Triumph and Adversity: a review of progress since the last interlull
By Tim Charlesworth
The second interlull is upon us, and it’s another chance to step away from the hurly-burly and review how our season is going. Just after the first interlull, I had a look at a series of tricky fixtures ahead, and suggested a few things to look out for (other than results) that might help us assess how good this team is. I asked the following questions
- Can Coquelin keep it up?
To my mind, this remains the most important question that will determine the outcome ofour season. We have needed this player for several seasons, and really missed him (if its possible to miss a player that you have never had). His form is solid, as are his performances. The injury scare from Chelsea was only a minor one, but we did seem to suffer defensively without him for the rest of the Chelsea game and then at Leicester. I am beginning to accept that he really is this good, and not just having a temporary run of hot form. We are beginning to take this guy for granted, but his effect on the team is immense (see Walter’s article).
- Will Walcott go prolific?
This is an interesting one. Walcott is looking good, much as I speculated and hoped. However, he is coming good in a slightly unexpected way. I always presumed that Walcott would succeed by scoring goals and running off the shoulders of opponents. He is doing this, but recent games have suggested that he is also doing something else. His movement against the opposition centre halves has become aggressive and imaginative, in a way that is very difficult for defenders to handle. He is showing an ability to hold onto balls played into his feet, and this is creating uncertainty for defenders, who can no longer just defend against the ‘through ball’. He is creating space and opportunities for others, even off the ball.
All this shows a mastery of the ‘no 9 craft’ which I never really expected to see from Walcott. So although he has not (yet) ‘gone prolific’, his goalscoring record has been good, his finishing has been good, and he is contributing hugely to the team. He now looks to me, the best English no 9 on form, and it will be interesting to see whether Hodgson agrees with me in the next England match.
- Is Gabriel as good as he looks?
We still need to see more evidence on this question. A centre half needs to prove consistency over a period of time but, so far, he is doing everything we could ask for. His performances have been excellent. I think some of us also quite liked seeing the ‘bit of devil’ that he showed in the Chelsea game, even though it didn’t work out very well. It will be interesting to see what happens when our top three centre halves are all fit. I don’t think Gabriel is droppable. As an attacker, I would not relish trying to get past, through, or around: Coquelin, Koscielny and Gabriel.
I think the jury is still out on this one. He still looks like a world class player with talent that can take your breath away. However, he is still not turning in the kind of ‘result altering performance’ that I think he is capable of. He had opportunities to do so in the Dinamo and Olympiacos games, but failed. He hinted at dominance against Dinamo, and also against Man U, but didn’t quite deliver. I am still optimistic about him, and he remains an extremely good player, even if he only carries on his current form. If he can move to the next level, our opponents are in big trouble.
- Is Wenger going to rotate?
This is the most worrying of the questions that I posed. When I wrote the previous piece, I was basically hoping that Wenger would have the courage to rotate and that it would workout well. In order for us to have a good season, we need to avoid wearing out our players in the early stages. Wenger did have the courage to rotate, but against Dinamo and Olympiacos, it didn’t go well, either in terms of results, or the public abuse that he has copped for doing so. This is a bad outcome on a number of fronts.
The poor CL results will mean that Wenger will have less opportunity to rotate in the next few months. Our only chance of qualifying now is to give 100% in every game, and that means no days off for the top players. In the coming fixtures against Watford and Bayern for example, I think he will be unable to rotate at all, and this means two games in three days for all our first choice players. This is the kind of schedule that causes injuries and stifles development, as the players are constantly in recovery. We basically now have two games a week up to Christmas. The only breaks in this schedule are one more interlull, which is not restful for many of our players, and a couple of Carling Cup fixtures that will allow rotation. The only other opportunity for rotation will arise if we do so badly in the CL that it is no longer worth putting out a strong team.
Of the five main questions I asked, three are looking good, one (Ozil) is difficult to answer, and one (rotation) is going badly. I also asked some more minor questions:
Can Sanchez maintain last season’s form? – It looks like yes, and fears of the ‘second season syndrome’ are receding.
Is this the year that the Ox finally establishes himself? – unfortunately his form is poor. The talent is still obvious, but something looks wrong mentally. Hopefully, this can be fixed soon.
Can our fullbacks keep up the good work? – yes and no, Bellerin and Monreal look good, Debuchy and Gibbs a bit disappointing.
Will Cech make a real difference? – this is really too early to say. A goalkeeper needs to show consistency. Both Cech and Ospina have made mistakes this season.
Will Koscielny be as good as ever? – Looks like a yes here
Can Cazorla keep it up in the new position? – looks like a yes here too
Will we get the 13/14 Ramsay back? – he is playing well, but not at the 13/14 level yet. Stillroom to improve.
Will Giroud do well? – looks dangerous when he comes on for Walcott. So far he looks like agood bench/rotation/injury cover option for Walcott. I hope he will play an important role in our season, but it is too early to tell. It looks like he is losing his place to Walcott, and this can have a negative effect on some players.
Will our BFG have an Indian summer? – sadly this one doesn’t look good. He looks vulnerable in defence. I think he is now third choice, and in danger of being challenged by Calum Chambers, who is regaining his form and confidence.
Apart from posing the questions, I suggested that four points was the minimum we needed from the three PL fixtures (Chelsea, Leicester and Man U), roughly equivalent to the four points from the equivalent fixtures last season. In the event, we got six, which is a good result.
Actually the series of tricky fixtures went quite well compared to my expectations. Of course, the one thing I didn’t consider, was the possibility of losing at home to Olympiacos. This is a horrible result, and our team’s ability to have ‘accidents’ like this remains a concern. That’s two this season already (the other being West Ham – sensible conclusions cannot be drawn from the Chelsea game as it was a ‘referee result’, not a ‘football result’). Maybe three if you include, Dinamo.
There is one positive development that I didn’t consider at the last review: partnerships. A couple of important-looking attacking partnerhips are developing. Walcott and Sanchez in particular, seem to be reading each other’s games in a devastating way. The same is true, to a lesser extent (but improving) of Walcott and Ozil, and also Ozil and Sanchez.
The three of them together look like they are starting to scare defences. I think that the poor performance of Manchester United’s defence can be, at least partly, explained by the terrifying combination of pace and movement which these three are throwing at opponents. This is a very nice development, and the on-field relationships look like they are still developing and growing.
Overall, I think the season so far remains mixed. The main problem is that it looks like we may exit the CL. Beating the Tots in the Carling Cup is nice, but of no great consequence. Our league position is good, but not exceptional. We are scoring 2 points per game. We need to aim for about 2.2 points (which is roughly where City are, and what Chelsea got last year) in order to win. If we win the next two (very winnable) PL games, we will move to about 2.2points per game. This is not too bad considering a reasonably tricky run of fixtures which included a non-football result against Chelsea.
We are slightly ahead of expectations in the PL, but badly behind in the CL. Our potential PL rivals (particularly Chelsea, to whom we were second favourites before the season started) are doing badly. The team looks good. The new players (which the shallow commentators forgot about) are doing well. We look like we have reasonable cover for most injuries, with Coquelin being the exception.
The Man U game has left us on a bit of high for the interlull, which is nice for fans, and has helped bury the Olympiacos despair. I would have us as slight favourites over City to win the PL, based on what we have seen. And let’s face it, if we win the PL, we will call this a good season. Even a close second will be considered progress.
From the anniversary files
- 9 October 1914: The Arsenal Football And Athletic Co Ltd became The Arsenal Football Club Ltd
- 9 October 1976: Steve Gatting made his first appearance as sub in Peter Simpson Testimonial. He had joined Arsenal as an apprentice in July 1975 and became a professional footballer two years later.
- The Untold Arsenal Banner is now on permanent display inside the Emirates Stadium
- A Memorial to the founders of Arsenal’s Highbury dynasty.
- And we’re on Twitter @UntoldArsenal
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal