Arsenal are limping towards what may be a particularly welcome international break.
Yes, I know, international breaks are rarely welcome. However, in this instance, with Arsenal running out of first team players at almost identical rate to their accumulation of Premier League points, I think we can all agree we need a break.
So do I, actually. I had a rather nasty fall at Beckenham Junction station yesterday. Luckily though, I’m not an Arsenal first team player, so I didn’t disintegrate into thousands of tiny little pieces like the guy in Leftfield’s Afrika Shox video. That would have been some sight, huh?
Anyway, when I say limping, I mean in the sense that the team are running out of warm bodies, rather than struggling in their results.* Nobody could say that Arsenal are struggling for results at the moment – yes, I know, famous last words as we are now in that most dreaded of months, it’s Nooooooovember!**
Consider, though: the first team played proper (yes, I’m still ignoring Sheffield Wednesday last week) played 5 games in October. In those five games, they scored 13 goals and conceded only one, which was Ross Barkley’s deflected strike past Petr Cech last Sunday. It seems to me that, with Cech racking up the clean sheets for us, the team has found something of a groove. Most excitingly, in every single match Arsenal have played this month, they have been able to score two goals in quick succession and, basically, kill a match.
The goals may not have always arrived as closely together as they did against Manchester United and Everton, but being able to score even twice in fifteen minutes is a very useful habit to have. Particularly as we’ve become very miserly at the back, eight goals conceded in the league this season. Looking at the last nine games, we’ve only conceded five. This is outstanding by anyone’s standards, never mind the ones which we’ve become used to.
And when you consider that we’re averaging just under two goals a game for the season so far…
It is at this point, I would like to say thank you, again, to Chelsea Football Club for allowing us to purchase of Petr Cech for what seems a very reasonable £10m. At a stroke he has improved the Arsenal defence beyond measure. Okay, most of us foresaw that. What could never have been foreseen was the effect his departure appears to have had on a manager on the verge of a nervous breakdown, presiding over an omnishambles masquerading as a title defence.
Let’s take a moment to consider this. Yes, I know, this is an Arsenal site but bearing in mind the lack of respect Mourinho has, repeatedly, shown to a genuine giant of the game, I think it’s only right that we do. I have repeatedly said that I don’t really care about other football clubs and their ills, what concerns me is how Arsenal are doing. Our autumn resurgence, perhaps triggered by that thumping victory over Manchester United, has been a sight to behold for us all.
I’m not gonna lie though, the speed of Chelsea’s descent towards the lower reaches of the Premier League table has certainly added lustre to November’s Premier League table. Yes, I know that the Premier League trophy isn’t handed out in November. I also know that Chelsea are highly unlikely to finish their season where they are right now, but what is not to enjoy about the Premier League champions only having 11 points from 11 games? Or Mourinho’s apparent descent into madness? We may not win the league title this year, but we’ll be a damn sight closer to it than most other teams. Crucially, I think we’ll be closer to it than we have been since 2004.
Looking at Arsenal and the Premier League table as a whole, I think it’s easy to see why. Any team with our rate of scoring and goal concessions are going to win more games than they lose.
Looking at the other teams, Manchester United have got a manager who seems intent on applying the handbrake wherever possible, Liverpool have got a good manager, clearly, but not the players and we all know Chelsea will be lucky to make the top four, never mind win the title. Is there anybody else who can stop us? Everton? Spurs? Sure, but they’ve got as much chance as Leicester and West Ham.
It’s there for us this season, you know. It really is. The encouraging thing for me has been the way Arsenal have dealt with a series of injuries as if they’re an irrelevance. Okay, so they’ve been localised, but that in itself could have been a huge problem. Instead, on Saturday we get Joel Campbell making his first Premier League start and scoring his first Premier League goal. Maybe Arsène did know what he was doing in stockpiling all these attacking players. There’s a thought, hey?
The other really encouraging aspect about Arsenal this season is the varied ways they can take a team apart. They can go for the full blown demolition as we saw against Manchester United, they can play a slightly cagier game as they did against Everton, or play on the counter as we did against Bayern at the Emirates.
I mentioned him earlier, but I really do believe Petr Cech is the key to this. Psychologically, it must be a lot easier to play defensive football in the knowledge that if you are breached, you have an authentic legend of the game guarding the goal.
On the Daily Cannon podcast this week, the discussion turned to how we were now employing tactics we hadn’t seen for nearly ten years. For me, the reasons for this are obvious. In the years following the Invincibles, we didn’t have the best defence, so we tried to defend through keeping the ball. This was known, infamously, as “sterile domination”. Remember how often we used to lament conceding to the first shot on target? Usually this came about 10 seconds after we’d coughed up possession for the first time in the game.
I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise in the days of Almunia, Djourou, Squillaci and Denilson. Now, however, we have a pair of centre backs as good as, if not better than, anyone else in the league and behind them a colossus. We can afford to let the other team have the ball a little bit more now. In fact, with players like Alexis and Walcott making runs for Özil and Cazorla, it suits this Arsenal team not to dominate the ball. The measure of our progress in this regard is that pundits no longer seem so surprised when Arsenal win a game despite only having 30% possession.
So far, so positive. A huge game beckons this weekend. As I said on this week’s podcast, I can’t help feeling that Arsenal owe Spurs one after last season and hopefully the momentum we have built up will trump our list of casualties. I do think it’ll be a bit tougher than my flippant 4-0 prediction suggested, but I do expect us to show Spurs why only Manchester City separates us from the summit of the Premier League table.
Let’s hope it’s all still positive this time next week.
*I’ve never been to London Colney, but bearing in mind the amount of injuries Arsenal are dealing with at the moment, it is easy to imagine that the treatment room a space less like the cavernous first team dressing room at the Emirates and slightly more, er, aircraft hanger.
** This article is totally ignoring the result of Wednesday’s match in Munich as I would need a DeLorean running at 88MPH to be able to discuss it. If we have been eviscerated by the time you read this, do not come crying to me; you’ll get very short shrift.