My doors are open and a soft cool breeze blows the steam off my coffee into my face. It’s the first day of Spring and sitting here writing with the Spring breeze gently blowing through the house I feel light and fresh.
It helps that the Arsenal won this weekend. That win was a single green shoot in the dark soil of loss and recrimination.
As we head into the final phase of the Premier League campaign I did some numbers crunching and came up with a projection of Arsenal’s final League position: 2nd. I know that points-wise Arsenal are still closer to 5th than 1st but I still see Arsenal finishing the season with 74 points, just 3 behind Leicester, and 1 above Tottenham.
I based that projection on the schedules ahead and the current form of the three teams. Tottenham have the toughest schedule and unless they outperform their season so far, they will drop points.
But I wonder if 2nd place is good enough to consider this season “progress”? Arsenal haven’t even finished in 2nd place and many folks are already claiming the “P” word for Arsenal this season. I love Arsenal as much as anyone but that seems a bit ludicrous considering the fact that Arsenal were knocked out of the round of 16 in the Champions League for the 6th consecutive season, were kicked out of the FA Cup by Watford, and failed to mount a serious title challenge in the weakest Premier League season since 1998.
To continue the agrarian theme, this season seems like the fields were left fallow for a year. Wenger went into the season with £150m in his pocket and bought just one player. He instead banked on Walcott, Welbeck, Wilshere, Ramsey, and his other players to improve. Did they? What growth did we make as a team? What did we plant in our fields? What crops did we yield?
Cech – Oh hey! Look what happens when you buy a world class player to play in an important position (are there any unimportant positions?). When Arsenal’s first choice midfield was playing, with Cech at the back, Arsenal had the best defense in the League, statistically.
Giroud – If I’m generous I say he’s the same player as last year. Actually, it looks like Wenger is phasing Giroud out. Wenger has tried a number of smaller, more mobile players up front, with Welbeck now preferred in the starting role. He started the season finishing better but that has dropped from 20% last season to just 14% this (League – 16% last season all games and 14% this season all games).
Alexis – injury and constant use by his national team have taken their toll. He’s nowhere near the player he was last year and I mean that in all aspects of his game. His tackles and interceptions numbers are down, his turnovers are up, his finishing percentage has plummeted, and even his dribbles are down. It’s clear that he’s tired to the bone. However, Alexis has been Arsenal’s best Champions League player, raising all of his stats in those games, and he was Arsenal’s best playmaker, statistically, in that tournament.
Wilshere – epitome of a fallow season. He hasn’t played. Abou Diaby has played more than Jack this season.
Walcott – I think Wenger wanted Walcott to be his “10-15 extra (league) goals” this season. Sadly, he has scored just 4. He was supposed to be Arsenal’s tractor, but the wheels fell off. Most Arsenal fans have stuck a “for sale, cheap, make offer” sign on him.
Welbeck – Welbeck epitomizes the frustration Arsenal fans feel about this season: Wenger refused to buy a forward, knowing that Welbeck was hurt, then after the window closed announced that Welbeck would be out long term, stuck with Welbeck, and when the Mancunian returned from injury, he showed Arsenal fans what they have been missing all season. Like so many of the young, British, players at Arsenal, he spends huge swathes of the season out injured. You almost have to bank on them all getting injured (Walcott, Welbeck, Ramsey, Wilshere) and playing 15 games a season at most. Which is exactly why so many fans want Wenger to buy another forward.
Özil – 18 assists this season is fantastic and he should break the Premier League record. He has also developed into a corner and set play assist threat. One of the few players who have grown this season. One gripe is that he sort of shrank in thee Champions League. He scored 2 goals but all of his other stats were way down from where they are in the Premier League.
Cazorla – Grew into the most important player in Arsenal’s midfield. Then got injured. This is the equivalent of our cash crops going up in flames.
Coquelin – has shown some signs of growth in his passing, going from a 59% long ball passer to a 70% long passer. His tackling is slightly better (percentage wise) and his other defensive stats are relatively the same. Fouls are also down but did get sent off against Tottenham and sometimes looks a bit wild (Barcelona) in possession.
Bellerin – spent the entire season plowing furrows down the right at Arsenal. 4 assists this season plus one against Bayern in the Champions League. Turns out that he’s a bit of a big game player as well with his man of the match performance against Tottenham. One problem is that he tends to turn off on defense. I watched a bunch of the goals Arsenal have conceded over the last few months and Bellerin can often be seen chasing back rather than taking up good, tight positions in line with the center backs.
Monreal – unanimous choice for starting left back at Arsenal. Makes me wonder how we ever played with Gibbs.
Mertesacker – he is tall, he hasn’t gotten any taller.
Koscielny – Most games he’s the best center back in the league, some games he’s not. Still, statistically the best center back that we have at Arsenal.
Gabriel – Hit and miss season. One of the things Wenger likes his center backs to be able to do is nip in and steal the ball from the forwards. Koscielny is the best in the League at that but Gabriel is not far off. So, I can see what Wenger wants to build, two tall, fast, dynamic center backs who can play a long, vertical pass on the ground. Gabriel and Koscielny could do that, if they can figure out how to communicate. I can’t say he progressed because he can be caught out on defense too often.
Flamini – done.
Arteta - “get him a body bag”.
Ospina – same as he was last season.
Ox – This has to be his most disappointing season of his career. From the hype of the goal against Chelsea to the horrible turnover against West Ham. In just two weeks, Ox summed up his season at Arsenal. Many want to be shot of him already. But at 22 years old, I think he’s got a lot of room to grow as a player.
Ramsey – Has played almost exactly the same number of minutes as last season and both his goals and assists are down, his tackles are way down, he’s been dribbled on more than any Arsenal player, and his turnovers numbers are nearly double what they were last season. Worse, what position is Aaron Ramsey supposed to play for Arsenal? Wide right? Center mid? He’s not great at either of those positions and doesn’t want to play wide at all. Also, he’s one of the constantly wounded players. I can’t say he progressed this season.
Joel Campbell – I’ve never been a fan. His touch always looked poor to me as were his decisions. Yes, he was always a great tackler but before this season that was shorthand for “he sucks”. But I have become a convert this season. His excellent vision for those splitting passes is wonderful to watch. Almost as good as the work rate he puts in.
Gibbs and Chambers – both players lost their starting spots but have been useful when Arsenal have the lead and Wenger wants to play “all the fullbacks”. No progress.
Iwobi and Elneny – Both players look like nice green shoots. Need some proper care to get them to harvest.
The team – Created more chances than any other team, but failed to finish them. Have the player with the most big chances created, and three of the players with the worst big chance conversion rate. Had a chance to win the league, but bottled it against Southampton (twice), Swansea, and literally the worst Manchester United team I have ever seen. Had the money to buy players, had the open roster spots to buy players (3), and didn’t buy any players until the situation was so desperate that Wenger had to use Flamini in midfield. Worse, I can’t figure out what style of football Arsenal play. We aren’t a slick-passing possession team: if anyone pressures us we collapse. We aren’t a pressing team: for some reason Wenger gave that up, despite the fact that it worked brilliantly last season — maybe he figured we couldn’t press all season with all the players we have who have been out with international duty. And we aren’t a counter attacking team: at least not normally, Wenger does do it at times but it’s not the basic way we set up. So, what is Arsenal’s football style?
I have to say that it looks like Arsenal took a year off. When we look back at this in 10 years time it’s going to go down as a lost season. Precious few players progressed, Wenger banked on the growth of Walcott and Ox and that never happened, Wenger refused to buy players despite the glaring need and the money in the bank, and Arsenal let the League title go to Leicester. As a result, fan unrest is at an all time high: they are signing songs about getting rid of Kroenke and even Arseblog has called for Wenger to resign.
The fields have been left fallow, and the fans are angry.