Well we are now coming to the business end of the season, where one loss can be catastrophic and another piece of silverware is cut adrift. From the start of the campaign the expectations were not high especially after the disappointment of the first game against Aston Villa, but we started to confound the critics who just like in previous seasons had completely written us off, but this team started to beat everything put in front of them. Not all world-beating performances but a few scrappy wins, last minute goals, backs to the wall nail biting defensive displays, performances that would-be champions get away with, Manchester United have been doing that for years and have been highly praised for it. The lows so far have been few and far between, the Capital one-cup exit to Chelsea was poor, but as we all know that has never been very high on Arsene’s priority list. The defeat at Old Trafford was a particular low point especially as this Moyes team of 2013-14 are mediocre and not a patch on the fighters of previous Mancs teams. It wasn’t so much the defeat it was the scorer that hurt the most and the very unnecessary RVP celebration afterwards, alas Adebayor springs to mind. My mind turns to Nic Anelka, who still never celebrates any goal he scores against Arsenal, respect for that. Manchester City was a lesson learnt, they work on the principle of the old Newcastle side managed by Kevin Keegan, you score 2 we will score 3. Even though the score line of 6-3 looked heavy that day, we could have matched that and Wengers comments after of ‘It could have quite easily been 6-6’ was not far off the mark. They do have an awesome strike force and to still keep up an average of 4 goals a game even without Aguero, shows the benefits of a very strong squad.
So what about our squad?
To win any title these days, you must, must have a strong squad from the goalkeeper down to the bench. Over previous seasons our goalkeeping position has been mentioned on numerous occasions. Unfortunately it is the one position where time is on a player’s side but patience is not. Szczesny will be world class, he is still very young in goalkeeping terms and is prone to the odd error and lack of concentration, but overall he has had a very good season and deserves the number 1 spot. Fabianski has stated that he will be looking for a move in the summer and that means we will need another keeper. I have read today that Hugo Lloris is interested in a move to Arsenal from our rivals Spurs, it may just be paper talk and hopefully it is, I rate him average at best, Spurs can keep him. A lot of teams have a number 1 and an older keeper as back up, this just might be a good idea at Arsenal, Szczesny has an experienced keeper to learn from and we have an experienced keeper as back up.
Our defence have received a lot of plaudits so far this season, especially the central pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker, and yes they have been fantastic against the lesser teams. I still worry about Per’s lack of pace, which brings me to Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1. Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge tore them apart. You cannot paper over the cracks here; they were made to look very average. Hopefully it was just a blip, when you go 2 goals down after 10 minutes from two set pieces, it is bound to shake you but 5 goals against, flattered us, it could have been 10. The full back positions I feel are nicely taken care of, assuming Sagna comes to his senses and signs the contract offered. Jenkinson will only get better and one facet of his game that seems to be over-looked is what a wonderful crosser of the ball he is. In the modern game it is now a necessity for all the top teams to have raiding full backs, the formations most teams play require the backs to get forwards and Jenkinson does this very well. The left back position is another area in which we are fine, Monreal and especially Gibbs are both very good players and I like the way in which Wenger rotates them, which means they are both usually fresh. Gibbs for once has had a near injury free season and maybe the acquisition of Monreal took a bit of pressure off him and gave him a bit of healthy competition. Vermaelen has been the forgotten man, still club captain but with hardly a kick all season, I fully expect him to leave in the summer.
When everyone is fit, the midfield must be a real headache for Arsene, it is the one area where we are head and shoulders above the rest of the premier league, but I feel that Wenger may have to do some soul searching in the summer and make a few hard decisions. Lets take Mesut Ozil first, the man with the 42 million pound price tag. After a decent start to his Arsenal career, he has since been nothing but average at best and in a few games he has been Arsenals worst player. Against Liverpool he was poor and a liability and was at fault for two of the oppositions goals, forcing Wenger to substitute him half way through the 2nd half. So what is wrong with a player that Jose Mourinho once called the best number 10 in the world, is it the weight of expectation? Does the size of the price tag feel like a millstone? Has he not settled in London? Is he not happy with Wenger’s training methods or could it be something as simple as just being too lazy. He has been accused of strolling around the pitch sometimes; giving square 5 yard passes instead of penetrating the opposition. Maybe he has lost his passion or is he just too arrogant? He was adored when he first arrived but a love affair can soon fizzle out, we all remember him turning his back on the fans after the Man city mauling and walking off the pitch without acknowledging or applauding the very people who pay his wages. As supporters we want to see passion, Per Mertesacker for all his lack of pace shows passion in abundance and that is why he is quickly becoming an Arsenal favourite. If we had paid 10 million for Ozil I think the worm would have turned by now and the fans would be calling for his omission from the team especially when we have such an abundance of good players in that position, luxury players we don’t need. As far as I am concerned the jury is out, I think he needs a rest, drop him for a couple of games and hopefully he will change his attitude and recharge his batteries for bigger battles to come.
Aaron Ramsey has been a massive loss; he was injured just at a time when he was on fire, a bigger asset than Ozil. Arsenals best player by a mile, unfortunately injuries are part and parcel of the game and we have had to make do without him, lets just hope he is back soon for the final push. Jack Wilshire is the epitome of Arsenal Football club, another player with passion and drive and when fit should always be the first name on the team sheet. His performances this season have been indifferent and that may well be down to his lingering fitness problems. One facet of his game he does need to improve on is goals; in the position Jack plays he should be scoring at least 15 goals a season. If he is fully fit and scoring regularly, Wilshire is a 50 million pound player.
Sante Cazorla is class, I always breathe a sigh of relief when I see his name on the team sheet, he has recently added more goals to the team and is a player who never stops running and who always adds more dimensions to the side, just look at the opposition sometimes when he has the ball, they don’t know what to do, our best player by far.
Another player who gets my high praise is Flamini, Wenger’s best signing of the summer. One thing we lacked last season was leadership, unlike Ozil he looks like a player who wants to be there, he runs his heart out and never stops shouting and directing his teammates. He is prone to the odd bad tackle and mistake but Arsenal fans can forgive that because of his obvious effort and commitment he shows. His position just in front of the back four is a problem position for us when he is not in the team. I doubt if Liverpool would have scored 5 if Flamini had been playing. His opposition in that position is Mikael Arteta, I have said before that this is not the best position for Arteta, he is not a natural defensive midfielder and this is an area where I think Arsene has got it wrong. Tomas Rosicky, you have got to love him, he knows he is not an automatic choice anymore but what a great servant. Whenever he is called upon, you can guarantee he will always put a shift in and invariably will come up with the odd goal. His forward play from the centre of midfield is always direct and it is rare that you will see him waste the ball or stroll about giving silly short passes. Keep him on for another couple of years and give him a deserved testimonial.
The biggest debate of the season so far has been the lack of forward options at the club. This was highlighted more in January when we lost Theo Walcott for the rest of the season. Theo had just hit form and was almost guaranteed to get you goals as well as being the much needed pace up front. His injury without a doubt left a big hole. Luckily enough we had Alex Oxlade Chamberlain returning from injury. Maybe not as gifted or as quick as Theo but an option and a player always likely to get you a goal as shown with his two against Crystal Palace. I think the jury is still very much out on Olivier Giroud now one thing you cannot complain about is his commitment he never stops running. He reminds me of Alan Smith, not technically gifted but holds the ball up well and although not prolific, he will get you a good ratio of goals over the campaign. He started the season on fire, scoring in nearly every game but since has struggled to find the net on a regular basis. The weight of expectation does seem to be on his shoulders, we are constantly hearing, ‘If Giroud gets injured we are in trouble,’ When you look at the alternatives maybe there is a case, Nic Bendtner has had nothing but a troubled career at Arsenal, he is always being tarred with ‘He is not as good as he thinks he is’ brush, but for a player who literally only plays a bit part in the team, what is the actual expectation, an hat trick every time he comes on for the last 10 minutes. I think of the two crucial goals he has scored so far this season against Hull and in the last 5 minutes against Cardiff. You must put his attributes into perspective; he is a big lump that puts him-self about and he is very good with his head. Another interesting fact about Mr Bendtner, just look at his international record for Denmark, his goal per game ratio is phenomenal. Lets not be too hard on him, I think he will have a bigger part to play this season then any of us expects. This brings me to another bit part player so far in 2013-14, Lucas Podolski, now I do find his lack of playing time extraordinary, I have always been a big fan of Podolski, he is probably the deadliest finisher at the club. He has a remarkable tally of appearances and goals for his country, but not an automatic choice for Arsenal. He has been mentioned in transfer speculation and swap deals almost since he joined the club, but Podolski comes across as a real character, a team player and a happy soul in the changing room, you never seem to hear a disgruntled moan or any negative gossip about the player. Wenger for some reason doesn’t seem to favour him but I would always fancy him to get a goal before the likes of Giroud.
Much of the criticism this season has centred on our transfer policy or the lack of it. Lots of names were banded about during January headed by Julian Draxler of Schalke. All the right noises were being made, at one point we were told it was a done deal, the clubs were in deep discussions, thrashing out the details, the player was eager to come, even his shirt number was being leaked. Wenger’s plan for the player was all over the net, he was going to be the new Thierry Henry converted from an attacking midfielder to the goal getting centre forward we desperately needed. As the month advanced and the transfer window narrowed, the likelihood of Draxler joining diminished. A figure of 37 million was quoted, his clubs release clause and maybe not a bad figure considering Draxler was being touted as one of the best young players in Europe. Stories started to emerge that Arsenal had offered 30 million and had been rejected out of sight by Schalke, if this was indeed true, then Wenger and the board failed to deliver again, the player would have probably signed at the very least a 5 year contract and if and it is a big if the player is as good as has been touted then that 7 million extra would easily have been recouped over 5 years. The problem now is if we were to go back in for him in the summer, then we will probably have the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City to compete with for his signature. Apart from Draxler another name strongly linked with us on the final day was Miraslav Klose, one of the deadliest finishers in the game over the last 10 years. Some people point to his age of 35 but for a loan signing for 6 months he would have been ideal. We should have pushed the boat out to get him, apparently his club Lazio didn’t want to let him go, in my opinion money talks and everybody is available at the right price. So the one signing we did make was Kim Kallstrom from Spartak Moscow, the 31 years old Swede was signed on loan on deadline day to bolster our midfield, a department we are hardly short in but nevertheless we welcomed him with open arms. It then emerges a couple of days later that Kallstrom had been signed with a broken bone in his back and was on the injury list for up to 6 weeks. It beggared belief that we could sign a player with a known injury. Arsene Wenger admitted that he knew about the injury and still insisted on signing him, why?
So lets look at the positives, it is nearly half way through February and we are still in 3 competitions, what are our chances? Well what with football being a funny old game, who knows, a bad refereeing decision here, a freak sending off there, an injury to one or two of our rival teams might help. I could add my own predictions here but I don’t want to be the prophet of doom and gloom and risk the wrath of my own fans. I think the only certain thing is that we will finish in the top 4, but that is not really an improvement on the past few seasons. We may win the F.A Cup but first we have to face Liverpool who ran us ragged and gave us a real pasting a week earlier, the difference this time is that it is at the Emirates at least. The Champions League pits us against Bayern Munich, the Champions of Europe, on paper it cannot get more difficult, but lets just say I have a sneaky feeling this time especially with the news that Franck Ribery is out with a buttock injury, you couldn’t make it up. So that just leaves the Premier League, which we have topped for most of the season now we are just behind Chelsea and points will be dropped by everyone, even Manchester City who a couple of weeks ago looked unbeatable. The chief concern from an Arsenal fans point of view is the strength in depth of our rivals; on paper we do still seem a bit lightweight especially compared to City but hope that the momentum might just carry us over the line. After the recent 0-0 draw with Manchester United, the stadium was filled with a chorus of boos, maybe we ought to put things into perspective, the majority of the derision was aimed at Olivier Giroud, who admittedly had a very poor game, but he has played over 40 times this season so far for club and country and if anyone is to blame it should be Wenger. He had 3 strikers on the bench, Podolski, Bendtner and Sanogo and decided not to use any of them. In my opinion Giroud needs a rest, he looks tired, the failure to not sign a forward in January could easily come back to haunt us. The position of 2nd in the league, we currently sit is remarkable with the squad that we have. Manchester City are 3rd and have a 100 million pound a year wage bill more than us, Chelsea are a point clear at the top and have a 50 million pounds a year wage bill more than us, I think it’s time to get behind the team, not send them off the pitch with a chorus of boos.
So finally that brings me to Arsene Wenger, a few months ago there was a lot of division amongst fans, Gazidis has recently stated that Arsene will sign a new 3-year contract after this season. The biggest bug-bear for fans has been our lack of silverware over the last few years and quite rightly a club the size and stature of Arsenal should not have gone this long without a trophy. The competition has got stronger not only in this country but throughout Europe, we can boast a fantastic new stadium, but I liken it to a chocolate box, beautiful on the outside but that doesn’t mean a thing if there is nothing tasty inside. But I do believe in continuity and nobody has continued in the premier league longer than Arsene Wenger, he loves the club and has put his heart and soul in the place, like the old adage states, ‘be careful what you wish for’ he is still a very highly respected manager and would have offers from all over the world if he left or was pushed. I sincerely hope he stays and signs his new contract and has a say in the appointment of a new coach when he does finally step down or as I think we all know moves upstairs. A certain Mr Henry is bringing his playing career to an end at the conclusion of the present MLS season and has stated his desire to coach. He couldn’t wish for a better teacher than Arsene Wenger.
So there is my take on the season so far. All opinions are purely my own. I would very much appreciate any feedback good or bad.