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October 2016
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What a week: we CAN go on from here to higher things

What a week!

By Tim Charlesworth

Well wow! That is as close to a perfect week as you will get as an Arsenal supporter.  We all tend to get carried away with wild optimism after a victory, and doom and gloom following a defeat.  So let’s step back a bit and have a look at what happened:

On Saturday we rode our luck and won a match that we could easily have drawn or lost.  This seemed to boost the confidence of the team.  It also helped their development.  Cazorla and le Coq are irreplaceable players and so we need to learn to play in a completely different way without them.  This takes time.  Saturday was an important staging post on that learning journey.   Ramsey started to show that he can offer something different, but not necessarily inferior, in midfield.  The whole team started to learn to cover the enormous Coquelin-shaped-hole in our midfield (no one individual can be expected to do it).

To make this result even better, all our potential rivals lost or drew and left us effectively top of the league (I am very confident that we won’t finish behind Leicester).  Because no team is dominating, the league position, even at this early stage, is more significant than normally.  If we can hang on near the top of the league for the next ten games, I think we have a very good chance of being champions.

The away trip to Olympiakos was slightly odd in hindsight.  In the end, we did it comfortably, and the third goal totally killed the contest.   But let’s not underestimate the great achievement that this win represents.  Olympiakos are not a first (or even second) rank team in European terms.  However, they are no mugs, and winning 2-0 away (let alone 3-0) is always a difficult thing in the CL.

To make it even harder, there was a hostile home crowd, and they had as much interest in the game as Arsenal, as they were also playing for qualification.  So this was genuinely a great achievement against the odds.  Maintaining our incredible record of 16 consecutive group qualifications is also significant.  The whole thing will be good for team confidence and our status in the European game.

It has been a funny old group campaign, but in the end our luck evened out and we had two fabulous victories (Bayern home and Olympiacos away).  We have also avoided the dreaded Thursday fixtures, which will help our league campaign.  Experience suggests that we will now only have two more European games this season (I am only half joking), and so the overall fixture burden is considerably reduced compared to the possibility of a Europa Cup campaign.  The next CL game is now so far away that its conceivable that Coquelin will play!  Less fixture congestion is important for a team with lots of injuries in the squad facing a tough league campaign.

So what of our future prospects?  There can be no doubt that we will miss Coquelin, and there is nothing that we can do about this.  Before the recent run of injuries, I had as us slight favourites to win the Premiership.  Now the odds are slightly against, but I don’t think things have changed dramatically.  Let’s have a look at the ‘injury crisis’ and see how much damage it has really done to our chances:

1: Coquelin is irreplaceable and we will miss him.

2:  I am sad for Cazorla, who is a lovely guy.  However the Coq-Caz axis was already broken.  It is conceivable that we will even see his injury as a blessing if Ramsey comes good (and stays fit)

3:  Sanchez’s injury is annoying, but it is short-term, and this kind of setback is inevitable for this type of player.

4: Walcott and Ramsey have both recovered from their short-term injuries.  Bellerin and Koscielny look OK.

So, overall, it is only the Coquelin injury that is a real disaster.  And in an 11 man game with 25 man squads, I struggle to believe that one bad injury (for about one third of a season) will totally wreck our season.  There are a number of reasons to be cheerful:

Ramsey can offer something different in midfield.  His defensive work is also a little better than he is usually given credit for.  He is very fit and energetic, and uses that energy to get back as well as forward.  He is not the same type of player as Cazorla, but he could be equally valuable for the team, and is showing signs that this will be the case (please stay fit!).  He is certainly adding to our attacking threat.

Flamini is doing well.  He is no Coquelin, and his defensive discipline looks a little wayward.  However, it is not fair to compare him to Coquelin, as few players in the world can do what Coquelin does.  Flamini is doing as well as we can expect him to.

If Wilshere can return soon, then the midfield 3 of Wilshere, Ramsey and Flamini/Chambers may be good enough to keep us going until Coq-Caz returns.   Arteta and Rosicky could also make contributions.

Campbell’s form is very encouraging.  It looks like we are going to need him to play well, and he is doing so.  Being picked over the Ox for Olympiacos is no mean achievement for this player, and his performance very much justified it.  Expect to see a lot of him in coming weeks.

Ozil’s form continues to be good.  However gloomy we are about our injury crisis, Ozil on form gives us a good chance in every match we play.

Walcott is looking like he is coming back to his best.  It is important to have 2 number nines in the squad for rotation and ‘bench impact’ purposes.  It looks like we are getting back to this position.

Koscielny’s form is excellent.  He looks like he is taking a bit more responsibility for coming out of defence and attacking the areas of the pitch that Coquelin would normally cover.

The longer we go with Petr Cech in goal, the better he looks.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on goalkeeping, but he looks to me like he is playing very well.  Without Coquelin, we will be vulnerable to counter-attacks through the middle, and vulnerable in the air (especially if Giroud is not playing).  This will undoubtedly lead to more shots for the opposition, as we saw in 13-14, and the first part of 14-15 (i.e. before Coquelin got his place in the team).   The presence of Cech may mean that a smaller proportion of those shots end up as goals.

Don’t expect miracles over the next two months.  There will be setbacks, but if we can stay in touch with the top of the league until Coquelin (and Cazorla?) return, I expect us to pull ahead and win in the final 10 games of the season.  So far so good.  The away game v Man City, game 37, scheduled for 7th May 2016, looks like it might be decisive.

Giroud is doing really well.  Lots of commentators are reluctant to admit this, having slagged him off in the past.  Vardy excepted, he has been the most effective no 9 in the English game this season.

There are some minor disappointments to balance against these encouraging signs, but none of them are too concerning:

  1. The Ox is still failing to live up to his talent.  However, he also looks like he could come good at any time.  A run of form in the second half of the season could be very valuable.
  2. Gabriel has looked a little disappointing (particularly poor mistakes led to goals for Norwich and Bayern) He has failed to dislodge Mertesacker from the team.  However, this is more due to Mertesacker playing well than Gabriel playing badly.
  3. Chambers still looks a bit short of what we can expect from him, but not disastrously so.  He may just be short of game time.
  4. Debuchy continues to disappoint.  Is this due to a lack of game time, or is there long-term decline here?  Only a significant injury to Bellerin will allow us to find out now.  Personally, I would rather not know!
  5. I am still looking forward to the first proper cameo from the Jeff

There is no doubt that November was disappointing.  The injuries are serious setbacks, but they are not fatal, and our bogey month is over.  At the start of the season it looked like one of us, Chelsea or Man City.  Now it looks like us or Man City.  Every time I look at the league table I think Man Utd have a chance.  Every time I see them play, I am reminded of how awful they really are.  The totts look good, but surely not good enough?

It’s a shame that we missed the opportunity to establish a decisive lead over Man City, who are surely our closest rivals, but we are still ahead of them, so let’s not be too down-hearted.  Above all, let’s enjoy a great week.  It may not have been our most flamboyant or spectacular week, but in terms of ‘much-needed’ results it was perfect!

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14 comments to What a week: we CAN go on from here to higher things

  • BarryL

    Hi Tim
    A good summary of where we are and our expectations for the rest of the season.

    The defence looks generally solid (especially with Cech& Kos) though there are still scary moments. Ollie Giroud has been a hero stuffing the snide comments back down the media throats.
    God to have Walcott back as a different option and e just needs steady game time.
    Campbell has been a big plus, growing with each game, scoring a couple of goals and two fab assists. Above all he tackles back when he loses the ball like Sanchez. He is above Ox in the pecking order.
    Ozil is the key, though, and hopefully AW can find opportunities to give him some rest. Maybe he could play Mesut for first 60 minutes against Villa, as he will be essential for City game.
    I also think Rambo is in the mood to show his form 2 years ago, and that will be an added bonus.

    If the spirit and momentum from Piraeus can be carried throughout December we have an excellent chance to see in 2016 in 1st place.

  • nicky

    You say that we may regard Santi Cazorla’s injury as a blessing if Ramsey remains fit and yet you keep looking forward his return.
    In my book Santi’s contribution to our cause is vital and we will miss him. He can change the course of game in an instant and any injury to any of our lads cannot ever be regarded as a blessing.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Nicky I have to disagree on this point. I agree with you that Santi is a great player. However Ramsey is also a top class player, albeit with different skills to Santi. Injuries can turn out to be a good thing. The most obvious recent example of a fortuitous injury to a player was the injury to Artera last season that brought Coquelin into the team.

  • Rich

    Good stuff. As you say, a perfect week.

    I’m in the odd position of desperately wanting the results which will probably ensure something i’d really like to see happen doesn’t happen.

    I wanted another defensively minded option in central midfield at the start of the year, and want it even more now, yet if results go the way I want in the next month, that surely won’t happen.

    There were strong hints for me of what could cost us in the next month even in that magnificent win on Wed. Late in the game, Ramsay was desperate to do something in the final third, bursting up the right wing at one point. At 2-0 it was heart attack stuff for me, at 3 it was still a worrying sign.

    Not only am I hoping to see a bit more game awareness and discipline from him than previously, to reflect the balance of the team and the fact Flamini will struggle if isolated on a counter, I also think it would be a great sign of maturity from Ramsey to realise how important it is he stays fit in this period, and so give his legs a tiny bit of rest when the match allows it.

    Oh well, I love him as a player, and his decision making, as opposed to what I’d like him to do, often makes me look daft, as with his vital contribution to the goal from the left wing on Wed, when I was all for him staying deeper. Only saw highlights of Sat, but i’m guessing i’d have been the same then. Wanting him to be cautious to protect the lead while he pushed for the third which sealed it. Over time, it’ll be a case of win some lose some with those instincts.

    Shoutout to Flamini,too. He isn’t Coquelin, but he is a good player, and showed it on Wed in a huge game for us. Need to keep fingers crossed for his fitness in the next month.

  • Mick

    Tim, no mention of Welbeck (unless I missed it), a very useful addition to the squad when he comes back. Very quick and a real worker for the team, he will always give 100%.
    He has been out such a long time he really will be like a new signing.

  • Pete

    Ref Man Utd, I think they will really struggle to hold off the Totts and Liverpool. With all three in the Europa League it could be last one (or two if Leicester fade) standing!

  • Mandy Dodd

    Nice article Tim.
    We have every reason to be optimistic. Will we strengthen, will leave that to the Boss, but I expect a very interesting second half of the season.
    On another note, apparently Giroud is the top scorer in club football in the top four divisions of English football in the year 2015. Glad the media recognise what is on here have known for sometime.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Pete, agree on Utd, by no means a dead cert for the top four.
    Serious injury issues…Europa league, don’t score enough goals. Of course they may buy well in Jan…..if they can, but the top four is really up for grabs. Just cannot see Chelsea making it
    But as Wenger says, the season starts after Xmas

  • para

    Some of the 2nd team are getting good game time and the win should be good for their confidence in the coming xmas matches every 3,4 or 5 days.

    Hope the tiredness is offset by the boost the last win gives them.

  • Menace

    Giroud will be out with a hamstring pull in the next game if our medics do not hot/cold compress his left thigh every hour. He has had a knee in the thigh by Costa of Olympiacos & his hamstring will pull as soon as it is stressed. It needs to be tensed relaxed hourly to clear blood clots & memory of the impact.

  • Gord

    Hey, 2 wins have put Bournemouth (temporarily?) above Chelsea. Congratulations to ManU!

  • ob1977

    Good point about Santi injury being a blessing if Ramsey finds form, a point I have made before being Santi only got in due yo injuries to Arteta, Ramsey, and Jack, all different players but all class players…

    From what I have seen so far I think Ozil will take even more responsibility by coming deeper, and Ramsey will look to go past, get forward, and get on the end of things, sounds good to me as now would have 3 from JC, TW, AS, AR, AOC, all running onto sublime through balls from Ozil or knock downs from Giroud, and that sounds like goals to me…

  • Tim Charlesworth

    The changes to our midfield are fascinating to watch. I think they are adapting in all sorts of ways. I think Ozil is conscious of covering when Ramsey bombs forward. I think the wide players are also positioning themselves differently, and Campbell is doing particularly well in this respect. Overall it looks like the new midfield will be more dangerous going forward, but less secure in defence. The whole team is finding ways to make us less vulnerable to counter attacks, but I think some vulnerability will remain.

  • Gord

    This was written a couple of days ago, and sat in an emacs buffer for a while.

    After reading that ManU plan to win their next 3 games to stay in touch with the top-4 (Norwich, Stoke and Chelsea), I ran across an article about the St.Francis Rangers. They currently have the worst record in non-league football in England: 23 losses in 23 games and 112 goals against – 1 goal for in 18 league games (funny how non-league can have league games).

    Lots of us are surprised how moaninho and his troops are doing, but I hadn’t thought that ManU would consider a game against the blue bottom feeders as a very winnable game, especially when their next league game after that is against that team from Wales with no manager (at the moment). Maybe that Pep Guardiola fella has been lined up to become the next person to manage the swans for a season or so? Has he ordered the owner to go out and take Alexis away from us? (Some medja place made that suggestion with respect to the sky blues from Dubai recently.)