Oh to be a Gooner!?
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on August 23, 2016
Oh to be a Gooner!?
No matter what your particular football persuasion you are likely all too aware of the angst and ennui being expressed in public and private about The Arsenal. So much wringing of hands, shaking fists, and angry rants, if the topic of ire were not so clear one might be forgiven for wondering if such anguish and anger were over some grave threat to the existence of the club, forfeiture, relegation, or even ‘not finishing in the top four’. You would be forgiven if I were not certain you, Gooner or not, have had this issue raised so much so that it is inescapable, if you are trying to watch football then you know that Arsenal need to sign players. You may not know who, if anyone, is to blame, and you may think that it is a spoiled football fan indeed that bemoans his steady state in the world, that he is unsatisfied with lack of utter failure, or even mediocrity. If you do, imagine your football club is The Arsenal, a powerhouse of English football for a hundred years, a decorated and at times exhilarating club; then you may understand that the idea of decline is to a Gooner a step toward it.
To be clear I do not feel that The Arsenal are in imminent, or even gradual decline. I think the fans demands, not simply of not signing players, but of leaving the team short going into the season are fair. Not just because we have the money, not just because we have the intent to challenge for the title, but because we are The Arsenal. The notion that Arsenal supporters are spoiled, or greedy for wanting more is also fair. It is greedy, and we are spoiled, and we like it that way because we are The Arsenal. Leaving the team short has been a theme over the last near decade, for different reasons to be sure, and frankly the saga of Arsenal’s transfers this season have overshadowed problems in the team dynamic that existed before this summer, and would exist no matter who was brought in.
Two games into the new season and last season second place finisher Arsenal have one point from six. The manner of the draw to get that point visiting Leicester is illustrative of what I see as the main problem preventing Arsenal from winning the league. It is how often the front attacking three players do not make enough runs; to both give the pass, or the cross a clear target, but this tactic also moves around defenders and confuses them. This fluidity in attack is the only way Arsenal can get good possession to turn into goals. All too often when Arsenal suffered for goals last season it was because, although they would often outnumber on a counter, have numbers in the box when the opponent sat deep, the final ball would not find a target or be turned away knowing no target was present. In Saturday’s draw at Leicester this same pattern was on display. I lost count of how many times Arsenal had a moment where the man on the ball had space and three forward players in or around the box, they either made the same run, no run, or across each other, giving no chance for the play to come off. Last season Arsenal placed second in the EPL but were the fourth best team in attack. You can’t win the league with only 65 goals.
The reason Arsenal finished second is because they did better in defence. For the season they had the third best defence, now that doesn’t sound like a good deal better than fourth best attack, but the difference in clean sheets and goals against from fourth down is steeper than the goals scored. Not to mention league winners Leicester were fourth best defence. Just having witnessed the spine of Arsenal break apart at home on opening day, I must say I was surprised that the paring of Rob Holding and Laurent Koscielny came off so well. The speed and guile that were the Foxes hallmark embodied in Mahrez and Vardy, were kept mostly silent. Koscielny’s experience played a part, as well as his positioning all across the pitch. He was tireless and reminded me partially why Arsenal had 18 clean sheets last season, tying with Manchester United. With Granit Xhaka improving each game, and his own partnership with Coquelin growing I see the formation of a steady defence again. We are still short, I doubt Holding can play with Kos that well for every game and again we are but one injury short of disaster, but it is worth remembering that we do have a squad capable of much.
All of the transfer talk has gotten so much attention, we have forgotten that out of the players we have healthy, we still have football games to watch, to dissect, and to bemoan some of the same mistakes. I do feel for Wenger, when his words are twisted, or taken out of context and used as self-flagellation for Arsenal supporters, I would be reluctant to talk at all. If Wenger comes off as haughty and annoyed, well he probably is. Wouldn’t you be if you were in his position. No you wouldn’t quit, no if you were Wenger, a man that has devoted more hours to making Arsenal a success than most people have devoted hours to anything, then you wouldn’t want to give up either. Don’t get me wrong, I think Wenger has a good deal to do with the team opening shorthanded, I can’t know what exactly did or did not come off in the market, what may or may not, and I won’t bother to guess, and really I won’t be that bothered. I am glad that even after the draw at the weekend Wenger spoke about bringing in players, that he went after Vardy when he did, but equally I am annoyed and frustrated that was all that was done. I do not need to know the reasons why, I would love to, it would give me insight into the world of football I don’t have, but I don’t need to know to understand that as the manager, legitimately or not, Wenger is to blame. I am also not callow enough to seek his expulsion from the club for it.
New players or not, Wenger will have work to hone this undoubtedly talented side into the quick firing, always moving, attacking threat he sees in his head and the one that we are often treated to on the pitch. Besides player movement to create options in the final third Arsenal need to transition better and quicker. If Xhaka continues to adapt he can aid in that, and of course it was no coincidence the moment Mesut Özil stepped on the grass the game looked to be of a very different sort. I was also encouraged to see that Jack Wilshere and Özil seemed to turn on a dime in near unison on more than one occasion, their understanding perhaps can lead inspired runs. I am not going to argue if Wenger is the man to make it happen, I believe he can, but I can’t know. As frustrated and worn out as I am by the disillusionment, the infighting, and the speculation, sometimes I can forget and get caught up in the moment when the team are in the field, and feel lucky that I am a Gooner. Now, perhaps more than ever it has to be about more than just being a Gooner.