Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Still Too Soon For Gunners

Last night Arsenal hammered Porto 5-0 at the Emirates to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. This win comes in the middle of yet another week in which many football writers have been assessing the Gunners' credentials for the Premiership run in. they are currently in 3rd place tied on 61 points with Chelsea (who do have a game-in-hand) and only two points behind leaders Manchester United. The question still remains though, do Arsene Wenger's side have it in them to take the league crown for the first time in six years?

Despite the fact that Arsenal may find themselves right in the running with only nine more fixtures left in this season's campaign I still do not believe that they will be able to cross the finish line first, or second for that matter. The only reason that they find themselves in such a promising position is because of the short comings of the two teams in front of them. Both Manchester United and Chelsea have been dropping points with unusual frequency. Arsenal have been beaten in both the home and away matches against the top two and yet, because of the slip-ups by these teams, they are still in contention.

Wenger's side are an extremely mercurial team. Last night's performance against Porto once again showed the class that the squad possesses, a class that watchers of the Premiership are all too aware of. It is their inability to perform at this level week-in-week-out that has plagued the club this year. It is for this reason that I would not be backing Arsenal's chances of finishing top at odds, even at around 2/1.

Their next four games are pivotal. They have an ideal run of games at this vital stage of the season as they prepare to face Hull, West Ham, Birmingham and then Wolves. There may be no easy matches in the Premiership but these are certainly some of the easiest. These are, however, the sort of teams that the North Londoners have typically struggled against. Teams that shut-up shop against Arsenal and play in an intimidating fashion have a well-known recipe for success, it is the teams that play more open football that will leave themselves open for Arsenal's total football approach to take full effect.

I do not believe that the squad has all the pieces yet to challenge at the business end of the campaign. The side lacks leaders and strong characters, so much so it is a wonder that they have done as well as they have thus far. No one will doubt the quality of their players, only their ability to grind out ugly victories and deal with the physical approach many take against them. With Van Persie, Fabregas and Gallas all struggling with injuries the teams lacks experienced heads and I believe this will show. They are too liable to drop points at the crucial moments between now and the end of the season, as they have been doing so often in the last few years.

Arsenal play an attractive brand of football and as such there are few who would begrudge them breaking the strangle hold that Chelsea and Manchester United have had on the Premiership of late. The performances of the Gunners so far this season, however, would indicate that the team is still not fully equipped to deal with the challenges the next three months will inevitably pose, the loses to the top two highlighted this fragility. They are fortunate that blips by their title contenders have allowed them to remain in the running this late on. In my opinion Wenger's young side must still to mature to meet the standards, mainly mentally, required to win the League.

Arsenal, it would appear though, are not very far away from being able to take that final step to reach the high benchmark that Manchester United and Chelsea have been setting for the last five years or so. The experience of one or two more campaigns, and a few wise signings, and Arsenal could have their name back of the Premiership trophy, but I strongly doubt it will be this year!

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...


  1. While I may not disagree with the conclusion of your article, I can disagree with your reasoning behind it. Firstly the very fact that 4 of the games they have lost have been against Chelsea and Man Utd would suggest that this season they haven't come unstuck and play in an intimidating fashion. However this belief still remains that this is the way to beat them, on the evidence this year I would suggest that the way to beat them is more likely to lie in counter-attacking football which is best practiced by the better teams thus the nature of their easier run in is important. I haven't the time to look up stats (dissertation deadline) however I believe that in the last few years in fixtures against the supposedly rough and tumble teams such as Bolton and any team managed by Sam Allardyce Arsenal have a very good record. Which would appear to suggest that this is a myth perpetuated by journalists and pundits.

    Furthermore I would also suggest that it isn't the shortcomings of the sides above them but the increase in competitiveness of the Premier League has evidenced by the fight for 4th that encompasses, Liverpool, Spurs, City, Villa and I suspect given less injuries Everton. This provides more banana skins for the top sides to slip up on, which Chelsea and Utd have done.

    You say they are mentally ill equipped to win, the very fact that they didn't collapse after Ramsey v Shawcross (a tackle over which Shawcross had little control, not malicious but definitely reckless), would suggest that mentally they are now stronger than 2 years ago and thus mental strength is no longer such a barrier to winning. Also you state that they have dropped points at crucial points over the last few years and yet haven't learned the mental strength that comes from making these mistakes and learning from them. This I would suggest is a flawed argument, while they do not have the experience of actually winning they have the experience of challenging and falling and learning.

    Therefore while I would not like to predict who will win I would suggest that the argument that Arsenal will struggle against teams that shut up shop is this year unsupported by the evidence of the first 29 games and is thus mainly an extrapolation based on past evidence, however football is fluid, on past evidence Arsenal would not have progressed in the Champions League last night, Rooney would not have scored as many as he has, etc.

  2. Dennis, I agree with, and to an extent concede to, your assessment of Arsenal's season. They are a much improved squad this year and this may well be because they have learnt lessons from previous campaigns. The fact remains that they still have not proven themselves in the key moments of the season. Our two different approaches need not contradict but support the other.

    I do not think that their victory against a 10-man Stoke side after Ramsay's injury necessarily proves anything. The squad still has a fragility about them that they are yet to be proven to overcome. They are lucky that the lack of a player good enough to replace Van Persie has not been their undoing. When coming up against these teams who are battling to survive the drop I would bring into question their capability to find a way to win. I do take on board the fact that this is something that they have done well to overcome and it is also an idea that is hard to back up with solid facts.

    Some of their losses this season have certainly been down to their weakness against the counter-attack. The quality of the rest of the top half of the season has also improved and this may account for the top two dropping points more often. The fact remains that as many people are saying that this will be Arsenal's season I still feel that the team are still lacking some necessary qualities needed to capture the title. The coming weeks and months will prove this point right or wrong but my argument is quite simply that my money will not be lying in the youthful hands of the Arsenal players.

  3. What is wrong with Bendtner? :)

    The point of the Stoke example is that the last time they were in that position (Birmingham, Eduardo 2 years ago) they collapsed ended the game with a draw and went downhill from there, however this time they went on to win and then to win their next 2 games. Thus suggesting a stronger mental outlook as that was the last comparable event.

    Not proven themselves in the key moments of the season? I know they lost to Man Utd and Chelsea but the very fact they could bounce back to still be in the race surely shows that while not in the Big 3 games but certainly elsewhere they have done well in their key matches. It would have been so easy to collapse from there.


Previous posts