Today’s blog is my final one of the season for an overall review of specific areas of the team and, whilst the first three were relatively lengthy, I don’t feel like making this a ‘War and Peace’ analysis of the front line.
This is mainly in part down to the fact that the ‘feel good factor’ still exists amongst Arsenal fans. We’ve won the FA Cup just over a week ago, we’ve celebrated the 25th anniversary of Anfield 89 yesterday, and the spirits every seem to be high. So I’m loathed to take on board too much negativity and dish it out to you in any kind of volume at such a good time to be a Gooner.
Let’s also not forget the fact that this season has already seen a concentrated and rather drawn out series of collective sighs when talking about our front line, as we have seen a league title slip from our grasp, due to a manager unwilling to strengthen in that much needed position for two transfer windows. Where he once collected strikers, he now covets creative midfielders, so it seems.
Everyone has talked enough about the issues, including myself, so I’m going to try to focus on the positives of our front line. Because there are positives. Injury aside, Theo Walcott looked like he could continue his fantastic form of 2012/13, had injury not struck him after being played so intensively when back from injury. His season may have been ‘cameotastic’ in the most part, but he still contributed to some good displays during that period of time, which should bode well for next season. It would be a delight to see what he and Özil could achieve together if given an extended run of a dozen or so games. He has the pace, he has the finishing ability and whilst Santi did excel in the Özil role before Mesut’s arrival, we’ve already seen (right at the beginning of the season) what could happen when Theo and Mesut are put together. Think Sunderland away, where Theo was put through three times in the first half and had he had his scoring boots on that day, it would have been a rout.
Perhaps that feeling of ‘what might have been’ is a common theme across all of our front line. After all, the Ox was a preferred starter on the right wing for the first game of the season against Villa, which was a heck of a statement by the manager that he thought the season might be a good one for him. Who knows what kind of Ramseyesque form Oxlade-Chamberlain might have exhibited had he not picked up that knee ligament injury. As it was, he returned to the team and put in some stellar displays at an important time, dominating both Cyrstal Palace and Bayern Munich away games. Arsene says he will become a central midfielder eventually, and we certainly have seen evidence of that, but I suspect his punctuated season last time out May have extended his apprenticeship in the attacking three positions and we’ll see more of him there next season too.
On the left we have flitted between Cazorla and Podolski throughout the season, both square pegs in round holes to a degree, but both able to play that position to some effect. Cazorla’s flexibility affords him the ability to be effective in any of three positions across the attacking four (if you include the Özil ‘in the hole’ role) but we’ve also seen that his flexibility has allowed Mesut to move around the pitch more freely at times. I think to that Everton FA Cup match when Santi found himself in the centre supplying Özil on the left for the first goal, or the cup game against the Spuds when he leathered in Gnabry’s pass whilst timing his run to appear on the left.
Podolski is an entirely different enigma and one that I don’t think any Arsenal fan will ever understand. He is 100% end product and that is both delightful and infuriating in equal measure. Arshavin was a bit like that; an ‘all or nothing’ style player but, unlike the German, he was nowhere near efficient enough and after a couple of seasons was soon feeling the burden of crowd disappointment on his shoulders. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Poldi. We all love his personality, his goals, his style when scoring. In fact, if you’re like me you’re praying that he could just give an extra 30% more to his game, he’d be one of the worlds best. It doesn’t have to be through technical ability – we know he doesn’t have that in spades – but even if it was in application and a bit more drive, he’d quickly find himself undroppable by the manager. Still, he’s shown us some fantastic goals and he is certainly a scorer in big games too, as he’s proved in his two seasons at the club. I hope he stays for next season, as he most certainly does have a place, especially with the return he gives the team in goals.
So, finally, let’s have a look at the position at the top of the tree. Currently held by Olivier Giroud but with small cameos from Bendtner and Sanogo. And when I say small, I really do mean small. Bendtner has played in a tiny proportion of games and still managed to score, but Sanogo is yet to break his duck, despite looking a bit of a gangly handful at times. Oddly enough, his overall performances haven’t been that bad, he just looks like he is nowhere near ready for the first team and one hopes that this little foray into the starting eleven fold hasn’t damaged his confidence. It doesn’t seem to have. He seems to be a confident sort of chap. Not Niklas Bendtner confident, thankfully, but enough to ensure his mind remains strong in the face of adversity. As for Bendtner, he helped set us on the way to victory against Hull, but ultimately this season has been more about finding out which stupid stunt he has pulled off this week and quite frankly, most of us are glad to see the back of him.
So to Giroud my thoughts now turn as I wrap up this blog. Yet another enigma in our side. A player capable of that deft touch and finish against West Ham only four odd weeks ago, yet still able to drag the ball wide from just outside the six yard box, as I seem to recall him doing against United at home. He is a strong centre forward who looks like his hair holds him up in the wind when the ball is put in front of him to chase, but he has still managed to convert twenty-two of his chances this season. There will be many that will question whether any half decent striker in that Arsenal team wouldn’t be able to bag between 15-20 goals a season, but I think that does a bit of a disservice to him, as he is not just a goalscorer within the team. His deft back heel to give Ramsey his cup winning goal is testament to the additional role as supplier that Giroud plays. He is certainly not without his faults, and I certainly hope priority number one is for another player to compliment his attributes rather than match them with some improvement, but to look at his season as a whole and not agree that he has improved would be wrong in my opinion.
Of all of the areas of the pitch where the team did not quite match what is expected of them, the front three would be one that I would point out as being the stand out this season just past. It has by no stretch of the imagination been an outright failure, to say such things would be incredibly harsh, but it has not quite delivered enough to give us the league title that we all craved so much but ultimately fell short.
More pace needed. That’s for sure. Injuries may have robbed us of that at times during the season, but the failure to address that at a time when we could have done so in January should go down as one of Arsene’s major mistakes of the season. Sure, the addition of a pacey striker would not have led to us conceding less goals in some of those big games, but you don’t need to win all your big games, as victories against Swansea, Stoke and Southampton earlier this year would have given us the extra seven points to be level with the Champions.
Some positives, but certainly some addressing of the faults is needed in the summer, if we are to win the league. See you tomorrow.