Why did Arsenal do so much better in the second half of the season

By Tony Attwood

Last season’s second half improvement was hardly new for Arsenal.  Indeed looking back through the club’s history, for every amazing start to a season (like 1947/8 where we won the first six and didn’t get defeated until game 18 – and went on to win the league) one can find multiple seasons (like the second double season) in which we struggled totally in the first half of the season, only to go on an amazing run in the second half.

Last season of course we couldn’t actually make it another double, but we climbed right up the table and got the cup.  Indeed I seem to recall Untold mentioning this possibility on 13 December, with Arsenal languishing 6th, pretty much as we were in the Second Double season.  Oh how they laughed.  Some other newspapers picked up on the idea a little later, although not with Untold’s belief of how the season would improve.

So what is it that can make us turn a season around?  Or put another way, what made us turn around this past season?  And then, couldn’t we put the turn around in place before the season gets going so we don’t get the dip at the start?  (If you see what I mean).

I think there are two answers – at least to last season: injuries and the form of some players.

In terms of injuries we had far far fewer of them in the second half of the season.  In the first half of the season we had 10 more serious injuries than Chelsea, but in the second half of the season we had the same injury record as they did.  The injury record improved by around 32% and the points per game total was up 27%.

As to why we get these injuries, we’ve been through all the possibilities and theories before, and most of them are either pure guess work (something to do with the training), or bizarre (it’s the pitch) or meaningless (like the Telegraph’s famous one about Arsenal having too small a squad, when in fact we had three more players registered for the “25” last season than Chelsea).

It was around 2007 that Mr Wenger lost his reserve in talking about such matters just for a moment, and said for (I think) the only time,  what he felt was going on…

“Ask any player who’s played here, ask Vieira or Petit, if he has been targeted without any intention of playing the ball, just to kick him out of the game and they’ll tell you they have.

“Look at the players we have lost here. Diaby, deliberate foul from behind. Rosicky, deliberate foul. Eduardo, deliberate foul. Walcott, deliberate foul. Adebayor and Sagna got injured with a deliberate foul…”

There are stats to back this up.  The Opta figures show Arsenal have been the most tackled team in the Premier League this season and also the fourth most fouled.

But is anything being done?

Shad Forsythe has been appointed as the new head of athletic performance enhancement and a complete re-working of the training facilities is under way.   It is said (but of course this is an internal matter so I can’t verify it) that this has resulted in a lot of changes.

I think Arsenal are much more aware that they are not going to get proper protection from referees, and they know about Type III match fixing (in which a ref is “encouraged” to ensure particular teams get draws rather than wins, in order to help a totally different team move ahead in the table).

Type III is very hard to spot, because it doesn’t allow one to see that Ref X is always favouring (for example) Chelsea, as what he is tending to do is edge his decisions against Chelsea’s rivals in other matches.  The injuries increase as a result, and there’s greater problems in all matches thereafter.

In such scenarios it is possible to fight this by changing one’s style on the pitch to avoid the chance for the ref to give so many dodgy decisions (you can never beat Type III fixing, but you can make it harder for the ref), as well of course as getting the players fitter, faster.

But at the same time I think Arsenal did something else: they developed some key players.  I suspect you will know who I am going to talk about…

Mesut Ozil

Although there are a lot of people who clearly don’t attend the same matches that I do, I will still say that Ozil became utterly outstanding this past season, after a superb start in his first season.  Indeed for him the injury gave relief after the world cup, and he came back stronger and fitter, and putting everything imaginable into his performances.

What is amazing is that he can do so many different things.  He can take control in the middle, trot out to the wing to play through that one pass that opens everything, he can almost vanish (except that he takes two defenders with him) and let others play.  On this form he makes an even bigger difference.

Hector Bellerin

Oh the sneering when he was drafted into the squad.  The comments about the gross irresponsibility of Wenger in not signing proven defenders, the “reliance on kids”.  I remember one correspondent writing that he “didn’t need to make the point about Wenger being incompetent any more – just look at what he is doing at full back.”  (I seem to recall the writer included Monreal in his analysis – if I can use that word for the diatribe.)

So the kid had a season including it all.  16 September 2014 playing in a Champions League defeat, 1 February 2015 his first goal for Arsenal, 4 April 2015, the first goal in the demolition of Liverpool who were (so the papers said) still in with a chance of a top four finish, and 30 May – what was that?  Oh yes, the cup final.

Did we cringe because he was playing in the final?  No, we rejoiced because of what had happened to him in the season.  28 appearances in all competitions.  Quite a year.

Olivier Giroud

Just as it was fashionable to knock Ozil, so it was to knock Giroud at the time there was the usual talk of Wenger Out, and needing a new spine.  He lost his sparkle towards the end but he still knocked in 14 goals in 24 league games, which was a significantly higher ratio than the previous season.

The simplisists – the people who only look at one thing in a player – don’t see the runs, the distracting of the defence to allow the midfield in, as well as then popping up with goals.

Francis Coquelin

Of course, Francis Coquelin.  The greatest bit of long term predicting ever by Untold, spotting him on a training camp in Austria and talking him up.  All the tripe about Wenger not seeing value in him was just tripe – because he was brought into the squad this season, but was just on the bench, not in the games.  The previous year’s loan had been a disaster so he needed another loan, and then, when ready, kerpow.

We didn’t get someone else to do the job for two reasons.  One, Coquelin was there, and two these players are so hard to find.

Nacho Monreal

There was a time when Nacho Monreal was another very competent player who tended to get injured.  Now he seems to have benefited from knowing that Coquelin is where he is.  Everything about his play improved last season because finally the team shape allowed him to play the game that he is good at – the forward run knowing there is cover behind.

So where does all this take us for next season?

I think the plan might be to increase the squad not with superstars but other brilliant youngsters who can step up and show their merit when the superstars are needing a break through loss of form or injury.  And I think the decline in injuries is going to continue.

Anniversary of the day

13 June 1910: Woolwich Arsenal came to within five minutes of extinction at the AGM of the Football League, as the League executive turned down the idea of Arsenal merging with Fulham and playing in the first division.  See also here; and again here.

The complete Arsenal on this day index is now here with around 5000 major events in Arsenal’s history recorded.  May and June recently fully updated.




36 Replies to “Why did Arsenal do so much better in the second half of the season”

  1. Think you say it all here. Add incredible performances from Alexis Caz and Rambo to the mix and we have quite a team. A team good enough to beat opponents and dodgy refs. A team that scares the hero of the AAA/media so much that he had to put two banks of defenders against us for virtually the whole game.
    Agree, we don’t know exactly what happens behind the scenes, but there is the suspicion that there have been changes. We are more solid, more reliable for the most part. Players have bulked up, injuries appear to be decreasing. Our defending looks better with Coq around. As you say, facilities are being revamped, there is Shad, adverts have gone out for soft tissue experts. Wenger cannot do it all, maybe there is new blood and new energy in the club to help Wenger, maybe Josh Kronke is taking much more of an active role and working well with the board Ivan and Wenger?
    Whatever it is, the second half of the season worked and long may it continue. We have had flaws in recent years for all the amazing football, good to see issues being addressed , and top of the list of these issues, for whatever their cause, injuries.

  2. I think Arsenal has left their naivety behind now after being confronted with all the things that should not but do (refs, targeted injuries, buses, pundits etc)affect the game and manifest in an Anti-Arsenal theme.

    Let them come, we are surely ready.

    I fear for Francis Coquelin and Santi. They are probably going to be targeted very much, but thankfully they are the type of player that 1: is tough and 2: is skillful enough to avoid most attacks. Alexis is another of those type players.

    All in all i do think there is a measurement of fear from the other “top” teams like Chel$ and Manu( who is going to spend spend). City tends to mostly play football when we play them though.

    They all sense that Arsenal are on the brink of another season that will blow everyone away.

    Our goal is to win that cup with most of the 2nd string players, retain the FA cup, win the PL and reach the CL final this year. If we manage the first 3 and then reach the CL final, we will win it too.

    Some may say that this is stupid, but nothing is stupid that is POSSIBLE, and if we do not go into the games with the desire and will to win, we may as well not bother.

    As Sol once said, “We wanted to win every game, all of us did, we wanted to win every game” or words to that effect.

    Arsenal WANTS to win every game next season. 🙂

  3. Is it true that Arsenal are being charged with the transfer of Calum Chambers by the FA? They are saying that it was an illegal transfer?

    “An official FA statement read: “The charge is in relation to the transfer of Calum Chambers from Southampton to Arsenal on 26 July 2014.”

    Now this is from goal.com so we know it may well be false. Much big headline and no content.

  4. @para

    Two thoughts struck me when I came across the FA charge: –

    1. Why wait almost a year before bringing a charge?

    2. The charge is allegedly in relation to an agent – I am not sure of the exact nature of the charge, but it seems strange that the FA are getting involved in what is (I am assuming) an agent’s complaint.

    I could not help but wonder if someone was pulling the greasy strings of the FA.

    I would also anticipate that in good time Tony will produce an article on this subject.

  5. @Para,
    An Agent has also been charged but there are absolutely no details. At the moment everything else is pure supposition. May or may not become clearer in the next couple of weeks after both Arsenal and the Agent respond to the charges.

  6. Chambers has recently changed his agent, so the outgoing agent is probably the one that handled the transfer. I read somewhere ( this last few days ) that he was not properly registered ( unbeknown to all other parties ) at the time of the deal, and it looks as though he’s the one making mischief.
    If found guilty Arsenal could be fined at the worst, but it looks as though we were completely in the dark. Not sure about Chambers though.

  7. Talking of the injuries.

    -What is the point in us fighting for a fairer shake in the papers when Wlshere is all over the Sun and Mirror, not 2 weeks after the same 2 papers couldn’t wait to get stuck into him ?

    -What is the point in us fighting for Arsenal players to get a bit more protection from Referees when Wilshere is claiming, in those articles, that the tackle by McNair, that even the duplicitous John Cross said “scythed him down”, was “an accident”?

    -What is the point in us fighting Jacks corner when he says things like:

    “When I was injured a few people said I should change my game, I should get it and pass it. It did go through my head. I thought maybe they are right, maybe I should.”

    Cross says:

    “Wilshere says it was an accident, but the injury probably came as a consequence of his style of releasing the ball as late as possible to set up a team mate”

    Well, as we see above, that’s not exactly what Jack said, but Cross, who’s supposed to be an Arsenal fan, chose to interpret it that way, and he wont be the only one. As far as I’m concerned it just gives the McNair’s of this World all the encouragement they need (if indeed they needed any) to carry on targeting Jack.

    So next time you get hit, just remember, it’s your own fault.

    Well done Jack.

    I give up !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Injuries are a direct result of the anti football approach taken by many English teams, pundits and media hacks. Anything else is fallacy.

  9. I would have thought that a pro footballer would know the difference between a good & foul tackle on himself.
    Jack Knows Best

  10. I still cannot find any reliable reports on what this Chambers charge is about. The only media outlets carrying the story, cannot be believed.

    The news media almost universally refers to the documents and articles it now produces, as _stories_. They are works of fiction.

  11. “Anything else is a fallacy”
    Does this include muscle pulls, strains, twists & all other non contact injuries?

  12. TailGunner

    Are you saying it was a good tackle?

    If so, how comes he was late, missed the ball and smashed Wilsheres ankle?

    If that’s a good tackle I’d hate to see him put in a bad one.

  13. Jambug
    I thought it was a terrible tackle and should have got a red card, but Jack seems to have a different perspective to us. Or maybe he’s more forgiving

  14. TailGunner


    Don’t know how many times this has to be said.

    Late. From behind. Reckless.

    Whether he ‘meant’ to smash Jacks ankle or not is irrelevant. It was a terrible tackle and anyone, including Jack, excusing it is doing a dis service to every others players wellbeing.


    Are you saying that that type of tackle is acceptable, irrespective of what Jack says?

  15. TailGunner

    You posted while I was so I see you agree it was a terrible tackle.

    But don’t you agree, with all the injuries our players get, including Jack himself, don’t you think just dismissing it as an ‘accident’ and worse, seemingly accepting it is at least partly his own fault, is just asking for trouble?

    That’s really my point.

  16. Jambug
    Yes you’re right, but maybe footballers prefer not to accuse each other.
    Look what happened with Kelly Smith. Sunderland were considering slander action against her for giving criticism of the tackle on her which has caused a bad injury

  17. One other thing that you could maybe factor in are seasons that follow international Summer competitions. The last two Wolrd Cups saw key Arsenal players play in WC Final matches before being rushed back to club football (RvP & Cesc in 2010 & BFG, Ozil & Poldi in 2014).

    Affects of accumultive fatigue is something that hardly ever gets mentioned when a dip in form occurs, as it’s easier to just say x player is rubbish & other ourlandish statements. Luckily most of our players should get a good amount of recuperation before this year’s pre-season. The only concern would be Sanchez, as he’s currently playing Copa America. He’ll need a good rest afterwards so as to minimise the risk of burn out.

  18. TailGunner

    Yes I agree that on a personal level maybe they don’t like to accuse each other, so don’t say anything, and certainly don’t infer that perhaps, yes it was your own fault. I mean, come on, that’s just ridiculous.

    You know what the media are like.

    Wilshere has been on the end of some pretty poor challenges and never are the perpetrators held to account. Why?

    Because it’s his own fault.

    And now Jacks gone and agreed with them.


    Did you see the article in the mirror the other day that Mandy Dodd highlighted? The one where the new Spurs player nearly broke Ozil in half in the international.

    He basically gloried in how such brutal behaviour was the way to go if you want to ingratiate yourself with your new fans.

    No criticism, just admiration.

    Fucking disgraceful and yet Wilsheres freely giving interviews, and idiotic interviews at that, to the same piece of shit Redtop 2 days later.

    Arsenal FC and our players have to get a grip on what these rags are saying and how they are playing a part in the way our players are assaulted, on a regular basis, without any fear of reprisals.

    The media play a massive role in how we are targeted by players and how it is allowed to pass unchallenged by Referees.

    And we talk to them like long lost friends.

    It makes me sick.

  19. @Jambug

    I think you’re spot on regarding Jack’s reaction. Maybe it’s down to Jack’s fighting spirit that is his main characteristic. Back in World War II, a member of The Yugoslavian Resistance Rade Končar was arrested by the fascists. His final words to fascist cu.ts were: “I ask for no mercy as I would have given none to you!”

    Now, Jack’s spirit can backfire as well – it has got him into troubles at Etihad in 2013. Add smoking issues and the whole anti-Spuds chant that was another episode of Jack not thinking about the consequences – it’s becoming a pattern. That’s why I would give the keys of Arsenal midfield and leadership to Aaron Ramsey. He seems more intelligent and more calm than Jack even if Jack should have been superior player to Aaron on the base of his pace, technique and energy. Love them both but at this point, I think Jack should learn from Aaron how to deal with being targeted in one way or another. Aaron was hit by Piers Morgan’s comments and when the opportunity came up, he replied in the best possible way.

  20. Josif

    Very well put.

    In the great scheme of things, and tacking each issue on it’s own, jack has done little wrong.

    last weeks ‘sing along’ for example.

    Of course the fans loved it. Of course, in reality it was just high spirits and all just pretty innocent fun.

    But as soon as I heard it I knew, rightly or wrongly, what the reaction would be.

    Why didn’t Jack?

    Photos of him smoking in a pool.

    Who really, in the great scheme of things gives a shit, but surely any professional footballer would of known the reaction, should these photos reach there ‘friends’ in the Media. It seems Jack didn’t.

    As I say, nothing much in themselves, but with Jack there seems to be a pattern of ignorance and a total unawareness of the possible consequences, to either what he does, or in the case today, what he says.

    You quite rightly point at Ramsey’s response to the odious Morgan as a good example as how to treat these people, with contempt.

    Jack has a lot to learn and if he doesn’t learn soon I can see him ending up in trouble.

    Apparently his idol is Gazza. I do hope that isn’t an ominous sign.

  21. Tailgunner
    It should be fairly obvious that the injuries being discussed here are longterm injuries. I don’t think we see many longterm injuries stemming from pulls, strains etc that you mention.

    But, as I would expect from you, you always look for any slightest perceived weakness in an argument from anyone arguing that we don’t get treated fairly. Well, 99% of your arguments are that way.

  22. And just to add, we’ve had reasons put forward such as training methods, pitch, diet, size of squad etc put forward as the reasons for our injuries, as stated in the article. Those are the reasons I was dismissing as fallacy. But predictably, you ignored those and chose sprains and pulls etc. Did I say you were aaa?

  23. Al
    You said “injuries”. You didn’t specify what type. if you’d had said impact injuries I might be in agreement, Anyway The pulls and strains are equally long term
    I wondered when you’d drop the A bomb on me.You’re so childish.

  24. Al
    Actually now that I think of it you probably are a kid.
    Your hystericall outbursts against referees, name calling and piggy backing other commenters posts are all so very juvenile.
    Just grow up

  25. Look here you numpty, if someone puts forward a list of reasons that are purported to have caused the economic meltdown (global warming, greed, migration, war on terror,etc), and one person responds that they think the only reason there was a meltdown was because of greed, with everything else being scapegoats, doesn’t it suggest the rest being dismissed as scapegoats are reasons from that initial list? Why would you go and find your own that are not in the initial list and push those as the ones being dismissed as scapegoats. Maybe I should have said anything else (then in brackets (pitch, training methods, squad size, etc)) is fallacy, for thick planks like you to get it.

    Now, will you go away you horrible little man. Don’t respond to my comments in future and I’ll not respond to yours.

  26. TG

    Sorry to get pedantic, but you can read about the economic meltdown almost everywhere.
    Anyway I’ve been reading this blog for a while and sometimes even leave a comment or two and find it best to just laugh those sort of cnuts off, they absolutely hate it.
    Best of luck pal.

  27. Amazing what happens when there is no football to keep the blood flowing!! Al / TailGunner cool it you are both Arsenal supporters & are picking on petty differences.

    Josif you are right about Jack. He is not matured mentally but is a brilliant ball player.

    The FA picking on Arsenal is not unusual as Tom Jones would say. They have so many real incidents to attend to but Arsenal are good publicity, particularly if it gets Arsenal into a bad light. As for agents, I hope they all get caught with their pants down by the tax rules & get jailed for a few days 😉 .

  28. Some people’s sole purpose seems to be about coming to this site just to discredit everything this site says; the refs and media don’t have it in for us, stats can be manipulated, we’re all paranoid, etc etc, and some such nonsense. You’ll never see these people concede the ref has had a stinker even when it’s obvious to all and sundry he has. I much prefer someone who will come out and boldly state they want Wenger out. To me they’re stating their opinion loud and clear, just like I like to loudly declare my support for the manager. It’s these individuals who come here trying to act as if they’re in support of club and manager but always take subtle digs against the club that I can’t stand. You can go and search for comments from these posters and see for yourselves what I’m talking about, it’s there for those that want to see.

    I once gave an analogy that in my culture a rat is considered a cunning animal as it is known to chew the skin off your palms in your sleep without you feeling anything; you wake up in the morning and the skin is gone. They say it does this by nibbling your skin off before gently blowing the affected area, then carrying on. There are a few people who behave like this on this site. Having divergent views is a healthy aspect of life, but when the same person/s is always looking to chip away at any argument put forward on UA then that suggests we may have a problem. I will call that behaviour out when I see it, regardless of what people think.

  29. Agree on your analysis, Tony, with the addition of the World Cup competition which Per Mertesacker so eloquently analysed on arsenal.com (and then got attacked by the press of course). Somebody in this discussion mentioned it too.

    We have some players, and I include Jack in them, who try to be honest when asked a question by the press. They don’t just come out with the empty phrases trotted out so often by Terry, Gerrard and the rest. I admire them for it, but it leaves them open to attack by those in the media who don’t admire honesty and twist everything.

    In his interview Jack also emphasised once more that he does not smoke. This won’t make any difference to the media who will still regularly trot out those photos of him having a puff at a party as if this was representative of his general behaviour.

    We are more able to combat the effects of injuries now because we have more excellent players to replace the ones injured. But injuries from deliberate thuggery will still happen until they are stopped by referees and punished by lengthy bans.

  30. Pat
    Could our players’ honesty stem from the fact they also see the manager being honest in his interviews? Possible. They might subconsciously be thinking would the gaffer approve of me telling porkies…. Theo did it a few years ago when he admitted to diving. Arshavin also tried, in vain, to argue with the ref he had not been fouled in the box. This is behaviour you’ll never see from other teams but our players never get any credit for it.

    I think in a way they’ll be thinking Ok I did that and the boss does not approve so at least let me try and be honest in this interview….. Can anyone imagine the maelstrom that would have undoubtedly followed had it been Jack, or any other Arsenal player for that matter, caught visiting brothels for liaisons with grannies….

  31. The media blow any misdemeanours by our players way out of proportion to what other players get away with. For example one is more likely to find an article about Jack smoking than Sterling’s laughing gas incident, despite the fact sterling’s incident is more recent and more damaging. Or Sczcesney’s smoking in the showers is more likely to be in the news again soon… I could list more things but best to stop now before I am accused of being paranoid….

  32. The clip showing Jack Wilshere, smoking in Las Vegas; the cigarette is held by another person.

    It would seem to me, that Jack was “set-up”?

  33. Al
    ‘The media blow any misdemeanours by our players way out of proportion to what other players get away with.’

    Absolutely spot on.
    Re your Walcott admitting diving analogy, Talksport raged about it for several day, they were obsessed with wringing every bit of anti Arsenal propaganda possible out of it. Collymore even wanted Theo banned for 8 games, an example made of him to discourage others from diving. Zero credit to him for at least owning up. All this whilst perennial divers from Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs hardly warrant a passing mention.

  34. Most people come on here to learn , to share and sometimes to give a fresh take or a new idea or a valid view point.
    Then again we have ‘them ‘ who check in just to voice their crap and totally disregard points raised here , and they wonder why we often laugh at their stupidity levels . Just when you think they have reached turd bottom , something moves and newer vermin emerge .
    Not complaining , you see , as I am mostly amused by their antics .

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