By Tony Attwood
I recently saw an article in the national press in which this sentence took me by surprise.
Among English clubs only Chelsea would refuse to swap places with them right now.
Not surprise because I don’t think it is true, but rather surprise because someone in the media actually wrote it. In a world fixated on one match at time and singling out the individual player rather than looking at how teams work, I wondered if at last someone in the media (it was actually Barney Ronay in the Guardian) had woken up to the notion of the club as a club, the team as a team, and the future as a work in progress.
I’m not sure how far Mr Ronay thought this through but there is something in his implication that things are set fair for Arsenal.
1. Most obviously, there is a new team emerging.
The team works, we don’t need multiple new purchases every summer, and the club has retained its historic tradition of stability, which was set aside after the Rioch interregnum.
All the stuff about needing a new defensive midfielder, a complete new defence, a new goalkeeper, a new centre forward – well basically a new team… one day one of the people who wrote all that stuff will admit it was gibberish.
Arsenal’s four pronged approach to putting a team together is a beautiful model and it works magnificently – indeed a lot of other clubs have spent a lot of time seeing if they can do it too (although it is harder than it looks).
It used to be simple: “Doing an Arsenal” meant bringing through a youth team, but now it means …
a) Buying a maestro each summer (Ozil, Alexis)
b) Buying brilliant young players who have started to develop from smaller clubs (Ramsey, the Ox, Theo)
c) Bringing through youngsters (Zelalem, Bellerin, Coquelin, Gibbs, Wilshere)
d) Making inspired buys just at the right time (from Koscielny to Santi Caz, including Giroud, Welbeck, Monreal)
2. As a result a new team is emerging and growing year by year.
I have no idea who we will buy this summer, but I can suggest that next season we might see the first sparkles from some, and development of others. Zelalem, Martinez, Debouchy, Akpom, Gnabry, Haydn, and Jon Toral (currently on loan at Brentford) should all be on our radar. They won’t all come through, but that is one hell of a line up of possibles.
Indeed there’s enough there to make us consider that this is one hell of a squad. And don’t forget Crowley and Maitland-Niles.
3. Arsenal is not using some devious tactic which could be outlawed by Fifa
We don’t have any strange land deals, we are not breaking Fifa or EU regulations on the import of children, we are not taking the loan system to such extremes and then selling players on at such ludicrous prices that someone is bound to ask questions sooner or later, and we are not part of an attempt to by-pass regulations by having a club on every continent.
Blimey, we haven’t even had to get the state to pay for our stadium in the style of Man City and West Ham. We’re not still waiting to start work (in the style of Tottenham) and we’re not desperately trying to shoe-horn a new stadium into an old site (as per Liverpool).
Dodgy dealings and state aid can work well for a while, but ultimately they fall over when someone asks questions. Building a new stadium on a new site is always the best option, and that’s what we got.
4. Arsenal have no plan B. Actually we do.
The notion that a man who as manager could be the only person in the last 125 years to take a top league club through a season unbeaten might be myopic when it came to tactics is so bizarre it doesn’t really need answering.
But just because I’m doing this list, the media’s recent preoccupation with possession statistics shows that Arsenal can play some games conceding possession, and others holding onto it.
Our possession stats have ranged from 65% down to 39%, and we change the team around to meet the moment. That’s what comes from having the squad that can do this.
Let me quote the Guardian on this:
Arsenal can pass long to Olivier Giroud, or play Danny Welbeck in behind. They can attack with that familiar blitz of diffuse sideways passes. They can win without the ball, as they have when Francis Coquelin has excelled this season. More significantly, Mesut Özil was excellent against Monaco, and excellent in a way he hasn’t always been excellent in the past, leading Arsenal’s attacks in the last 15 minutes and seeking out the ball as others tired.
5. We have seen off the negativists and this is a place that players like
Of course the nutters are still out there howling at the moon, that funny little kid who stands near Blacksheep occasionally, with his “enough is enough” t-shirt has wandered back to supporting Wimbledon, and anyway they were never more than five percent of the people in the stadium.
The media is licking their collective wounds and pretending that it wasn’t them that said anything, it was those other funny drunks in the other newspapers or on that other radio or TV station.
Most players know enough about football to recognise that you get the dregs of humanity claiming to be associated with every club, and that the nay-sayers really are just a tiny bunch who will wander off and be miserable somewhere else now.
7. We are on a great run
Around Christmas when the aaa and their allies in the media were all saying Arsenal were doomed for ever, and there were comments of the type we get each year saying, “what you refuse to recognise is that this is the year in which Arsenal sink to mid table obscurity” I printed a copy of the league table for the same point in the second Double season.
Now I wasn’t suggesting that we would win the League and Cup Double for a fourth time but was making the point that I thought this team could come together and do ever more great things.
Five wins in the last five league matches is just what I had in mind.
(I must say though that when the Independent copied the essence of the piece a couple of days later including printing the league table as Untold had done, it really did give me a smile).
13 wins in 15 – not bad.
8. Cup progression as a preliminary to more
The likely outcome of things (but of course never guaranteed) is that we will play Liverpool in the cup final – the two form teams playing each other. It would be wonderful to win it again and of course I hope we do, but moving along from that, this sort of experience is what lifts the whole club.
We are there playing the big games, and I suspect next season, for the first time in a while, even the dubious beings who contribute to our national press and TV debates will start to see Arsenal as true contenders for the title.
I know it always gets sniggers when I point out that if league titles were given for calender years not football seasons, we would have won the league in 2013, but it is a valid point because it shows the growth of the club. Where we are now is a continuation of that development.
9. We held our nerve
While others were screaming and shouting abuse against Wenger, while we had all that gibberish about this being the worst Arsenal start to a season in 30 years, all that stuff about “Arsenal depend on Giroud and he’s useless”, Arsenal as a club held its nerve and kept moving forwards.
I am sure there are some anti-Arsenal-Arsenal people who are about to claim that this was all down to them – that Wenger suddenly took notice of them and did something – but it is worth remembering just how recently it was that they were doing all that stuff about Arsenal being in terminal decline and Wenger should go.
I’m rather proud of Untold. We didn’t waver. Not once.
10. The referees are taking a step back.
But although we are constant, I really don’t go round thinking that football takes any notice of Untold. Of course not.
But just occasionally I see little trends. And I think that our remorseless exposure of refereeing in the Premier League has started to having just a tiny effect. Andrew’s previews are noted, Walter’s post-match analyses are read, and the totally untenable position of PGMO in refusing to publish any data is being questioned.
Hell, the press is actually mentioning PGMO which is a huge step forwards.
I have just read that Chelsea have published an analysis of their perceived lack of penalties this season, and I’ve no idea if they have a case or not. But they are now suggesting something is wrong, and I do think that we have done a lot to raise the profile of refereeing, to get away from the “it all evens out in the end” gibberish, and to put refereeing into the debate.
And from the point of view of Arsenal that can only be good.
So are we the envy of English football? New stadium built and largely paid for, good team getting better, production line youth system, money in the bank, no FFP issues, no dodgy dealings…
Maybe the others won’t admit it yet, but give it another year.
Anniversary of the day (just to remind us how times change).
19 March 1904: Chesterfield 1 Arsenal 0. Despite only three wins out of the last nine from this match on, Arsenal had done enough earlier in the season to win promotion.
- Arsenal v Newcastle: the team and league positons AFTER the game.
- Arsenal v Newcastle: injuries, yellow cards and recent form
- Arsenal v Newcastle: the referee who just doesn’t oversee home wins
- Newcastle United’s weakness revealed and what they could do. Arsenal v Newcastle United.
- Arsenal v Newcastle: the tackles, fouls and yellow cards compared