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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Arsenal 2012/13 - Firm Foundations?

Thank god that's over. By 'that' I am referring to the month of May. The reasons for this are both personal and football: on a personal note, my exams are now over and on an Arsenal note, WE GOT 4TH PLACE.

Jubilation all round. I'll admit that I as I watched the nerve-wracking final five minutes of Arsenal vs Newcastle on my laptop in Newcastle University Library, where I could almost hear the Geordies' roaring their team on, I was on the edge of my seat. It was all so predictable. After a goalless 45 minutes I said to myself (quietly - I was in the library) that Bale would definitely score a wonder goal in the last ten minutes. He has dug Spurs out of the pickles they've got themselves into on several occasions this season. I don't have the stats to hand but without his late goals they would certainly have finished a few places lower down in the table. Late goals are his speciality. Come on United he's custom-made for you!

In seriousness a move to United for him would bring a sigh of relief from the red half of North London. He ran us close this time but even if he stays, I believe that Arsène will sign the players in the summer to cement our hegemony. Besides we should relish their challenge.

Now the dust has settled on yet another 'transitional' season, Arsenal are left all too aware of how close they came to missing out on their regularly-reserved place in Europe's biggest competition. There has been talk of big money and big names. Yet this summer it looks like it will be more difficult than ever to attract the top players. There are potentially big changes underway at both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Arsenal, having consistently struggled against the top teams this year cannot point to their victory over Bayern in March as proof that they can challenge at the top level with their current squad.

We seem to be the only club not undertaking big changes in management this summer. Who would have guessed that in December!? Ferguson, Mancini, Benitez, Mourinho, Heynckes, Moyes, Martinez and Pulis all leaving their posts but Wenger still in place! This makes him the current longest-serving manager in the Premier League by a gap of fourteen years.

There are also big changes afoot in playing personnel. Neymar to Barcelona, Götze to Bayern, potential moves for Bale, Rooney, Lewandowski and a shed-load of cash thrown around by the newly oil-rich Monaco.

2013 will be a big year in the football history books. But where do Arsenal fit in to all this?

In the transfer arena to be honest fans are none the wiser. At least we can finally shift Arshavin and Squillaci, who are out of contract and out of luck. Further than this, permanent moves away for Bendtner, Denilson, Djourou and Chamakh to name a few would be greatly appreciated. Wishful thinking that a clear-out on this scale will take place but we can dream.

Aside from that we should endeavour to hold onto the players who have played a part this season. In my view that definitely includes Vermaelen and Fabianski. Even though neither will be in the starting eleven come August, squad depth is what Arsenal have been lacking for a long time, and both these players can still play a part for us.

Names are being thrown around about potential transfers in, none of which have been particularly convincing as yet. Obviously the obligatory unknown Frenchman has already been drafted in in the shape of Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre. Hard to comment on how Wenger plans to use him except maybe as backup for Giroud.

Positives from our current group of players? Well defensively the team are being lauded from all quarters. It is true that apart from that mid-season slump where all our dreams of silverware were once again dismantled, the defence has been greatly improved. Koscielny is the stand-out performer and I expect to see more of the same next season before we get carried away.

In my very first post on this blog in October, I mentioned how little Arsenal's fans were obliged to dust off the 'one-nil to the Ars-en-al' chant in recent times. As it turned out, the last game of the season saw the team's seventh one-nil victory of the season, and their third in five games. Hopefully they can bring this ability to scrape wins in tight games into the start of next season.

As you would expect from a side who lost their star player over summer and replaced him with three new players, Arsenal's attack this season had been a testament to the 'team' effort. Glancing over a few stats from Opta, this becomes even more apparent. The debutant trio of Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla all hit the ten league goal mark this term along with Walcott, who reached double figures for the first time. This makes Arsenal only the third team in Premier League history to have four players to hit more than ten goals in a season. Cazorla, Walcott and Podolski also made up three of only seven players to achieve more than nine assists this season.

So both defence and attack are looking good. Perhaps not world-beating but there are firm foundations here. With Wilshere fit again hopefully that gap in midfield will be plugged. A couple of additions over summer would make for a tenacious looking side come August. Hopefully the other big clubs will take time adjusting to their new managers and Arsenal can actually start a season strongly for once.

Though this summer will certainly not be quiet in football, despite the lack of a big competition, this blog will probably be infrequently updated. I'm making no promises but I will aim to only post when something Arsenal-related actually warrants comment, and I do not include speculation is this. So over to you Arsène. Give me something to write about.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Time to 'finish the job'

Right, this is only going to be a quick one. It's been about two weeks since my last post, which followed the draw against Man United. The reasons for the drought in writing are twofold:

Firstly, the last weeks of Arsenal's seasons for the past couple of years have not been the most exciting of times. This year, as before the team have hit a good run of form and are still plugging away at gaining qualification for the Champions League next term. As such there are not too many interesting developments to speak of.

Secondly and most importantly, it's that time of year again and I've been stuck revising for my exams therefore having to limit my football-related outpourings to 140 character tweets.

Now with just one game of the season remaining and for Arsenal at least, everything still to play for, I am signing off until the end of May, by which time the football season will be well and truly over (unless Arsenal and Chelsea have to play a third-place playoff) as will my exams.

In the meantime I'm going to have to keep my recent musings on Arsenal's strengths, weaknesses and summer prospects to myself, and will probably unleash a tirade of pent-up poorly-structured stream of consciousness shortly after leaving the exam hall at the end of the month (I may also be drunk at this time).

By that time we will know which of Arsenal Chelsea and Spurs has finished 3rd, 4th and 5th in the league. Everything else that matters in English football has already been decided. United have won the league and City are ending up a not-so-close second. Everton finish sixth and Liverpool seventh (actually an improvement on last year for both). QPR and Reading were realistically relegated months ago and Wigan are the team that will join them in next year's Championship.

Sorry Wigan. Like most people seem to be all of a sudden, I am sympathetic to Wigan, not because they play 'great attacking football' (which seems a popular overstatement of late) but because their story of resilience and drama over the past few seasons has been refreshing. I hope they make a speedy return, though as Wolves have demonstrated, it's dog eat dog in the Championship.

All that now remains for Arsenal is, in Wenger's words, for them to 'finish the job'. Victory at Newcastle will not be as easy as Alan Pardew has made out but if we pull it off we are in the Champions League next season. If fate really was smiling on the club then Chelsea would slip up and Arsenal could even nip into third place, though this is less likely. The season is very much not over yet for three out of twenty clubs.

There have been good omens from recent games, with the team really starting to play like one. The last few fixtures have seen good team performances and it seems we are relying on individuals less and less (ahem - apart from Santi's 4 assists on Tuesday).

Giroud will be back from suspension this weekend but I think on the back of a convincing 4-1 victory in which he scored twice, Podolski should retain his place. Unless of course he's too tired.

I repeat that Newcastle away, despite their current league position will not be an easy game. Newcastle is the city in which I currently reside and I know that the home crowd on the last day of the season will really be urging their team on to make amends for a fairly awful nine months of football. It also wouldn't be the first time they've spoilt our party.

Hopefully the players will stay as focused as they have been in recent matches and Chelsea (maybe tired from their Europa Cup win tonight) will be less than focused, and at the final whistle on Sunday we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

If not my mood will be even worse when I have to tackle a two-hour exam first thing Monday morning. So I'll echo Wenger in urging the boys to 'finish the job': St Totteringham's Day has been too long in the coming this year.

I'll be back in two weeks' time.