Triumph and Adversity: a review of progress since the last interlull

Triumph and Adversity: a review of progress since the last interlull

By Tim Charlesworth

The second interlull is upon us, and it’s another chance to step away from the hurly-burly and review how our season is going.  Just after the first interlull, I had a look at a series of tricky fixtures ahead, and suggested a few things to look out for (other than results) that might help us assess how good this team is.  I asked the following questions

  1. Can Coquelin keep it up?

To my mind, this remains the most important question that will determine the outcome ofour season.  We have needed this player for several seasons, and really missed him (if its possible to miss a player that you have never had).  His form is solid, as are his performances.  The injury scare from Chelsea was only a minor one, but we did seem to suffer defensively without him for the rest of the Chelsea game and then at Leicester.  I am beginning to accept that he really is this good, and not just having a temporary run of hot form.  We are beginning to take this guy for granted, but his effect on the team is immense (see Walter’s article).

  1. Will Walcott go prolific?

This is an interesting one.  Walcott is looking good, much as I speculated and hoped.  However, he is coming good in a slightly unexpected way.  I always presumed that Walcott would succeed by scoring goals and running off the shoulders of opponents.  He is doing this, but recent games have suggested that he is also doing something else.  His movement against the opposition centre halves has become aggressive and imaginative, in a way that is very difficult for defenders to handle.  He is showing an ability to hold onto balls played into his feet, and this is creating uncertainty for defenders, who can no longer just defend against the ‘through ball’.  He is creating space and opportunities for others, even off the ball.  

All this shows a mastery of the ‘no 9 craft’ which I never really expected to see from Walcott.  So although he has not (yet) ‘gone prolific’, his goalscoring record has been good, his finishing has been good, and he is contributing hugely to the team.  He now looks to me, the best English no 9 on form, and it will be interesting to see whether Hodgson agrees with me in the next England match.

  1. Is Gabriel as good as he looks?

We still need to see more evidence on this question.  A centre half needs to prove consistency over a period of time but, so far, he is doing everything we could ask for.   His performances have been excellent.  I think some of us also quite liked seeing the ‘bit of devil’ that he showed in the Chelsea game, even though it didn’t work out very well.  It will be interesting to see what happens when our top three centre halves are all fit.  I don’t think Gabriel is droppable.  As an attacker, I would not relish trying to get past, through, or around:  Coquelin, Koscielny and Gabriel.  

  1. Ozil

I think the jury is still out on this one.  He still looks like a world class player with talent that can take your breath away.  However, he is still not turning in the kind of ‘result altering performance’ that I think he is capable of.  He had opportunities to do so in the Dinamo and Olympiacos games, but failed.   He hinted at dominance against Dinamo, and also against Man U, but didn’t quite deliver.  I am still optimistic about him, and he remains an extremely good player, even if he only carries on his current form.  If he can move to the next level, our opponents are in big trouble.

  1. Is Wenger going to rotate?

This is the most worrying of the questions that I posed.  When I wrote the previous piece, I was basically hoping that Wenger would have the courage to rotate and that it would workout well.  In order for us to have a good season, we need to avoid wearing out our players in the early stages.  Wenger did have the courage to rotate, but against Dinamo and Olympiacos, it didn’t go well, either in terms of results, or the public abuse that he has copped for doing so.  This is a bad outcome on a number of fronts.

The poor CL results will mean that Wenger will have less opportunity to rotate in the next few months.  Our only chance of qualifying now is to give 100% in every game, and that means no days off for the top players.  In the coming fixtures against Watford and Bayern for example, I think he will be unable to rotate at all, and this means two games in three days for all our first choice players.  This is the kind of schedule that causes injuries and stifles development, as the players are constantly in recovery.  We basically now have two games a week up to Christmas.  The only breaks in this schedule are one more interlull, which is not restful for many of our players, and a couple of Carling Cup fixtures that will allow rotation.  The only other opportunity for rotation will arise if we do so badly in the CL that it is no longer worth putting out a strong team.

Of the five main questions I asked, three are looking good, one (Ozil) is difficult to answer, and one (rotation) is going badly.  I also asked some more minor questions:

Can Sanchez maintain last season’s form? – It looks like yes, and fears of the ‘second season syndrome’ are receding.

Is this the year that the Ox finally establishes himself? – unfortunately his form is poor. The talent is still obvious, but something looks wrong mentally.  Hopefully, this can be fixed soon.

Can our fullbacks keep up the good work? – yes and no, Bellerin and Monreal look good, Debuchy and Gibbs a bit disappointing.

Will Cech make a real difference? – this is really too early to say.  A goalkeeper needs to show consistency.  Both Cech and Ospina have made mistakes this season.

Will Koscielny be as good as ever? – Looks like a yes here

Can Cazorla keep it up in the new position? – looks like a yes here too

Will we get the 13/14 Ramsay back? – he is playing well, but not at the 13/14 level yet.  Stillroom to improve.

Will Giroud do well? – looks dangerous when he comes on for Walcott.  So far he looks like agood bench/rotation/injury cover option for Walcott.  I hope he will play an important role in our season, but it is too early to tell.  It looks like he is losing his place to Walcott, and this can have a negative effect on some players.

Will our BFG have an Indian summer? – sadly this one doesn’t look good.  He looks vulnerable in defence.  I think he is now third choice, and in danger of being challenged by Calum Chambers, who is regaining his form and confidence.

Apart from posing the questions, I suggested that four points was the minimum we needed from the three PL fixtures (Chelsea, Leicester and Man U), roughly equivalent to the four points from the equivalent fixtures last season.  In the event, we got six, which is a good result.

Actually the series of tricky fixtures went quite well compared to my expectations.  Of course, the one thing I didn’t consider, was the possibility of losing at home to Olympiacos.   This is a horrible result, and our team’s ability to have ‘accidents’ like this remains a concern.  That’s two this season already (the other being West Ham – sensible conclusions cannot be drawn from the Chelsea game as it was a ‘referee result’, not a ‘football result’).  Maybe three if you include, Dinamo.

There is one positive development that I didn’t consider at the last review: partnerships.  A couple of important-looking attacking partnerhips are developing.  Walcott and Sanchez in particular, seem to be reading each other’s games in a devastating way.  The same is true, to a lesser extent (but improving) of Walcott and Ozil, and also Ozil and Sanchez.

The three of them together look like they are starting to scare defences.  I think that the poor performance of Manchester United’s defence can be, at least partly, explained by the terrifying combination of pace and movement which these three are throwing at opponents.  This is a very nice development, and the on-field relationships look like they are still developing and growing.

Overall, I think the season so far remains mixed.  The main problem is that it looks like we may exit the CL.  Beating the Tots in the Carling Cup is nice, but of no great consequence.  Our league position is good, but not exceptional.   We are scoring 2 points per game.   We need to aim for about 2.2 points (which is roughly where City are, and what Chelsea got last year) in order to win.  If we win the next two (very winnable) PL games, we will move to about 2.2points per game.  This is not too bad considering a reasonably tricky run of fixtures which included a non-football result against Chelsea.

We are slightly ahead of expectations in the PL, but badly behind in the CL.  Our potential PL rivals (particularly Chelsea, to whom we were second favourites before the season started) are doing badly.  The team looks good.  The new players (which the shallow commentators forgot about) are  doing well.  We look like we have reasonable cover for most injuries, with Coquelin being the exception.  

The Man U game has left us on a bit of high for the interlull, which is nice for fans, and has helped bury the Olympiacos despair.   I would have us as slight favourites over City to win the PL, based on what we have seen.   And let’s face it, if we win the PL, we will call this a good season.  Even a close second will be considered progress.


From the anniversary files

  • 9 October 1914: The Arsenal Football And Athletic Co Ltd became The Arsenal Football Club Ltd
  • 9 October 1976: Steve Gatting made his first appearance as sub in Peter Simpson Testimonial.  He had joined Arsenal as an apprentice in July 1975 and became a professional footballer two years later.

Untold Action

The Untold Books



32 Replies to “Triumph and Adversity: a review of progress since the last interlull”

  1. Tim,
    A fine part-term report.
    I have no fears over Ozil. I sometimes feel he is a move ahead of his colleagues at times.
    As for rotation, Arsene doesn’t favour it and it shows. However, it’s a necessary ploy these days and he has to get it right. 😉

  2. The tricky part after 3-0 win is to show its not a one off.I don’t know but it could be MU had a bad day at the office.
    Whatever it is full credit must be given to the team.The thing is our future opponents will want to give the gunners less room and time.
    This is when Ozil and company have to rise up to the challenge.

  3. Quite a well balanced view. It’s a bit unfortunate that we have a few long term injuries, without which the squad would have looked much better, and rotation would have been easier and more effective.

    I would speculate that Per was exposed when Coquelin was not playing, i.e. when Arteta was on the pitch. Two slow players seems too much, so hopefully Gabriel and Kos will both stay fit, to provide cover when Arteta is playing.

    Besides the relationships between our attacking players, the shot conversion rate went up in the last few games. Now, I didn’t review each of the goals, but one thing stroke me: In the ManU match, Ozil had 3 shots on goal, all from similar positions, inside the 18yd box. He scored with the first, placing it away from the keeper, whereas the next two came late in the game, and he fired them straight at De Gea. This seems a case of mental fatigue, as if he “forgot” that in order to stand a decent chance to score one must avoid taking the keeper for a target. This and the many other chances we missed in the first few matches seem to indicate that the players only managed to mentally memorize a few guidelines, and haven’t developed yet the muscle memory required to improve their shot accuracy (not an easy thing to do by any means).

    Finally, I’m still optimistic about the CL, even though we don’t have the destiny in our hands. As long as Bayern keeps beating the others (or better said the others succumb to Bayern), we can still come second, if we win 2 and draw 1 of the remaining matches, and neither Olympiakos nor Dinamo Z win more than 1 match from now on.

  4. Tim
    I resisted writing any reply to your last article – Jose is just a nice man who is having a laugh, innit? (Which Nobel prize would you award him?)

    Am I safe to properly read the above article?

  5. Our next run of PL matches isn’t bad and apart from Chelsea our big team matches are at home. So we have a decent chance of being up there at Christmas, though then have most of our big matches away. We would be top without Mike Dean making the wrong decisions (per the FA) and our 11 beating Chelsea’s 10.

    Best keeper, DM, LB, LW, CB in the league with lots of other top players (Ozil, Ramsey, Walcott, Gabriel, Bellerin) and some decent squad depth. Keep the Man U attitude and focus and be lucky on injuries and we have a great chance. To win/get v close (and to muck it up, though that only comes from having the great chance to win).

  6. Very interesting read. The stand out for me is that you seem to have no problems with any member of or position in our first team. That’s progress over the previous years and over the angst among some fans at the close of the transfer window.

  7. An excellent read. When on song, this team is really excellent. My observation is that slip ups tend to occur when we face the “lesser” teams due to overconfidence and complacency. We tend to put in more effort against the perceived better teams.

  8. Don’t write off the bfg. He had a great game against ManU after a lengthy spell of sickness. Also I am convinced Gabriel is

    left sided and is much more vulnerable when playing to the left of Kos. He had a very poor game against Olympiacos. Kos is definitely injury-prone and has no t yet hit top form.

  9. Good morning Mr. Charlesworth. You’ve made a good review of our season progress so far. Let me summarize the main points you’ve raised. 1. You said, Coquelin has become indispensable in the Arsenal’s midfield defending. Yes! He has. 2. Walcott has upped the level of his game considerably for Arsenal. Yes! He has. But Hudgson said, he preferred Harry Kane to start the next England’s 2 games. That’s a blessing in disguise for Arsenal as a no fatigued and injured Walcott could fully be available for the Bayern Munich game. 3. You’ve rated De Abreu(Gabriel) as a dependable CB. But we should keep watching his performance to see if he will up the his level and remain consistent. Let’s keep him in view and be hopeful he will not lack behind but progressed. And 4. You’ve appeared not to favour any more rotation by the Boss as 2 rotations he did for our last 2 Ucl games has not been successful. But I am in favour to see the Boss continues to do necessary rotation. It doesn’t means if the last 2 he did was not successful, others will follow suit. I believe the Boss should or should I say MUST do a good rotation by starting nearly all his 1st team reserves with full 1st starter of: Rhino'(BFG) Coquelin, Ramsey, Cazorla and Giroud included to start our BPL away game to Watford. This rotation has become necessary because we have to beat Bayern Munich at the Emirates Stadium. And for that beating purpose, the Boss has to rest some of his 1st team starters for that vital game. Let’s keep remembering that, Arsenal are fully out to add the quadruple to complete their total winning of the fifthruple this season. In this quest, Arsenal will not forsake any title challenge because of another one.

  10. Pretty good analysis Tim and pretty much agree with all of your conclusions, especially the main 5.

    I would like however to expand a little bit on Ozil.

    There is no doubt that he is a truly class act. But the thing is I have this ‘rule of thumb’ (I do love a ‘rule of thumb’), that in order to move into that elite group of players, such as Messi, Ronaldo, Aquaro, Bale, Ibrahimovic et el inhabit, and that his price tag and reputation suggest he should, he has to win us matches, and I mean top draw matches, when all looks lost.

    That’s what the elite players do. When there backs are against the wall. When the team isn’t playing so well. When all seems lost…….BAM, they come up with that piece of magic all on there own.

    A killer pass. A magnificent goal. Something that turns the game in your favour.

    I have yet to see him do that. I have seen him play brilliantly. I have seen him play brilliantly against top teams. (It is a fallacy to say he only does it against weak sides). But he tends to do it when the whole team is playing well.

    What I haven’t seen is him turn a bad day into a good day all on his own. And when he cost what he did, and if he wants to be seen as an ‘elite’ player, that’s what he has to do.

    Until he does that he will still have his detractors.

    This is not to say I don’t love the guy, I do. But I would love to see him take that next step and finally dispel any doubt about his true quality.

    Secondly, a quick word on Walcott.

    I’ve been saying for years now that he would be my first name on the team sheet every week. I have said he will get 20 goals this season. Alas I’m going to have to revise that. I now think it will be closer to 30.

    All the naysayers doubting him. All the pundits droning on about his lack of intelligence (Waddle, you should be embarrassed) are being made to look rather silly.

    A nice lad with a fantastic attitude, and the skill to match. What’s not to like?

    You show em Theo. 🙂

  11. Ozil has what he needs now…proper top quality movement up front..he will exploit the gaps created..thread the needle as he did at Real Madrid. With most teams parking the bus we need this movement. I have a sense we do not need a 40 million striker or a 40 million defensive midfielder. Happy days on their way.

  12. “Can Sanchez maintain last season’s form? – It looks like yes, and fears of the ‘second season syndrome’ are receding”

    As you say, it seems so.

    Scored another for Chile in there 2 – 0 win over Brazil.

    Way to go Alexis. 🙂

  13. good review. Think, barring injuries, it is onwards and upwards from now. I am sure Coq will get even better, Ozil now seems to love playing with Theo and Alexis. Giroud can make a very healthy contribution. We have excellent backs, two are a bit rusty and need game time, but they will surely get that.
    What I am really hoping for over the next few months if a fully fit Jack Wilshere, who will be a vital part of rotation.
    I am sure there will be the odd hiccup, as with all teams in this league at the moment, but we have a very very good team

  14. If we win the Premier League?

    WHEN we win the Premier League…………!

    I cannot wait to shut up the FFM’s and their flag bearers once and for all.

  15. Wow. After 3 years of reading this site I actually disagree with something! I honestly feel that Mertersacker is still our best centre-back. Against Man United he was so good, and generally he has been very consistent to my mind. He is such a calming influence in the side and reads the game in a way that reminds me of Sol Campbell- it’s so impressive. Great article though!

  16. Writing an article (or book etc) can be an art form (a bit like Arsenal playing Wengerball!) and careful manipulation of the wording can convey a disguised meaning. Sometimes Tim I feel you are trying to do just that – at best I would classify you as glass half empty rather than glass half full.

    In the article above I feel you are, deliberately or accidentally, too pessimistic about the capabilities of our players (in a vague sort of way)- something which detracts from the line of logic which the article could take.

    The one occasion in which you were definite rather than vague was the occasion when you asserted the Odious One was funny – an absolute nonsense – only our peverted media would consider that person funny.

  17. We will now get a really good insight as to how good Klopp will be in the Premier League. He has been the main nominee of the WOBs for at least a couple of years now. Suspect he will do better than Owen Coyle… but how much better?

    Not really my concern, but I don’t think the Liverpool squad is very well-suited to the Dortmund style. May take a couple of years to really have an impact? Then, of course, with trigger-happy owners he may not get the time. Also heard a rumour that FSG are looking to sell – which would be very consistent with their other sporting ownerships. Stan, by contrast, has never sold.

  18. “he is still not turning in the kind of ‘result altering performance that I think he is capable of.”

    I presume you mean when the chips are down and being a ‘game changer?’

    However with the amount of clear chances he creates he is a match winner. Up until recently our conversation rate has been, well we all know I presume. It is a matter of time and he will win us matches well before the game is over.

  19. bjtgooner,

    I’m glad I read all the comments before posting or I could have been accused of plaigiarism by repeating your words. Tim’s summative comment on Per is disrespective and myopic in my opinion. And I agree with you that he was being overly pessimistic (probably in order to sound balanced). Or maybe that is exactly how he sees things.

    A nice, well written article even if I disagree with some of the contents and most of the tone.

    Kudos to Tim nonetheless.

  20. Pete

    Yep, he was.

    As I say, I love him. He is a fantastic footballer.

    BUT……my point is, we, as a team, started like a house on fire, and yes he was very much part of that.


    It’s on those days we don’t start like a house on fire, such as against Olympiacos. In that match Ozil didn’t make 1 successful tackle and had 1 shot.

    It’s those days we are struggling to break a side down and get the crucial late winner as against Liverpool. Ozil made 1 successful tackle and had 1 shot.

    Dinamo…..Not 1 tackle, and again just 1 shot.

    Chelsea….He made 2 tackles but no shots.

    4 tough games. 4 games where we needed that something extra and from Ozil we got a total of:

    Just 3 tackles

    Just 3 shots

    As I say, I think he is a fantastic player but I believe he has to make another step up, and start winning us those games when we are not playing well. When the passing isn’t inch perfect. When the opposition are giving us hell.

    That is when the ‘elite’ players make the difference.

    That is when Bale runs the length of the field and scores. When Messi performs a miracle and Ronaldo scores a 25 yard free kick. That is when Henry leaves 4 Liverpool players on there arse and slots it in the corner. That is when Ibrahimovic scores an overhead kick from 30 yards.

    You may think I’m being harsh but that is what I want from my star player.

    Again, I agree Ozil is great, he just needs to be greater.

  21. Jambug,

    My old friend, I agree with your assessment of Ozil and as you may recall that I fought many battles here with those who think his shit don’t stink (and would often blame Giroud for his failings).

    I do think that the Ozil of today is a major improvement on the one of the 2nd half of the 2013/14 season. I appreciate the man’s skills and vision culminating in the various chances he creates for his team mates.

    My major disagreement with you is in your expectations of Ozil. I am sorry but he is NEVER going to be the player that you think he must be to be considered as one of the greats. Like you, I wish he would be a more aggresive and direct player but I have accepted that he is never going to be that. I am taking the guy as he is and as long as he continues to do his part by creating good goal scoring chances for his team mates, I will always appreciate his contributions.

    In conclusion, I totally understand why it might be grating to hear people rave on about his greatness when he lacks that steely resolve that all great players have. Just imagine what Ozil would achieve by coupling his phenomenal talent with half of Alexi’s determination.

    It’s scarily good isn’t it? It’s just unfortunate that it’s never gonna happen.

  22. Bootoomee

    I trust you are well. Thanks for your comments.

    I think I know what you mean when you say he is never going to reach my expectations because reading back it looks as if I am looking for perfection.





    But that isn’t really what I meant.

    I know he’s never going tackle like Coguelin or get up and down like Ramsey, and to be honest I don’t really care about that.

    I know he’s not going to run the length of the pitch like Bale or dribble past an entire back 4 like Messi. At least not very often 😉

    But what I do want him to be is a match winner. A game changer. And not on our good days but on our bad days.

    Be it with a magic pass, or a sublime finish, or an unstoppable free kick. All of which he IS capable of. We have seen it many times.

    but we need to see it a bit more, especially the goals, and we need to see it more often when our backs are against the wall. That is when the top top players really justify there billing.

    I hope this isn’t coming across as Ozil bashing because it certainly isn’t meant that way. To me he has already proved to be a very good buy and a fantastic player.

    I just think there should be a bit more and I honestly think we will see it.

  23. Jambug,

    On the last comment, I agree with you 100%. Ozil tends to disappear when things get tough. But I still think that it’s all down to his – no offence – docile nature.

    I know you Jambug, you will be the last person to bash an Arsenal player. Your (and my) Ozil criticisms are from position of love. We wish the player well and we never call him names or criticise him unfairly.

  24. I think you are looking for Ozil to the player he isn’t. You are comparing him to the players he is designed to supply.His job is more akin to the job Bergkamp did supplying the final ball. Give him runners and his effectiveness increases , Ronaldo was virtually in tears when Ozil left and took his supply line with him.Best to appreciate him for what he does rather than what you hoped he might.

  25. Porter

    “I think you are looking for Ozil to the player he isn’t.”

    What, a match winner you mean?

  26. Ozil wins matches by setting up moving players around him. If you are waiting to see him run from the halfway line, take on 4 or 5 players draw the keeper and slot the ball from the penalty spot , you better invest in a very large bag of popcorn .

  27. @Tim,
    Overall pretty good article, but feel a little too critical on Ozil and the BFG. I feel the criticism is more media fueled than actually what he does on the field.

    In regards to Ozil, I think body language is the only thing he needs to work on, but performance wise he has delivered fairly consistently this year.

    – Ozil leads the league with 4.4 key passes a game (but has only 4 assists).
    Silva leads the league with 6 assists, but makes only 3.4 key passes a game.

    He was brought in to make those key passes that unlock defenses. He’s created the chances to change the games, unfortunately we were a bit unlucky with the finishing.

  28. I think if you want to see what Ozil does, look at how we play when he’s in the team and when he is not for example the Newcastle game.
    I think Ozil is more of a team player and his contribution tends to go unnoticed because he simplifies the game allowing the others such as Walcott and Sanchez to thrive. With him in the team, we tend to have fewer bad days and the link between defence and attack is much better.

  29. I am glad to see a few comments defending the BFG. I obviously hope that I am wrong and he has a great season. I’m not sure that he is deteriorating, but I think the form of Gabriel is making him look bad. I agree that he brings leadership to the team as well as aerial presence, experience and good positioning. My concern is that he struggles with agility. There were a couple of incidents against Man U that really concerned me. The first was when Martial brushed him away on the penalty spot and was only denied a goal by a good save from Cech (near the end of the first half). the BFG ended up on the floor. By the look on his face, I think he felt that he was fouled by Martial, and maybe he was (the replays were inconclusive), but the foul was borderline, and I would like to see a defender staying on his feet and pressurizing the opponent in those circumstances. The second incident was when a Man U player (I think it was Martial again), simply ran around him with the ball at his feet, beating him for pace. The BFG didn’t get a foot (or hand) on him. I’m not sure that Arsenal can afford these incidents. I fear that our dreaded captain’s curse is alive and well! I could be wrong, but I think that the BFG will be benched when the boss and Gabriel are both available. He will still be an important player for us, but not a nailed on starter I think

  30. Porter

    At 5.09PM I said:

    “I know he’s not going to run the length of the pitch like Bale or dribble past an entire back 4 like Messi. At least not very often ? ”

    At 9.55PM you say:

    “If you are waiting to see him run from the halfway line, take on 4 or 5 players draw the keeper and slot the ball from the penalty spot, you better invest in a very large bag of popcorn.”

    You don’t seem to be reading what I am saying and missing my point entirely.

    Going round in circles springs to mind. I think we better move on.

Comments are closed.