By Walter Broeckx
Over the last 10-15 years we have seen many different players play for Arsenal. Some were great, others ended up somewhere else because they didn’t want to be with us anymore and earn more money somewhere else. Others were not so great in the long run and found that Arsenal had other and maybe better players available.
But looking back at the season so far I think I have seen something different compared to the last few seasons. Not that I was unhappy with our team over the years. No, I know that sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t and take that on board. And you have different reasons sometimes when you don’t win.
And it’s not always the tactics from the other team that prevent you from winning. Sometimes our own players made errors or deflected a ball past our own goalkeeper and that was it. Football on the field is played by human beings and things can go wrong with human beings. Plus we did have a rather big share of bad referee moments over the years also. That wasn’t really helping either.
But Arsenal is not a fast buying team. By this I mean a team that for the sake of it brings in dozens of players each transfer window and most of the time is just filling the bank accounts of the agents. We take our time to find the player we want to buy and try to buy in a sensible way and try to avoid mistakes. Yes it can go wrong but most of the time we do rather well with the players we have bought over the years.
And by keeping the players we have now as we can compete with the wages that are being paid elsewhere, and by adding a few players over the last seasons our team seems to have improved a lot. Not just numbers-wise but maybe more importantly… also character-wise.
Yes we can play badly. As any team does from time to time. Playing badly is part of the game one could say. What is however important is that when you play badly you try to minimise the negative effect. Not losing a match when you play bad and getting a draw is such a way of doing this.
And that is the thing I think I have noticed for a few months now that has changed. Before you could almost be sure that if we had a bad day, we would also lose our match. Maybe a few seasons ago our home match against Middlesbrough would have resulted in a 0-1 loss and bring back bad memories of defeats against Hull, Bolton, and you can probably name a few other matches when it just didn’t work and we lost.
There maybe was one exception to this and that was our last defeat. In fact I felt we played an excellent first half, should have been out of sight by the interval and found ourselves at 1-1 after the ref gave them a phantom foul freekick. And then we lost it for 15 minutes after the half time break. That is something we still have to work on I think. We looked flat when we came back on the field for the second half. Is there something in the air in our dressing room at half time? We looked slow and lethargic more than once. Manchester United was just such a match where after not playing badly in the first half we just don’t turn up in the second half.
Sometimes we are in front and maybe relax a bit thinking that as we played so well in the first half it will be a walk in the park. That might be a reason but that wasn’t the case at Manchester. We were a bit flat over the whole 90 minutes but certainly in the second half when we were more than flat.
So what can you do when things don’t go your way at all? Giving up is the easiest thing to do. Roll over and accept defeat.
Or you can do what our team is doing for the moment. Keep on fighting and trying even when it seems useless. And this is of course where the slow building of the team becomes visible. Keeping Giroud despite the shouts to dump him was a master stroke by Wenger. Playing Alexis in the middle was for me also a master stroke by Wenger.
Does Alexis in the middle always work? No, certainly not when he comes back tied together with bandages to keep his hamstrings together in the middle of the night, jetlag, short hours of sleep, tired,… then he isn’t as effective as he can be. We didn’t get the ball to Alexis in the second half but surely Alexis wasn’t himself in that half.
Does Giroud in the middle always work? No, it doesn’t. Most of the time it does but not always.
But now we have this quality of being able to pick either of them and play them in the middle. And then we shouldn’t forget the injured Lucas who is a striker who can play there. But even when we have Giroud and Alexis we don’t have to choose one of them. No, we can play them together but then in different roles. Of course Giroud will not be on the flanks as that is not his skill. But with both being able to work most of the time (only 1 defeat in 17 matches seems to indicate Alexis does work most of the time) we have the luxury that we can play one or play them both.
And when playing them both… we seemed to be in a scoring mode most of the time. Sunderland, Ludogorets… and the last minutes of the match at Old Trafford. We now have the luxury of having good options. Sometimes the smaller striker will do better, sometimes you need the big one up front. And some times you just put them both there to make things happening.
Our attitude has improved a lot and is starting to look like a never die attitude at times. And our striking options have improved even without buying anyone. Sometimes change can come from within. But don’t tell that to the people who want us to buy.
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