By Walter Broeckx
So Arsenal have done it again. For the 17th consecutive year we have managed to qualify for the CL group stages. And we all know how important that is for a club like ours. As long as we are paying for the stadium it will be an important part of the income to pay off the debts. In fact I think that the CL money itself is paying off the yearly repayments we have to make. Or thereabouts.
In that way you could say that Alexis’ first goal made sure we would pay off the stadium debt for the next season. The popular headlines in the more serious media will be that he paid off his transfer sum. This shows that they are more obsessed by transfers and all that hangs around it. I will focus more on what is important for my club. And that stadium is one big part of that club.
What did we learn from the two matches against Besiktas? First of all I must admit that Besiktas showed themselves as one of the strongest teams we had to overcome when we had to play the qualifying round. They made it extremely difficult for us to qualify. And I think they would be a much harder opponent than most teams in pot 4 or even in pot 3 in the draw.
When it comes to learn we once again learned that when we play on a terrible pitch our level drops. In Turkey it showed and when then playing on a good pitch we suddenly show we are better and we create chances. Enough chances to win it comfortably. But as we didn’t convert the chances we kept the tension high till the final whistle.
There is one other thing that is getting clearer now. We are not yet completely in top form. Some players still are recovering from the world cup. And that is very much an individual thing. Some players like Debuchy are up to it. Others are still inconsistent and mix good with not that good performances.
I somehow expected this to happen. It is one of the reasons why I hate world cups and European cups. It messes up our own preparations of the season. Wenger also hinted at this when he talked about not rushing players back from the world cup as it might get them injured or fatigued quicker. I think that it will only be after the international break (which I also hate) that we can expect that most players will be completely ready for the coming season.
So what is important now is that we make sure that we take it match per match and set our goal for each match. If you divide the season in blocks we could say that the first block will end next Sunday. A block that contained the pre-season matches, the CS, the CL qualification round and 3 PL matches.
The result in the pre-season matches counts for nothing. Of course I want us to win each and every match but I will not lose sleep for losing a pre-season match. It is a match to test things, to see how fit players are in match conditions. Winning is fine, losing is not a disaster.
The first thing we had to really be ready was the CS. And ready we were. We were the better team on the day and I don’t think anyone can take anything away from our surprisingly comfortable win in Wembley. Good goals, good overall play, a good performance. So target number one was done.
Target number two was qualifying for the CL group stages. And as mentioned we did it once again. This was all about getting over the line. Certainly when we played without last season’s top scorer. And the second best goal scorer, and the third best goal scorer. We didn’t have our best box to box player in the second match. So everyone with an ounce of common sense knew that it wouldn’t be the walk in the park event. But based on character we did it. A bit of better finishing would have made it easier but in the end the fighting spirit of the whole team gave us the qualification.
In the league we had 3 matches before the break. In the two matches played so far we didn’t play at our best. But what is more important in this stage is once again getting results. And we scored a late winner against Crystal Time Wasting Palace. And again we scored what should have been a winner in the last minute of the match against Everton.
We got 4 points of of a possible 6 and I would have accepted that before the match. Everton are a good side and I can see a few of our competitors also dropping points there. The team showed a spirit in those matches. In the first the spirit of : we will fight till the end to win this match. And in the second: we will fight till the end to not lose this match.
Not playing superbly but getting the points and not losing is the best way to start the league. Playing nice football will be something for later in the season when Alexis knows his team mates a bit better and when all the players have settled more.
I love nice football and nice passing of the ball. But the great thing is that even without this nice football we manage to keep our run of not losing competitive matches going. Mostly based on character for the moment. And if you can add such a quality to playing good football you can win any match.
I have the feeling that the determination in this team is much bigger than it was before. Maybe winning the FA Cup the way we did was much better than having a comfortable win (I admit I would have liked it better, so would my heart). Maybe it brought their character above water and as it paid off on the day they now know that talent is one thing but not enough. Desire and work rate also counts for a big part. And it looks as if our players realized this and have added that to their game.
Arsenal play Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray and Anderlecht in the Champions League group stage.
There is already talk of an Untold get-together for the Anderlecht away game, dates and work commitments permitting.
Arsenal qualified for the group stage for an English record-breaking 17th consecutive season after beating Besiktas 1-0 in the play-off.
In the League Cup we play Southampton at home.
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