Season Review: Improved But A Long Way Off

Victoria Concordia Crescit

2011/2012 - Glad its Over

It has been a long season filled with ups and downs. Arsenal finished it at third place which is a good result given the sorry state the Gunners put themselves in early this year. I am just glad this season is over and done with. Glad that we’ve made the most out of a season that stabbed many fans in the heart. This is going to be a long post. I will sum up everything Arsenal in this post and leave it till the next season arrives. Till then we will have the Euros to watch and maybe some Olympic action.

Context 

Arsenal wobbled to the finishing line. After taking full points for 7 games including Liverpool (away) and City (home), we stumbled when Arteta got injured. The 3-0 win at Wolves signalled the end of a purple patch. Thereafter we had 3 draws and a loss before sealing 3rd with a final win 3-2 done in completely non convincing fashion at WBA. Half the reason we got 3rd is down to the huge spark in form from the 5-2 win against Tottenham. We looked in control, convincing and ready. We made City looked weak and if not for some good defending and goalkeeping we would have easily thrashed them. Yet without Arteta, the cogs gave way. The other half of the reason is down to the poor showings by Tottenham, Newcastle and Chelsea. In fact, Chelsea faded away so early that their final league game was inconsequential. Liverpool, expected to give the top 4 a challenge, faded way earlier leaving the CL spots up for grabs by unfamiliar sides.

But we must remember where the season started from. It started from the sale of 3 first team players in Clichy, Nasri and Fabregas. Congratulations to the former duo who have won the league at City. Barring Clichy, it must be noted that Nasri and Fabregas (stars of our team of 10/11) could not nail down a starting spot at their new clubs. Both were largely left on the bench, and that signals the lack of quality on our end. If our brightest could only fill their benches, something is wrong. Arsenal started the season really poorly. Being left at 17th place was probably a shock that everyone at Arsenal could not fathom. Yet, credit must be given to the team for clawing out and reversing that to finish 3rd.

Objectives 

Objectives Changed Rapidly This Season

Objectives Changed Rapidly This Season

What do we want to build for? Looking at the era post invincibles, Wenger wasn’t really building a solid team around Fabregas. He would know that the mean age and experience for championship winners could not be found in the Fabregas era. If he was serious about the title he would have brought in 3 more experienced players. It is only when Fabregas and Nasri left that we brought experience in by the buckets and it served us well. Arteta at 29 (now 30) is by far the most consistent performer in the center of the pitch. Benayoun (32) our most reliable winger. RVP (29) the only real striker we have. And Sagna (29) our most consistent defender. In a sense, losing Fabregas and Nasri was positive because experience was brought in by the bucket loads. We replaced inconsistent performers with less exciting yet more reassuring talent.

It was after the post thrashing shopping spree that this team suddenly looked stronger. Arteta, Santos, Mertesacker, Benayoun came in to right a rapidly spiraling ship and you have to give them credit. They have all done well and easily slotted into the first team. Wenger has mentioned that he enjoyed the comfort of being able to fully trust the team. Of course, these weren’t kids anymore. Kids that could not focus and deliver when it mattered. I have nothing against kids but putting your multi million dollar hopes on them is pushing things too far.

The signings above were brought in to get us back into the CL. Mission accomplished. So now what?

The Scorecard

Before breaking into the future lets take a look at our players.

Top Performers

There is Only One RVP

There is Only One RVP

Robin Van Persie had the season of his life this year. He was in full goal scoring form and picked up the Golden Boot deservedly. More importantly he put in a fully committed performance as captain. Standing up for his team and putting his body on the line a couple of times. That is a proper captain. After Vieira we hardly had any good captains. Henry spent more time grumbling than captaining, Gallas was too harsh for kids and Fabregas too cheerleader like.

Mikel Arteta easily was our best center midfielder. He tidied up a lot in the midfield allowing our 4-3-3 to function well. Without him, we were found lacking. Yet, that it was not just the performance on the pitch that counted. The club has grown in respect for him. His co-midfielders look up to him and even Wenger often seeks a word of advice from the Spanish midfielder. If not for the ridiculous quality in midfield that Spain has, Arteta would easily be an international player.

Bacray Sagna was unwavering when called for. He broke his leg twice this season yet stood head and shoulders above the rest of his defenders. He was able to strike forward and pull back at the right time. The only other player capable of doing so is Santos. Gibbs and (shockingly) Vermealen over-commits to attack. Sagna gave the team balance and swing while carrying out both his roles well.

Yossi Benayoun has played little for us but in the few games he played he has done extremely well. With some flair and a huge load of hard work, Benayoun featured and played a massive role in big games especially that against Tottenham and also in the closing matches. He chipped in the goals and always gave his all. I would love to keep him but at his age it is hard to see AW paying for him or giving him more than a single year’s contract. A quiet hard worker. Exceptional job this season.

Most Improved

Kosc: Made leaps and bounds forward this season

Kosc: Made leaps and bounds forward this season

Wojciech Szczesny has made a huge leap forward. He is now our No. 1 and even though his end was shaky (now explained by a 5 week shoulder injury) he was consistently keeping Arsenal in the game when the going got tough. For a long time this season, we were kept afloat by having the best men at the back (Szczesny) and at the front (RVP). He has a lot more to go. Arsene needs to bring in a seasoned respectable goalkeeper for Szczesny to learn from.

Laurent Koscielny has matured tremendously this season. Still prone to one or two errors, he is fully focused and has put out an assured performance on average. His ability to stick to his marking targets and shut them out of the game is key often being better than his Belgian partner in taking players out of the game.

Tomas Rosicky had a mini revival and was key to the purple patch this season. His combative yet stylish performance at the tip of the midfield trio gave Milan, City and the likes a torrid time. He faded towards the end and I can’t say for sure how he would be like the coming season but this has to go down as the best season for an often injury prone ‘little Mozart’.

Santos has settled in well in the short time given and has provided the most assuring performance as a left back. Although not as efficient as Sagna, he has tidied up the back well enough while bombing effectively forward. Adding to that he has nicked key goals in the CL and also against Chelsea and the decider at WBA the day before. He imposes himself on the game and his opponents. To top it off it is quite easily seen that he injects life into the team outside the pitch. The next season should see an even better Santos with just about one season of EPL experience under his belt.

Inconsistent

Confused: Neither steady in defense or attack

Confused: Neither steady in defense or attack

Alexander Song, having played in nearly every game as our defensive midfielder, has had his moments of pure brilliance and mind numbing errors. In some games he has tidied up well covering for the back 4. In some games he puts in an assist or two that has handed us the points. Yet, he has also made wayward passes allowing opponents to have a field day. Song is confused. He must be told what his role is. I suspect this is not what AW is good at. Everyone in this club seems to be given a free role. Song should firstly tidy up his defensive performance for the coming season. The fans do no expect him to be assisting goals, they expect him to help out the back four and churn clean sheets.

Thomas Vermealen who came back from injury to imperious form faded to the end because he started having dreams about being a striker. He pushed forwards too far in some games causing huge gaps at the back. Credit to him, he stopped doing so in the final game or we might not have clinched 3rd place. His job is to organize the defense and if he isn’t being disciplined about it, he cannot expect his colleagues to do so. It may be a little unfair to drop him into the inconsistent territory but more is expected of the club’s vice captain.

Kieran Gibbs has had a good season but nothing inspiring or assuring. He has been ok going forward and ok defending. Not particularly well on either fronts yet also not capitulating in epic fashion the way Clichy did last season. While Clichy has found success in City it must be remembered that he was the reason why City lost the community shield after a two goal lead and is the weakest link of their back four. Gibbs did ok but has given Arsenal fans too many heart attacks to be considered consistent. He needs to work from back to front. Tidy up well.

Theo Walcott may have had an improved season but a lot more is expected of him. The weight of the right wing falls on him and he has the benefit of linking up with Sagna which makes things a lot easier on his end. He has been our top provider this season yet he finds it hard to impose himself on games. Frustratingly invisible at times, inconsistency sums up his season.

Gervinho has not impressed in his first season. He has been able to get past players but not apply the finishing product. His shots are abysmal and more is desired of his passes. He remains our most effective player in getting to the byline but no end product means all that he does is for nothing. It must be remembered he had a month’s break from the EPL due to international duties and that this is his first season. If he doesn’t improve he will go down as an also ran.

Aaron Ramsey was sharp at the start of the season but faded rapidly at the end. It is unfair to pin the entire attacking thrust on a young boy like him and he needs more time. He has shown good touches and trickery but is not ready for first team football. Most fans would forget his contributions at the start of the season due to the massive drop in form. Give this guy a season or two before thrusting him forward again.

Unsure

The Ox: Exciting but early days still

The Ox: Exciting but early days still

Mertasacker on entering the fray provided much needed confidence and height. Yet he made two glaring errors that can be attribued to the lack of premiership experience. He was ruled out of the campaign for close to half the season due to a bad ankle injury but the verdict is not clear. Should he return stronger, we can expect a more assured defense in the next season.

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain may be one of the exciting prospects that fans turn to when things are going wrong but he is far from ready. He has already chipped in a few goals and also turned games like that against Milan and United. He also did become invisible in some games like that of Chelsea. This boy needs time and shouldn’t be relied on too heavily. He needs a season professional to learn from just like many in the club do.

Marouane Chamakh has had little chance to start due to RVP’s brilliant form and injury free season. Yet he showed us what he could give in a 4-4-2 system against Norwich. He had a brilliant performance in that match and is a growing worry that just like Adebayor, he will not shine in a 4-3-3 that Wenger stubbornly refuses to give up on. He needs quality crosses which Arsenal lacks and needs a partner that Arsene doesn’t want to give usually. It is hard to make a call on player who played so few games but if the system does not change it is hard to see how he would fit here.

Abou Diaby is injured so easily I am not sure if he should play in the EPL. Watching the way he runs easily points to why he is getting injured. This guy does not run, he bounces in leaps and bounds often placing far too much pressure on his body. It is hard to change how a man runs at this age and unless something huge changes this talent will go to waste. It is a pity though. He did change the game for us against Liverpool when he came on.

Carl Jenkinson has played ok when called on. Nothing really impressive or assuring but considering he was a championship player before, he has done fine. He needs to step it up massively and has a good partner to learn from. Too few games still so its hard to make a call. He needs to be ready in 3-4 seasons when Sagna steps down.

The Next Step 

Poldi: More matured signings needed

Poldi: More matured signings needed

While a 3rd place finish is laudable for a season so poor, this must not be a signal to relax but to push on. Both clubs in Manchester are a massive 19 points ahead of us. We need to be challenging for the title or else the millions spent on the 27-30 year old players are a waste. Podolski is a signing of intent and I expect him to be challenging Gervinho on the left flank at the start. We need a solid back up for Arteta and that could be possible in M’Vila of whom some fans have confirmed the signing but nothing is official.

The huge gap is that of a center attacking midfielder. Ramsey did fine for the start of the season before Rosicky took over and saw us really fly. After that we had to rely heavily on the flanks with the midfield trio nearly absent when Arteta was injured. We need a top end player aged 27-28. Aaron is 22 years of age and Wilshere 20. Both too young to bear such burdens. We did not replace Fabregas and must if AW stubbornly wants to keep 4-3-3. Diaby would have slotted here well but is always out injured. Something must be done to cover the CAM position well.

As much as the defense has shipped 49 league goals this season I would pin it down on the midfield rather than the back 4. Our midfield is woeful at winning the ball causing the back 4 to be under immediate pressure whenever opposing teams turn the heat on. It is much worse without Arteta as well. 4-3-3 relies on 3 top quality midfielders able to communicate and rotate both defensive and offensive duties. Wenger attempts to follow the Barca model but does not have players of the same class to pull it off. I have been ranting about returning to 4-4-2 because 4-4-2 is a less technical formation. In many ways it is easier to execute and is more straightforward to play. We also have the players to do so which puzzles me why we are trying so hard to play 4-3-3.

Here’s the deal: We have to challenge for the title next season and to do so we either have to get up to speed on quality to play 4-3-3 or change tactics to accommodate what we have.

Summer 

This summer is very important. We cannot lose RVP or it will be rebuilding all over again and frankly, we have had enough of rebuilding. Give the man the contract he deserves and give the captain a team that inspires confidence for a title challenge. It is not difficult to do so given what we have spent this season. Yann M’Vila and a new CAM will do wonders for this team. Sell off the loanees, they may have good futures but all of that lies outside Arsenal. Let’s make this summer one about building up and not tearing down.

This table suffered multiple head slams this season thanks to inconsistency

This table suffered multiple head slams this season thanks to inconsistency

Conclusion 

This season has been more than a roller coaster ride. For the disappointments of last summer and the early season we have turned ourselves around pretty well. But while doing so is commendable we cannot stop here. We have to be fighting for the title next season and the work starts now. Get us the players we need and let’s finally go for it after 7 long seasons.



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