Bad Gunners, Good Gunners! Death to Narratives Pt. 2

This follow-up to the previous post will focus more on general team and club issues over time. The last post addressed why I think we were all overreacting to the Chelsea loss. Yes, we have lost to the top four teams more often than not in the last 5 or 10 seasons (whatever stats you choose to apply). No, we don’t ALWAYS lose big in away games. Last season was the first time I can remember we lost with wide margins so consistently in away games. And nobody’s saying anything about we did not lose at home to any of them (since they were all draws and it didn’t seem to matter anyways).

So far this season, I believe we have better personnel than we’ve had in a long while. Before I start to talk about why I think we should slow down a bit, let me try and explain the little foundation fact I’m basing my argument upon. We moved to the Emirates from Highbury and were in debt so we couldn’t spend as much as we wanted on players. Even though it took quite some time for most of us to accept the fact that we will not be able to buy players in the manner of Chelsea (after Abramovich) and later Man City (after the Arabs), that was what was going on behind the scene. It might have frustrated some of us because we could have found new money of our own and spent well (Usmanov was very willing to be our sugar daddy then) but the club is run in a certain way and that is still part of what many people respect today.

Ok, so we couldn’t buy players, and if you allow me to try to play Wenger a bit here, we had to work with what we had, which was still quite okay, if only a watered down version of the glory days. Cesc was taking over as the main creative hub, Eduardo was firing, RvP was doing well for a half-season guy, Wilshere was later coming through, Clichy was inconsistent but you could sense he was still useful. Nasri was a nice option in attack. Walcott was also not consistent but a speed monster was always most welcome. You could see that if we could keep everyone together a season or two more we wouldn’t complain too much about the money because we could have spent the little we had on nice squad additions (like the Cazorlas and Podolskis that came later) and we would have the cohesion that helped a lot last season.

But things started to fall apart. Eduardo had his leg literally handed to him and was never the same player again. Wilshere had one mightily good season and also went the way of Eduardo. Same too, Ramsey. Fabregas worked his way out to play for his boyhood club. Nasri and Clichy jumped at the Arab money. Then after his only really superb season as a Gunner, RvP carried the small boy in him to the Red Devils. Well, you could say Wenger should have invested the cash he got from all those sales on quality acquisitions and admittedly he really could have done better (like buy Suarez back then, for instance, idk) but when you’re Wenger and you’re building a team and then everyone that mattered starts leaving or getting injured, a type of confusion sets in. Should you try to keep a core and believe your returning players will give you the balance you want while adding a few other players or just go all out, spending on players of presumably higher quality and start building around them again without the assurance that they’d be patient enough to wait for you to do that? Remember you’re still financially handicapped and the money you really have to spend per time is from player sales so you can’t actually buy a heap of star players at once with extra cash.

Well, without the money, Wenger made decisions best described by us as stingy money management until last year when we were told (and we saw enough evidence) that we could now spend. So based on the foregoing, I would divide Wenger’s era as Pre-Emirates, Emirates Debt and Debt-free periods. Pre-Emirates obviously was where all the good stuff was. Emirates Debt period was that period until last year when we were allowed to believe we couldn’t compete because we couldn’t spend like others. Debt-free (which isn’t exactly debt-free but shackles had fallen off) is the period from Ozil 42.5 to Alexis 32.0 going forward. Now that these periods have been defined, we will ignore Pre-Emirates for the purpose of this discussion.

Now, Emirates Debt (ED) period was that period we went trophyless for over 8 years. I know the media never had any sympathy for us during this period, and I care less about what they think anyway. As a fan, however, if you truly believe that with the financial situation we had and key players leaving the club over time, we should have truly challenged for the title and other major trophies, I’ll like to hear your argument. It wasn’t like we never did try anyway. We were beaten in an FA Cup final where Wenger kept faith with the squad that got us there while Chelsea rolled out a fully experienced team. I think he could have been forgiven for thinking that he could still recover if the main team grows together over the next few seasons. Then the Birmingham Carling Cup final where all sorts of things went wrong with the players and I’d be damned if Wenger caused that loss. Still, trophyless is trophyless.

If you are one of those fans that say you actually respect that he kept us in the top 4 and the UCL through all that period then I’d like to believe you understand that we were actually hampered through that period which is the point I’m trying to make.

Now, last season was the first season after the ED period, I think we as fans should try to look at things through that perspective and know that our handicap period was one of poor records against direct competitors. Why do they always cite statistics covering last five seasons or last 10 seasons (basically covering our handicap period)? Why not go as far back as the 18 years Wenger has spent? They do not recognize that we were handicapped, but we shouldn’t follow the same pattern unless we actually agree with them that we weren’t, in which case you wouldn’t understand my argument. Last season was the first time we would spend big on a notable world star so I’d prefer to think that is the season we became competitive again. That was when we can start taking notable stats and when we can start really getting frustrated at what was and was not done or what trophies have been won and what competitions have been contested keenly.

If we take that approach, I think we could say an improvement was seen in that we got a trophy in our first year of really spending money. That is some progress. Now, we can hold the team to ransom for not displaying a competitive edge against the ‘big teams’. So what else happened last season? Well, we took points off the little teams much more consistently than ever before. A stretch of those sort of games helped us, prematurely, to the top for a long time only for us to cross a patch of many key games at a time and drop back down. That was somehow different from the seemingly regular struggles at the beginning of the season where we drop points against most teams early and start picking up the necessary ones later while still not having enough for the big games. This meant mostly throughout our handicap period, we were chasing fourth or third place not falling back like last season. That is a little positive difference for me.

So in essence, the key was the big games. Yet this was our first season as a competitive squad. I think Wenger also got ahead of himself after spending his first big money thinking we could now immediately go at the big guns just to let them know we’re back. This backfired with massive goals conceded after lots of player errors. I think now he knows better. It’s a battle you’ll have to get some form of consistent results first before you start riding your own wave to victory. Now we’ve bought another big star, from another major team no less and we were able to replace key players that left adequately except one. And we didn’t fix an area we all agreed was problematic. To a certain extent, this is even debatable, but I’ll get to that.

So we’ve certainly spent money now like never before in the last 9-10 seasons and this means we’re coming strong as a competitive force, theoretically. Now remains how the units we’ve got come together as a real team. This was always going to be the challenge, however. Alexis brings something new to the team and an adjustment was inevitable. Wenger has always been blamed in the past for playing the same kind of game season in, season out. Arsenal had no spine. They can’t even win ugly. They give up too easily. Here’s one of the reasons I say many of the fans have taken these narratives hook, line and sinker. Last season and the last ten games from the previous season saw Arsenal grind out wins in some of the ugliest manners ever seen from the team. Yet many still say today that we play the same kind of game and they’re tired of it! What nonsense!

Again the ‘Wenger is stubborn and has no plan B’ narrative is being murdered as we’re seeing this season but we aren’t patient enough to wait for it to happen before we shut it down. Wenger played a 4-2-3-1 formation last season which turned out extremely effective against the small boys but not so much away at the big boys (again, we never lost at home to any of them). This season, he is trying out a 4-1-4-1 (or 4-3-3 variation) which he feels will be more effective against the big boys and we’ve only dropped two points against a team not around us in terms of quality (Leicester). We’ve beaten Palace and Villa as we should and drawn Man City, Everton and Tottenham. Of those last 3, the Spurs are the only one who were truly bad on the day and should have been beaten, but then again, we were still trying out our Plan B. I really don’t believe he’s trying to shunt Ozil out wide forever. I think he’s doing something like trying to make sure the opposition cannot predict us by shutting down Ozil when we would have had others who can fill in the role. Maybe that’s not it but then the fact is that he’s still experimenting. If I were alone in this, I’d be looking forward to next year to really have massive confidence for the title but this season, if the team kicks into form, there’s no reason why we can’t challenge.

I guess what I’m trying to say in a nutshell is this, the statistics that actually matter should start from last season when we made our first true star purchase and showed real intentions of fighting for something other than 4th place. Even then, we’re still kinda new at this (after 9 or so years of handicap) and I think Wenger is just having enough confidence to vary his team a bit in terms of strategy until he finds something that works and then we will all see what we’re capable of. I totally agree that we need centre back covers and we need a better DM than we already have to really be competitively ready for the title challenge (and Wenger should really have taken care of all these before the season started). But we’re still in the tinkering phase now and I still don’t think a DM would have massively changed our games so far.

Our worst game by far this season was the Dortmund game, which was much like the other big losses last season where stupid errors and super counterattacks slaughtered us. No DM could have single-handedly saved us in those matches unless he could’ve somehow made everyone around him play better on those days, which I doubt. I think we pretty much did well in most of the other games last season without the super-DM in place. This season, Chelsea with their own Super-DM conceded the same number of goals as we had going into the match. The difference was their attack was sharper which boiled down to us still experimenting. A sharper attack would have given us wins and probably the draw against City and that’ll have been 16 pts and 2nd place by now. Chelsea conceded 3 against Everton, we conceded 2. They scored 6, we scored 2. So, as much as a DM might have saved us some embarrassment so far, and is definitely needed, I don’t think it is the almighty solution so far this season. The attack is yet to click consistently. Once it does, then we can secure our backline in January and we’ll be very ready. If not this season, then next!

This is what I believe. Instead of spewing out narratives we’re all tired of hearing, why don’t we see the dispensations for what they are and realize that we’re actually moving forward. Here are stats that should actually matter now that we consider ourselves contenders:

Record against top four (Ch, MC, MU & Liv) since last season (All Comps) – P12 W2 D4 L6 (Very poor, yes, but we still have at least 6 more games against them this season).

Record against the rest of the league since last season – I seriously can’t do the math right now but this one has to be marked Excellent! We were the best of the lot at this.

Silverware won since last season – 2 (FA Cup, Comm. Shield)

World Class Players bought (above £30m purchases) – 2 (Ozil, Alexis)

Not too bad stats over nearly 1.25 seasons. We will get better! I believe so. Do you?

Come On You Gunners!!!

Signing out!

We Can Celebrate Again!!!

We Can Celebrate Again!!!

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Bad Gunners, Good Gunners! Death to Narratives Pt. 1

Push and Shove!

Push and Shove!

It’s been a loooong while I’ve posted anything here but I guess you guys just have to put up with my once-in-a-while attitude. Sorry. Again, it’s football that’s brought me back on here and this is more of me getting tired of all the comments and analysis flying around. I know I’m not in the majority in what I’m about to express but I just have to say it how I see it.

Ok, we just lost to Chelsea (again!) and everyone that knows anything about football is on Arsenal’s case. Fans and foes alike. I really don’t know which piques my annoyance more, the fans ranting about how bad we are or the media and haters saying the same thing. It’s just quite tiresome. As normal for someone like me, I’ve had my fair share of arguments over the short period after the loss but I seemed not to have been satiated, hence, the need to do this.

I’ve previously expressed that I read a number of sports sites with my consistent one being ESPNFC. Well, I do still read them but I’ve lost interest in anything they intend to present as objective analysis after the FA Cup triumph. I simply just read them these days to see how creatively they are nailing Arsenal now. Other sites I don’t bother with anymore. I now prefer to read The Short Fuse, Arseblog and our own official site for basically more objective analysis. If you ever get to go on Arsenal.com, Adrian Clarke’s ‘The Breakdown’ is always worth a watch after each game for serious objective analysis on the game.

Now from even our fansites, such as TSF and Arseblog, the venom being spewed at the end of the Chelsea game was quite irritating for me. I have come to conclude that a lot of fans have bought into the media narratives so much that it even confuses them. The media sell narratives. That’s what gets people interested in them. It’s more or less a ‘bad news sells’ kinda situation. And it’s so sad many of us have accepted what they’ve had to say basically because they’ve seem right most of the time. But really there’s a lot more for us fans to consider when it comes to the club and the situation we’re in.

Let me take it from this game and work it back. First, I totally understand the frustration of the fans after losing that game. It is very acceptable to be mad, blame everyone, sack the coach in our minds and just say every nasty thing about the club in the heat of the moment. But I expect a little bit of objectivity to kick in after we get sober a day or two after. Here are a few narratives going into the match: ‘Arsenal can never compete at the top level’, ‘Arsenal will always lose to a top 4 team’, ‘Ozil is not as good as Fabregas’, ‘Ozil is not a good player for the Prem’, ‘Ozil is lazy’, ‘Arsenal lack cutting edge’, ‘Arsenal always gets hammered by a top 4 team away from home’, ‘Arsenal does not have quality enough to compete’, ‘Arsenal lacks a proper DM’ and a number of others.

Now, some of these narratives might be true but they’re also over-flogged and many of them have mitigating circumstances. Some of these circumstances can be attributed to the manager but not everything is totally Wenger’s problem even though we eventually will say the buck stops at his table, but then again, there’s a lot more in play.

In the game in question, I’m so damn sure we were never outclassed by Chelsea in any moment bar those two instances that led to goals which again had some surrounding circumstances. In this game was such that if Arsenal had managed to nick a goal with a sole shot on target with probably an Ozil assist, and won the game, every single fan will claim that we have finally arrived and all the finger-pointing will disappear into thin air. Let’s look at a few things which IMO changed the game, however, subtly. I actually believe if this game had been played at the Emirates, it would have ended in a dour 0-0 draw much like last season, only a little bit more boring.

First, Cahill had that extremely rash tackle on Sanchez and it was a straight red. That card given and Chelsea will have been shorthanded, no matter how good they’ve been this season and the game would have probably dragged to a goalless draw. Then again, we may decide to apply a bit more pressure and probably nicked a goal and do what they did.

Second, Chambers picked up a yellow for a foul that was a warning at best, considering what Oscar did on the day and that caution was indirectly responsible for that goal and Hazard eventually having so much fun. Yes, Alexis lost the ball in our half (needlessly, may I add) but we’d dealt with such very well previously. And yes, Hazard got past Cazorla too easily and I agree that a Matic there would not have allowed that. But we still had one man before Kos. Who was he? Yep, it was the yellow-carded Chambers. That was the tackle that was supposed to earn him a yellow. Replays showed he hesitated on the tackle and I think that was common sense. A red card for this team and Chelsea will be quick out of their shell and swarming all over us. Another 6-0 cannot be discounted. So he withdrew and it was Kos who had to make that tackle, in the box no less, and he was lucky not be sent off. Well, maybe not lucky because the ref was just being consistent with the trend. That goal changed the game in more ways than just numbers on the scoreboard. Kos was on a yellow, which would have been prevented if Chambers wasn’t already on a yellow. Forget the DM story, Hazard was Chambers man for the match and he did him well until that yellow when he had to be cautious. The narratives will read ‘Hazard skinned Chambers all day’ but the game before that yellow was a different story.

Now with a game to chase, I think we did pretty well. We didn’t expose ourselves too much at the back which quite restricted our forays forward, which any good team that knows their opposition’s strength up top would likely do. Chelsea did not create anything noteworthy before and after the goal because they did note want to open themselves up knowing how good Arsenal was in front (yes, I believe that’s why they played that way at their home ground). Where was Fabregas and Costa all through the game before the goal? Watch their midweek game against Lisbon (a game that some people even started praising the team more than Arsenal) and see how Costa was all over their defence getting numerous chances to score and losing them (where was Carvalho when Costa had that 1v1 against their ‘keeper?). They could never replicate that today. Some say it’s a tactic and well, if it is, it did work but still, it shows they know what they were up against. Costa even had the ball in our box and couldn’t do much with it because he was closed down quickly. These little things impressed me on the day.

In front, Alexis was harried all the time by Ivanovic (that’s more or less very good defending), Ozil had some good dribbles and passes but got easily knocked down. Way too easily. And I think the only other justified criticism on him is that big games need big players to do big things and he didn’t provide that. Otherwise, he did a number of things right on the day. Welbeck wasn’t getting service so he had to come to middle a lot more than I’d like and he never had many chances to go at both defenders especially as Cahill was already on a yellow. Cazorla did his bit creatively and Wilshere was supposed to get the equalizer but lost his composure at the first touch. Again, this is a forgivable offense except that we were 1-0 down.

Finally, the 2nd half was going pretty much the same way the first had gone with Chelsea not creating too much of note and contented sitting back while Arsenal were also trying to find a goal, albeit very cautiously watching out for the break. Many fans were frustrated that they thought we never looked like winning the game because Chelsea looked comfortable and we never had a shot on goal. I believe we could have approached the 2nd half in two ways. We could have gone at them with everything and tried to score, which I’m certain will result in some shots on target (like many keep crying over) and probably a goal (the probability is quite low knowing how well Chelsea defend) but we could also be open to a few more counters and conceding a few more goals and we’d be back talking this same trash and spewing narratives (remember, we ALWAYS lose big). The second approach was what we did, being careful of the counter. It worked for us defensively but in attack, it caused issues because we were always outnumbered and seemed out of ideas.

Then came the second goal. Remember we were chasing a goal, so we were bound to be desperate at some point and that point was when Alexis lost the ball (again!) in front of their area and the ball was worked to Cesc. Now this is where it gets tricky. With the ball with Cesc, he had Flamini in front of him, the two defenders still at the back (with Costa coming back into an onside position) and a few of our MFs around him. Some blame Flamini for not closing him down and allowing him that pass but I’ve heard a counter-argument that said Flamini saw other Chelsea players about to break for the counter and was more about trying to cover that area believing his defenders would deal with the lone man if the ball ever came to him (they’d dealt with him pretty well all day) so he chose not to block him off, unless obviously if he tries to get beyond him. The pass came, Kos didn’t quickly know where Costa was but was still close enough to disrupt his composure with a tackle. But he didn’t! Why?! Remember the yellow he picked for that pen, which he shouldn’t have picked if Chambers had collected it with a tackle on Hazard, which Chambers couldn’t… Oh, I guess you get the picture now. After that, the game was pretty much done because we wouldn’t risk a hiding by coming at them full flow so we just had to work with what we had.

About that goal, please stop over-hyping both Costa and Cesc over Welbeck and Ozil just because of that. That pass is a pass Ozil can make under the same circumstances and that goal is one Welbeck can score too. Costa was zero in that match until that goal. Cesc never did split our defense until that pass. These came about because we were chasing the game. And that came about because… Urrgghh! I’m tired of explaining. See the chain of events now? The only thing Cesc has more than Ozil in that match was strength on the ball and if you argue that that makes him better then, well, I’ll have to agree. Ozil playing through the middle, I doubt if he would have created much because of how Chelsea played. The runners were blocked off. If we had gone 1-0 up by any form of accident, I think Ozil would have picked up the accolades Cesc did, despite how lazy he seemed. Fine margins.

Just one more thing for reference. Man City is the only other recognized title contender so far and we can compare their game with Chelsea with this one. Chelsea played just as defensive and Man City, naturally being at home, were attacking. They weren’t really getting much luck until Chelsea eventually found the net, albeit after Man City was down a man. See what happened after City pushed up looking for an equalizer? Chelsea had two superb counters with Schurrle missing the goal and Costa hitting the post. It would have easily been 3-0 and that was at the Etihad. The equalizer came when Chelsea, seeing that it wasn’t going in at the other end, decided it was lockdown time. A nice move by Milner and hopeful dink into the box saw Lampard busting guts to get to it and in it went. Bar that, the game was already done. We may have had such luck if we went for it more in the last 5 or 10 minutes at 1-0 when they’d be more conscious of keeping the score than playing on the counter.

That is my take on the game. Part 2 sees my take on the team as a whole.

Signing out!