Progress?May 15, 2007 at 4:01 pm | Posted in Football, Jackie Manuel | 1 Comment
Looking back on Arsenal’s 2006-07 season really depends on where you were sitting in August. Many expected Arsenal to make a strong challenge to Chelsea in the league and to return to the Champions League Final, perhaps even trying to play the whole game with 11 men. In truth it was always going to take an amazing combination of breaks/luck to make up a 24 point gap. Europe is always a bit of a crapshoot. Maybe Chelsea would drop points, focusing on Europe. Maybe United would be more retirement home than title contender. Perhaps Thomas Rosicky was a younger Bobby Pires. It was possible that Robin Van Persie would become the perfect foil for Thierry Henry. Bill Gallas might shore up the back. Cesc Fabregas could easily score 15 goals. Theo might be the next Shrek. Perhaps Ashburton Grove would quickly become a fortress for us.
If all, or even most of those things had happened….well…we probably still would not have made up 24 points, but luck certainly plays a part and when you have players like Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry, you at least have a chance. Instead, almost none of those things happened and when they did it was for extremely brief runs. Additionally we got some pretty terrible luck. Thierry Henry missed 21 league games and Robin Van Persie missed 16. Freddie Ljungberg once again did not score a league goal. If you had told an Arsenal supporter in August that Gilberto would score as many league goals (10) as Thierry Henry, that our leading scorer (Van Persie) would have just one more than Gilberto, or that our fifth leading goal scorer would be Mathieu Flamini with three goals than they’d have feared finishing below Sp*rs. We weren’t fortunate and so we finished 21 points behind Manchester f*cking United, and once again in fourth place. In 05-06 we tallied 67 points and in 06-07 we tallied 68. So the general questions for Arsene and Arsenal are: Was this season and last an inevitable result of the transition from Highbury to Ashburton Grove, were we just unlucky this season not to improve from 05-06, or are there real problems that, if not addressed, make a title challenge in 07-08 unrealistic?
I’m guessing Arsene feels it is a bit of all three and that is probably fair. The first game of the season would be like many to follow. Arsenal out-shot the Villans 21-5, conceded on the Brummie’s only corner kick and then fought back to nick a draw with a Gilberto goal. After finishing off Dynamo Zagreb (bless you) to qualify for Europe proper, Arsenal then lost 1-0 to Manchester City after Justin Hoyte conceded a penalty. After two games we were 8 points back with a game in hand. A good start was needed, but instead the club was still sorting out Jose Antonio Reyes and Ashley C*nt and had already been defeated by a club who would finish with 42 points. We then were held 1-1 by a ten man Boro side that had only one shot on goal. Our worst start to a premiership season ever…following up our worst finish of the Wenger era…and Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie played in all three games. Unlucky? Yes, but also not good enough.
Then the unbelievable happened…we went to Old Trafford without Henry and Van Persie and outplayed United in a 1-0 win. It was probably the high point of our season. Cristiano Ronaldo played Cesc Fabregas into space and a beautiful through ball was played to Adebayor for the goal. It would be the only time United would lose at home on their way to the title. (West Ham did do them on Sunday) After, Wenger said:
‘We are not a team in transition,’ in response to Ferguson’s pre-match claims to the contrary.
‘We are a big club who want to win championships. There is great potential in this team. I strongly believe in the quality of the players and results like this have to help.’
And Arsenal’s form did improve. They took 16 of their next 18 points; sure there were some worrying signs like the domination of CSKA Moscow over 180 minutes that netted us only a point. It took an unreal finish from Robin Van Persie to beat a dismal Charlton. Still it did appear that this Arsenal team was ready to make a league challenge. Then at Upton Park, we played terribly and a donkey scored in the 89th minute that led to Alan Pardew making an enormous c*nt out of himself in a 1-0 Hammers win. What is he up to these days anyways? We appeared to put the loss behind us in a 3-0 thrashing of Liverpool. Meanwhile the kids were seeing off West Brom and Everton in the League Cup and Arsenal got two goals in the last 10 minutes to beat Hamburg at the Grove.
For some the West Ham game was the end of the title challenge, but for me it was the next league game at Bolton. They openly taunted us before that one, and Diouf even said we were “scared” to play at the Reebok. 12 points behind United and missing Henry, Gallas, and Rosicky to injury as well as Robin Van Persie to suspension, Arsenal NEEDED a good performance. After only nine minutes, poor marking on a corner saw Bolton take the lead. Then Nic Anelka scored a ridiculous goal as I cursed the TV in an empty Asheville bar…the title chase was over. We’d do the double over the champions, keep the unbeaten streak going, and end the Russian’s title hopes…but the league matches were mostly just frustrating.
I think the players knew it too. We went on to put in some really lackluster performances. Losing at Fulham and winking our way to a draw against FC Porto. We thrashed Sp*rs 3-0, played really well against Chelsea before Essien’s swerving bomb, we got outplayed by Wigan and won, beat Blackburn 6-2, scraped by Watford, and were held at home by Pompey. Then we lost at Sheffield United to fall 17 points back. Really, the season was down to our cup runs by December, and other than individual performances it’s hard to take too much from these league games. They were mere formalities as we were too good to finish 5th and not good enough to finish 2nd.
The League Cup run was nice and for some that was the highlight of the season. For me though, the League Cup is not much of a concern. We are not in a position to need a UEFA Cup place that comes with winning it, and its not anywhere near the FA Cup. If we rest players in the third round, then we obviously are not that fussed with winning it. Was it nice to beat Liverpool 6-3 at Anfield and come back from two goals down at White Hart Lane? Sure, but I’d rather beat Sheffield United, Fulham or Manchester City in the league then win the League Cup. It is not much more important to me than the ladies winning the treble. Good news, but not what I’m invested in. So you might guess that having Kolo Toure get sent off in a meaningless final while Cesc played the full 90, meaning he would have to be rested at Ewood Park in the FA Cup did not sit well with me. That we lost to a full strength Chelsea after taking the lead was even worse. Naturally we went on to lose 1-0, after outplaying Rovers for 86 minutes. Benni McCarthy scored a classy goal to end our last chance of domestic silverware. The League Cup also was responsible for me having to watch the fat f8cking toad, Julio Baptista run around the pitch for the rest of the season. His seven league cup goals against the Scousers and Sp*rs led many to believe that he was a professional footballer. Unfortunately he’s just a fat f8cking toad. Really we should have put our chips in an FA Cup run and rested Kolo and Cesc in the final. Obviously the gamble backfired, but would we really feel any better about the season if we had won the League Cup? Would that make us more confident of challenging for real trophies in 07-08? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be more satisfied and those Chelski t-shirts going around amongst Arsenal supporters only validate that view. If we had a game on Saturday…well that certainly would be different, wouldn’t it?
Out of all three domestic competitions, Arsenal still had a shot in Europe. It was not to be. Trailing by a goal after outplaying PSV Eindhoven in Holland, Arsenal started FFT and Adebayor up front and believe it or not could not take any of their many, many chances. An Alex own goal gave us hope, but a stupid Hleb foul gave the Dutch side a free kick and Alex went up higher than Arsenal to finish off the European campaign. It was their only shot on goal that night. If Villa was a sign of things to come, and Bolton the turning point domestically, than this was a fitting way to end Arsenal’s chance of a trophy.
Set pieces doomed us all season and it simply must be addressed this summer. I’m not sure this squad has enough in it to do that, but you simply can’t give up goals like that consistently and win titles. Senderos is pretty good in the air, Gilberto, Diaby, and Kolo try most of the time but Eboue, Clichy, Gallas, Hoyte, Djourou, Hleb, Rosicky, and Cesc don’t win balls in the air at all. Often we would have Adebayor mark an opposing forward and to me that speak volumes. You just can’t play that many small or hopeless players. I’m no fan of Sol Campbell’s 05-06 form, but he was huge (in more ways than one) for us on set pieces. Could Eboue and Gallas do better with more concentration? Probably so, but its worrying that concentration problems were not corrected as the season went on. The zone marking might work if you had 5 or 6 players on the pitch that could defend set pieces, but Arsenal do not have 5 or 6 on the squad. You can’t always prevent things like that, but too often the opposition had uncontested headers. Most teams know it is their best chance of success against us and so it is even more vital that we pay special attention to it. Jens is a bit worrying too. With such young players everywhere he needed to be commanding on set pieces and instead he was too often a flailing lunatic. Will the new Polish keeper keep him sharp? We’ll see but I’m terrified of Jens ending his career like David Seaman did. There is no arguing that Arsenal were wasteful up front (I’ll get to that next), but if we conceded 25 goals instead of 35 we might have been in with a chance. I think we could use a veteran cover at LB and RB to keep Clichy and Eboue honest. Emmanuel is clearly very talented, but sometimes he looks completely clueless and Gael can also go missing due to injury or a lack of focus. I don’t think Hoyte threatens Eboue and there is no real cover for Gael. I say give them something to think about. Whether it a change in tactics, more time on the training ground, or a change in personnel: I really hope Arsene recognizes that it’s a problem if not the problem.
The problem? Well for me it is obvious….we’ve got to convert the fine football we play into goals. Honestly I don’t think our football is ‘over elaborate’ or that we try to score the ‘perfect goal’. We just don’t have enough people on the pitch that can finish. In two years we’ve dropped from 87 league goals to 63. You lose Pires, Bergkamp, Reyes, Edu, 04 Freddie and replace them with Hleb, Adebayor, Rosicky, 06 Freddie and a fat f*cking toad. The former could score and finish off lovely Arsenal build up play; the later have not proven capable. Maybe Adebayor did score some big goals and perhaps Rosicky will excel in his second season in England similar to Le Bob. We can’t count on it though. RVP and Henry should improve greatly, but we can’t rely on them for all the goals. Cesc and Gilberto are absolutely crucial to the beautiful football we play, but neither are prolific goal scorers What exactly does Alexander Hleb do? Tackle? Pass? Shoot? What kind of footballer can’t tackle, pass, or shoot? Seriously, he’s nifty and quick, but at 25 he got worse as the season went on. Can Arsenal afford to play a midfielder who a: will not take given space to put one on goal, b: gives the ball away carelessly 5+ times a game, c: does not tackle or defend? I think not. Maybe if he played centrally for a decent side he could work, but I might break my TV if I have to watch him hold up a counter attack with his turns inside, right before he passes the ball directly to a defender. We need better. I think Arsene recognizes this. Why else would he play 4 center mids (Denilson, Diaby, Cesc, Gilberto) at the same time? One great winger and an improvement in form from Rosicky and/or Walcott might be enough, but I think we need another striker too. Bendtner might be the guy we are looking for, but he might be another youngster who isn’t quite good enough. Should we go into the season with our two best players coming off injury and the unproven Adebayor and Bendtner as our backups? It is a huge risk for a team that wants to compete with United and Chelski. I say buy a third quality striker.
Can Arsenal make up 21 points next season? It appears unlikely. I won’t go into stuff I know nothing about: ownership, Kronke, Dein, Hill-Wood, how much $ we have. If we do have a lot of money to spend then we should buy the world class winger, wing back cover, and third quality striker. That squad might make up a lot of ground and with a little luck and a lot of improvement from the existing squad, who knows. I doubt we’ll be getting all of those and even if we do the new players will have to mesh right away. We do play pretty awesome stuff at times and you could see the defence playing much better next season. If we can at least turn Reyes $ into a world class winger we’ll be much more formidable and when you have Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas, you at least have a chance.