In case you didn’t know, I kinda like writing about Arsenal. It’s great. They are amazing, even when they’re like, y’know, not amazing and stuff. They put you and I through emotional hell sometimes and supporting them can feel like we’re collectively being punished for some sort of sins in life, but it’s never a chore. It’s never something I wouldn’t consider not doing any more and for all the lows those bastards give me, they are responsible for equally – nay, most of the time – giving me highs.
What has been great about watching Arsenal since the reign of Le Boss, Arsene Wenger, has been how he transformed a club that had been built on a foundation of defensive stability under George Graham (let’s not count that Bruce Rioch era, shall we? After all, Bergkamp aside, it was pretty much like that job you spent six weeks in that you leave off your CV), into a successful, free-flowing powerhouse that not only competed, but outsmarted the red-nosed Scotsman based in Manchester.
Arsene’s successful teams were built on a swashbuckling attack that could counter at will and even when they were down the throats of the opponents and camped in their half, still penetrated lines of defence like a hot knife through a fresh tub of Lurpak Spreadable.
The change that we have seen this season has been very far removed from the heady days of Henry, Pires et al, and so it is with great gusto that I delve head-first into my thoughts on our attacking performance this season.
Let’s get some of the negatives out of the way first. It’s a Saturday, hopefully you’re off work (apologies if I’ve just rubbed salt into a wound there), so it’s always nicer to feel positive after you’ve read an article or a blog. So like ripping off a band aid, we’ll get quickly through the down side and move on to more positive stuff.
We haven’t replaced that Dutch bloke. Not that I expected us too, after all, there’s a brilliant article by GoonerDave66 which explains better than I about how those 30 goal a season strikers are just not knocking around in plentiful supply. Not last season and not for this year. But what all Gooners wanted was the ability to share the collective striking burden around the team. Spread the goals around a bit. There seems to have been a misconception amongst some Gooners that Olivier Giroud would be able to even come close. Here’s the thing though; even if he did come close and scored 30 goals in his debut season, what do you think would have happened with the other players? Would they have all equally have stepped up? Would we have seen Arsenal scoring closer to 100 goals? I am skeptical on that one. I suspect we’d have started to look towards the Frenchman in the same way we did for the Dutch skunk. We’d have had a sharp intake of breath every time he went down and did that ridiculous hand flick thing that he does. By the way, I’ve tried that, and it dun’half hurt when I do it. Perhaps there’s a technique to it, but if it feels the same way when Olivier does it, then I’d suggest he stop before he’s out with a wrist injury.
Anyway, my point remains that replacing the Dutchman with another version was never on the cards, and perhaps it’s also done the squad as a whole a bit of good. There is no reliance on one man now. A player is injured and suspended and other players can take their place. Or if there is a loss of form then another man can have a go. Gervhino started the season ok and even bagged himself a few goals. But then he realised he was Gervhino and started tripping over his own feet.
so rather than being an Achilles with a dodgy heel (reliant on the Dutch Skunk), we’re now in a position to be a Hydra – lop off a head and two more can grow in it’s place. You only need to look at the two ‘goals scored’ section to see that we’ve replaced one prolific striker for three decent ones. In 2011/12 we got 74 goals. This year? 72. Now I’m no fancy Harvard Mathematician, but I’m pretty sure those two numbers are quite close together. We’ve also got one of only four Premier League teams to have four different players into double figures.
I’m not saying that we don’t need more in the sharp end of the team, I’m just saying that expecting things to be the same as last season was always going to be folly, but where we’ve arrived at in hindsight must always be preferable, no?
We’ve had a stonking season from Walcott in terms of goals, a decent enough tally from Podolski and Giroud, plus a bit more from midfield with the goals of Cazorla to chip in. We have options. Yes, some of Walcott’s performances have been quiet, bordering on anonymous, but that’s the whole point of having a team to pick you up when you’re not performing, isn’t it? And to be fair that is exactly what the team has done.
I know, I know, last season is hardly a barometer of where we want to be, or feel we should be, but given that last summer felt like the last of the ‘big stars’ was leaving the club, doesn’t it make you feel quite optimistic about next season?
I think that our attacking options have scored a classic Championship Manager style ’6 out of 10′ this year. They’ve plugged the gap which was left from that Dutch blokes departure, and now it’s time that everyone kicked on, so we can start to challenge for the league next season.
But speaking of ‘kicking’, it would be wrong of me to miss some of the players which really need to be booted out. I’ve spoken quite a bit during the season about how some of the deadwood needs to be shifted, and it’s in the attacking element of the squad that the boot needs to be shown more than other areas. Park, Bendtner, Arshavin and Chamakh have all fallen so far from grace we can’t even see a speck of them from the cliff from whence they fell. I can’t even say they’ve had poor seasons. From and Arsenal perspective they’ve had no season. You can’t even rate them. All they get is a big fat ‘N/A’ next to their names. That is where the attack has let us down this year. In being able to have something different behind the first three or four players up front. Heaven forbid where we’d be if we experienced an injury crisis of those three or four players being out. We’d have spent three months wondering whether Gervhino actually knows where his feet are.
Up front is where the most surgery is needed in my opinion. But I don’t think it’s a root and branch change to the options for Arsene. I suspect that a big signing, a real stellar one, would be enough to give us hope that we can step up another notch or two in the Premier League. We’re not that far off in my opinion. The noises about Sanogo seem to be gathering pace, so with a big name plus a good young player expected to come in, there is potential for the attacking trio. Plus, I haven’t even mentioned Oxlade-Chamberlain, who will have a better season than this season, I’m sure. I’m not sure whether or not we’ll see Joel Campbell or Wellington (remember him??) in an Arsenal shirt, but we could see Gnabry step up in the squad into the wide positions. The point is, we have those options, so whilst some changes need to be made there doesn’t need to be a five-man overhaul.
I am, like many of you, very optimistic about our summer. I don’t think there needs to be lots of incoming players, but I do think that Arsenal will go big in their signings. Get one or two big signings in early, then get them all bedding in and getting to know one another, then lets make sure we’re as prepared as possible for the start of next year.