis and I think the 7 points is generally reflective of how the games have gone.

In fact there were a few turning points.  Some went our way – Palace hitting the post, Liverpool failing to convert their chances, whilst some went against us – Ramsay’s offside goal, missing chances against Liverpool and West Ham, and most of all, the terrible defensive positioning mix up that led to WHU’s first goal.

So to the transfer window.  The standard of journalism surrounding ‘transfer rumours’ is increasingly ludicrous.  Untold has covered this subject extensively, so I won’t elaborate here.

The rise of the blogs and the importance of ‘click-baiting’ seem to mean that even in mainstream newspapers, all sense of integrity has died.  Everyone makes stuff up, and its just a game.  This year’s prime silliness was the (never ending) stories that Benzema/Madrid had agreed to various things.  Clearly no such agreement had happened, yet it was widely reported.

One consequence of all this silliness is that its very difficult to ascertain what really happened.   This is particularly difficult for us Gooners, because Wenger repeatedly makes statements that are simultaneously meaningless and true.  His basic line was that: ‘We will sign someone, if a quality player becomes available at a sensible price’ (I will overlook the fact that he said something similar just before the Kallstrom signing).  This is a bit like saying ‘if a beautiful girl wants to have sex with me I will do it’ (in my bachelor days obviously)

This statement actually imparts no new information, and I think that’s quite deliberate.  Unusually, our club likes to conduct its transfer business in private.  So what really happened?

My guess (and its only a guess) is that very little happened.  It looks as if we may have made a genuine enquiry about Benzema and possibly some others, but were easily put off by lack of availability or high prices.  From this, I conclude that Wenger is largely happy with his squad, but thinks there is a small amount of room for improvement with an ‘exceptional player’.

Wenger’s opinion is important here.  He sees a lot more of the players than we do (particularly in training), and is in a much better position to judge form, fitness, skill, development etc than we are.  This is especially true of those players not regularly playing 90 mins.  We hardly see these players at all and have no idea how they are progressing.  If Wenger is largely happy with the squad, this is a good sign that it is strong (although his record in not unimpeachable on this point)

I have read/heard some pretty daft analysis of our transfer window (only team in Europe not to buy an outfield player etc).  There is a kind of conspiracy of AAA and excitable journalists/ex-pros who argue roughly along the following lines:

  1. Chelsea beat Arsenal by 12 points last season
  2. Arsenal have only signed Cech
  3. Do they really think that this one signing is enough to close a gap of 12 points.

In fact Arsenal’s team has changed out of all recognition from the one that started last season.   I struggle to recall a period when the team has changed so much.  So let’s compare the current team to the one that started the 14/15 season:

  1. Gabriel is an excellent player, who hardly played at all last season and was signed in January
  2. Petr Cech appears to be an improvement at Goalkeeper
  3. Francis Coqulin is a gem.  Possibly the most important player to emerge since Fabregas, he only played half of last season
  4. Theo Walcott will be an important player and hardly played at all last season
  5. Internationally retired Per Mertesacker is fresh (he looked exhausted last season)
  6. A number of players look to have improved since last season, most notably the Ox, who may well have a great season.
  7. Ozil should be available for the majority of the season after only half a season last time out.  He is Arsenal’s most creative player.  His return to the side coincided with the second half of last season.
  8. Bellerin is doing very well.  He only played half of last season (again, like Ozil, it was the successful half)
  9. Carzorla only played in central midfield for half a season (he was pretty peripheral in the first half of last season).  Like Bellerin and Ozil, the half a season he played, was the one in which Arsenal scored more premiership points than any other team.
  10. Monreal seemed to get a new lease of life, and is a ‘new player’ compared to the one we had at the start of last season.  Gibbs was first choice left back at the start of 14/15.  I think Monreal has improved, rather than Gibbs losing form (note his England selection this week).

Overall, you might observe that comparing this team to the one that started last season, there are in fact eight high quality new players (brackets show what they were doing in the first half of last season):

  1. Cech (a Chelsea player)
  2. Coquelin (on loan)
  3. Ozil (injured)
  4. Monreal (second choice, not the same player)
  5. Cazorla (poor form, appeared to be ageing)
  6. Gabriel (playing for Villareal)
  7. Walcott (injured)
  8. Giroud (broken leg)

Now, I know that not all these players are likely to play simultaneously.   However most of these are starters, not squad players.  The only real exceptions to this are that Walcott and Giroud tend not to start together and Gabriel is still in the process of establishing himself as a starter (again, note the international selection this week).  We should not be misled by the fact that most of these players have come via internal routes, rather than big signings.  Eight players is a substantial portion of an eleven man football team.  It seems to me, that more than half the team is different to the one that started last season.  The idea that Arsenal has only improved in one position is absurd!

On the downside, there are probably other players who will not do as well as last season:

  1. There will probably be at least one player who will miss half a season with injury.  Last season, Walcott, Ozil, Debuchy and Giroud fell into this category.  I suspect, based on recent experience, that 2 (+/-2) first team players will fall into this category this season.
  2. There is a risk that Sanchez will suffer ‘second season syndrome’ and will not be as good as last year.
  3. Some of our players are older but actually it is quite a young squad.   Ageing seems to mostly apply to Mertesacker (nearly 31), who looks fresher than last season.  Cech is also ageing (33 not that old for a keeper), but can hardly be compared to the younger Cech of last season.  Bosscielny is pushing 30, but seems to be in as good a form as ever.  Cazorla (30) seems to be maturing rather than ageing.  Rosicky is ageing, but a fringe player.

I think that any comparison of the two lists above  (the ten improvements against the three ‘downsides’ will conclude that we are considerably stronger than in the first half of last season, and remember that in the second half, we scored more points than anyone else.

Finally, I feel obliged to comment on the Welbeck hysteria.

It is true that the no 9/striker position looks like a possible weakness.  I am also genuinely sorry for Welbeck, who seems a nice lad.  But, the truth is that he is our third choice behind Giroud and Walcott (possibly fourth choice behind Sanchez), and an auxiliary reserve winger/wide midfielder.  He is not a great loss.  The loss will look worse if Walcott or Giroud pick up a serious injury, but actually, even at Arsenal, most players go through the season without a major injury, so we would be a bit unlucky if this happened.

He will also be back and fresh in the new year.   It would have been a gross waste of money if Wenger had bought someone to replace him, when Joel Campbell (not a bad player actually) was available for free.


Overall, I am mildly disappointed with the results, mildly disappointed with form, but happy with the transfer window outcome.

We are much stronger than at this point last year.  Some of our improvements are still to prove themselves (Coquelin for a whole season, Walcott as a striker, Gabriel, the Ox).

I don’t guarantee that we will win the league, but I think we have a good team with strength in depth (see

Accidents (like Monaco and West Ham) will still happen, but hopefully are becoming less frequent, and stability should further that reduction – there were a lot of accidents in 13/14, but less in 14/15.  Most bookies have us as second favourites for the PL at around 5-1.  Bookies tend to overvalue transfer window success at this time in the season, and I think they are overestimating how good the ageing Man City are.

Last season was quite unusual, in the respect that the team who had the best transfer window, won the league.  Their new players (mostly Courtois, Fabregas and Costa) did well, but most big signings take a while to bed in.  To be fair, I think that the team that negotiated a deal to sell David Luiz for £40m deserved to win the league.  I think 5-1 is good value for Arsenal and I have invested appropriately.  Chins up fellow Gooners, quiet confidence is the order of the day.

The Untold Books


22 comments to State of the Arsenal Nation – Phase one of the season is over

  • Pete

    Tim – Good article. Nothing to add…

  • Mick

    ‘1 Chelsea beat Arsenal by 12 points last season
    2 Arsenal have only signed Cech
    3 Do they really think that this one signing is enough to close a gap of 12 points.’

    These three points sum up the absolute stupidity of the media when on signing Cech they proclaimed as one that we were now serious title contenders on the basis of him being worth an extra 12 points a season to us. Fast forward to the end of the transfer window and now the stupid media claim we have no chance of the title because we didn’t strengthen by adding a DMF or striker.
    Which is it, they can’t have it both ways.

  • Pete

    Chelsea and Arsenal were more or less level-pegging from the end of September right through to when Arsenal took their foot off the gas in May.

    Cech is about flat so far. Cost us a point against West Ham but saved us one against Liverpool (compared to what I think Szcz and Ospina may have done).

    Szcz would have come for the West Ham free-kick and got there, whereas Ospina would have stayed on his line and caught it! Both should have got the 2nd.

    I don’t think either would have saved both those Liverpool shots, perhaps one – although could make a case for Szcz with his size and reactions?

  • Tom

    Great piece, Tim.
    You are quickly becoming my favorite writer on here.

    Regarding transfers – People give too much credence to what possible transfer targets have to say afterwards, especially when they don’t materialize.

    Do they really expect Benzema to say he wanted to leave Real for more playing time and possibly more money, but now that it hasn’t happen he’s crushed and finds it hard to go on?

    Or do they expect Kondogbia to say that he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear from Wenger, like that he would be a guaranteed starter or play in his favorite position. Which is what Mancini promised him.
    Instead ,we hear from Kondogbia that it was always his dream to work with Mancini( who’s buying that?), and Benzema that he never wanted to leave Real(?this one more plausible)

    Btw, players like Ozil, Sanczez or Benzema don’t desire to leave clubs like Barca or Real unless they feel dissed money wise or not getting the playing time.

    Keep up the good work.

  • nicky

    Are you right when you refer to the “second season syndrome”?
    I’ve always understood just the opposite….. that newbies generally took a season to bed in and then tended to shine. That certainly would appear to be the case with Arsenal signings. 😉

  • How refreshing a truly balanced piece of writing , more please !

  • Gord

    We’ve had a couple of loanees in action: Crowley and Wellington.

    Crowley started and played 70 minutesin a losing cause. He had 1 shot on goal, and was fouled once.

    Wellington played in a testimonial game between Bolton and Motherwell. Normally Heskey and Wellington are subbing each other, in this game they played at the same time at one point, where Wellington assisted a Heskey goal.

  • Gord

    Also on the news front, the referee appointments are out (a day early?) for the weekend games. We get Moss.

    Saturday 12 September 2015
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    12:45 Everton v Chelsea _ _ _ _ Andre Marriner _L Betts _ _ D Bryan _ _A Taylor
    15:00 Arsenal v Stoke _ _ _ _ _ Jonathan Moss _ H Lennard _ A Holmes _ J Linington
    15:00 Crystal Palace v Man City Mike Jones _ _ _R West _ _ _A Nunn _ _ R East
    15:00 Norwich v Bournemouth _ _ Martin Atkinson M Mullarkey S Child _ _K Friend
    15:00 Watford v Swansea _ _ _ _ Robert Madley _ M McDonough M Perry _ _C Breakspear
    15:00 West Brom v Southampton _ Stuart Attwell _M Scholes _ J Collin _ M Dean
    17:30 Man Utd v Liverpool _ _ _ Michael Oliver _S Burt _ _ _G Beswick _L Mason
    Sunday 13 September 2015
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    13:30 Sunderland v Spurs _ _ _ _Craig Pawson _ _D Cann _ _ _A Halliday A Marriner
    16:00 Leicester v Aston Villa _ Mike Dean _ _ _ S Long _ _ _E Smart _ _J Moss
    Monday 14 September 2015
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    20:00 West Ham v Newcastle _ _ _Anthony Taylor _J Brooks _ _P Kirkup _ N Swarbrick

  • ob1977

    Great article, one of those that makes me think why can’t everyone understand this or see it from such a clearly honest, balanced, and not sensationalistic view.., I’ll say it again, I love this site…

  • Well done Tim. You’ve done very well for yourself with this one. What you’ve done is that you blind-sided most, if not all, with the full picture you painted with the hard cold facts you set out so eloquently.

    You did not explicitly say so, but it is implied from this that we CAN actually win the league title this season. I happen to think so too, although I couldn’t really say why until now. So, I guess a big thank you will be appropriate here. It is actually comforting to know that we have reasons to be optimistic. Those who want to, can go on being as miserable and they want to be. After all they are entirely entitled to their opinions.

    Well, in a nutshell, the future is bright, not gloomy, as some would have us believe.

  • jayramfootball

    Very good article.

    The only thing I would disagree on is that I feel we did indeed need a striker. Even if you believe Giroud is good enough (I don’t), given Welbeck’s injury we look very light and at risk from further injuries having a big impact.

  • john

    What’s the betting that we get Martin Atkinson next week?

    Who are we playing? Oh yes, Chelsea!

  • Gord

    I can’t help you there John. All I know is this coming weekend is on the north side of a tree (mossy).

  • Gord

    Article about Arsenal Scholar Chris Willock wanting to go to the U17 World Cup (he has played 4 times for Arsenal U21).

    If Untold Arsenal is going to restrict off topic posts, perhaps every day we need a catch all. For example, perhaps tomorrow there is a 20140908 Misc thread?

  • Mandy Dodd

    You write some great stuff Tim, look forward to many more.
    Agree, very little happened this summer, I am sure enquires were made but nothing came of nothing…..with the exception of Cech and some promising youngsters.
    Will we win the league, the minimum requirement of the aaa/media/ex players who need attention/money/to be loved……..maybe but up against a team whose owners put in unlimited millions, have done for years and did so this summer. Stan does not do that, not judging, just saying. So it will be hard, city spend 150 mil, sold very few, FFP has gone south, and we are where we are.
    I think Wenger, and probably others have realised things have gone mad, and recruitment from within is the most viable option, with the odd buy wherever needed or possible. Sounds like our academy is coming along nicely, expect to see a few come through.
    When the market demands 58 mil for potential, time to develop from within. Wenger is good at that when he goes for it.

  • omgarsenal

    Well written and researched article Tim!

  • Pope Valley

    Love this too.


  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Sounds right to me . A big LIKE from me .

  • Brickfields Gunners

    The Fern and the Bamboo

    One day I decided to quit…I quit my job, my relationship, my spirituality…

    I wanted to quit my life. I went to the woods to have one last talk with God.

    “God”, I said. “Can you give me one good reason not to quit?”

    His answer surprised me. “Look around”, He said. “Do you see the fern and the bamboo?”

    “Yes”, I replied. “When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took very good care of them.

    I gave them light. I gave them water. The fern quickly grew from the earth.

    Its brilliant green covered the floor. Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed.

    But I did not quit on the bamboo. In the second year the fern grew more vibrant and plentiful.

    And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo.

    In year three there was still nothing from the bamboo seed.

    But I would not quit. The same in year four.

    Then in the fifth year, a tiny sprout emerged from the earth.

    Compared to the fern, it was seemingly small and insignificant.

    But just six months later, the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall.

    It had spent the five years growing roots.

    Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive.

    I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle.

    “Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots?

    I would not quit on the bamboo. I will never quit on you.

    “Don’t compare yourself to others.” He said. “The bamboo had a different purpose than the fern.

    Yet they both make the forest beautiful. Your time will come”, God said to me.

    “You will rise high.” “How high should I rise?” I asked.

    “How high will the bamboo rise?” He asked in return.

    “As high as it can?” I questioned. “Yes.”

    He said, “Give me glory by rising as high as you can.”

    I left the forest, realizing that God will never give up on me.

    And He will never give up on you.

    Never regret a day in your life.

    Good days give you happiness; bad days give you experiences; both are essential to life.

    Serenity isn’t freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.

  • Pete

    Jayram – Re a new striker, but WHO and for how much?

  • apo Armani

    Excellent article Tim!!

  • Jambug

    Tim Charlesworth

    “I have read/heard some pretty daft analysis of our transfer window (only team in Europe not to buy an outfield player etc). There is a kind of conspiracy of AAA and excitable journalists/ex-pros who argue roughly along the following lines:

    1.Chelsea beat Arsenal by 12 points last season
    2.Arsenal have only signed Cech
    3.Do they really think that this one signing is enough to close a gap of 12 points.

    In fact Arsenal’s team has changed out of all recognition from the one that started last season. I struggle to recall a period when the team has changed so much.”

    I couldn’t agree more and have already said all this back on the 4th. Perhaps you read it Tim? 😉

    Funny how certain people agree so much you’re becoming a bit of a favourite.

    Strange, they think I talk crap.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth this is what I had to say regarding the infamous 12 points:


    September 4, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    One of the things I find frustrating is when they keep on about the 12 points.

    I saw a comment the other day that said ‘The 12 points doesn’t lie’.

    But that’s the thing, it does.

    By the end of last season, with our injured players back, Summer signings settled in, and the emergence of a couple of top quality squad players into the first team, we where a completely different team to that that started the season.

    In the first half of the season maybe, but there was no way by the end of the season we where a team 12 points inferior to Chelsea, despite what the table said.

    The fact we won the second half of the season, aligned to the respective starts of both teams this season, goes some way to showing that.

    We ended the season a match for anyone.

    Looking at the start of this season nothing has changed, except maybe for City.

    But only maybe.

    Yes they have started well, and I, like others, have been impressed. But some perspective is needed I think, because the truth is it’s far too early to suggest they’re the all conquering team some would have us believe.

    And this is why.

    This is who they’ve played.

    Everton 9th (5 pts)

    Chelsea 13th (4 pts)

    W.B.A 15th (4 pts)

    Watford 17th (3 pts)

    I know it was pre season (although I contest the CS is not) but we beat 2 of those very comfortably as well.

    Chelsea, on the face of it, was a fantastic result, but subsequent events, and a re evaluation of where Chelsea are as a team at this moment in time, suggests perhaps not quite as wonderful as at first it seemed.

    Obviously the thing with City is they’ve just spent another £100 Million quid (loss) on top of the £500 Million plus they have already spent (lost), so of course they are going to be the favourites, but I’m afraid any Arsenal fan that thinks we can match that, or even begin to get near to that, are deluding themselves.

    I’m afraid, whether people like it or not, it’s how it is, and all we can hope is that Wengers genius can bridge the £500 Million gap.