3rd Place, More Points, More Goals, Missed Opportunities

Posted: May 14, 2012 in Arsenal FC
Tags: , , , ,

3rd place achieved, not much accomplished in the cups, domestic or continental, and yet another year gone by where the opportunity for trophies slips away. That is what is on the surface of this year. The reality is that AW managed to guide a patch group of players through a season filled with land mines, taking hits along the way, but making it through and in familiar territory with much less talent and bodies than most thought he would have available to him throughout. Let’s take the various situations on one by one shall we?

Departures – Arrivals – Injuries – Effect?

Everyone always speaks of Cesc and Nasri, but the reality is that there were many departures both real and virtual over the team that took the field on the first day of 2010. Cesc, Nasri, Almunia, Denilson, Clichy, Eboue, and Bendtner were all part of that team and all were gone in one way or another; sold or loaned out.

The players that were brought in were AOC, Jenkinson, Benayoun, Mertesacker, Gervinho, Arteta, Santos, Park. Some would have a profound effect on the season, whilst others would struggle with the adjustment to the EPL.

The injuries throughout the campaign led to Arsenal playing without any real FBs for over a month, and in the entirety of the season, AW was forced to use 20 different back four combinations and 25 or so different starting XI combinations. The list of players limited by injury this year is just ridiculous. Wilshere, Diaby, Santos, Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Arteta, Theo, etc. Most missed extended periods while others missed significant time.

Before and after the season began the media, and MANY supporters had the club pegged to finish 5th or lower, even claiming that Arsenal would have a hard time finishing top half of the table. After the horrid start to the campaign that saw the Gunners yield 7 points out of the first seven matches, it was all doom and gloom and even talk of relegation was in the air. The problem was that no one saw the reality of the situation. The club had injuries, suspensions, shoddy ref calls and half a team to break in; it takes time to get some consistency and continuity.

So, after the horrible start, the Gunners started to put together a string of results and by Christmas the club was on the cups of a top 4 re-entry. Then came the late December and January tailspin that saw Arsenal drift away from the top 4 and even go winless in January in the league. Adding insult to injury the Gunners were bounced from cup play and humiliated in the CL by Milan. Even the short-term arrival of King Henry, while magical, could not stop the terrible slide backward that the team took at this stage of the season.

The lads began February by drawing Bolton, but there began a streak of 8 matches without a loss, winning 7 straight after that result. Arsenal beat the likes of Spurs, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Everton before losing to QPR then coming back and beating eventual EPL champs City. AW decided to change things up a bit, giving TR7 and AOC more playing time and that saw Arsenal come back against the Yids and win 5-2 after going down 2-0 and beating AC Milan 3-0 nearly forcing extra time. So when things looked bleakest Wenger and Co managed to turn things around, and what at one point was a 10 point deficit and 5th place standing turned into 3rd place and a 4 point cushion. A remarkable turnaround especially with the lack of bodies the team had.

The Arsenal most definitely sputtered after this streak and limped home to finish third. The West Brom match yesterday was a microcosm of the season. Horrid start, gritty fight-back, and gut wrenching finish. So after all the departures, all the arrivals and the injuries, what was the outcome of this season?

Surely, after having lost Cesc, the captain, Nasri, Clichy & Co, we certainly did worse than last year of course! Nope. Arsenal finished with more points, a higher place and more goals than a year before.  So much for irreplaceable…

Missed Opportunities

We all know that the club finished 19 points behind the two top teams. But it’s just not as clear-cut as that. As mentioned above, having the turnover last year that the club did, Arsenal still managed a better result, but the lads also did better against top-tier opposition. Taking points against the champions, 4th, 5th and 6th place teams. Were the Gunners were hit hardest was against lower level opposition. That could be due to lack of bodies, or it could be down to lack of concentration, or a little of both, with some ref “help” thrown in for good measure. Let’s look at the matches and the points left on the table.

Blackburn 1 pt – 2 own goals and an offside goal, enough said.

Spurs – 1 pt – Handball control before Van der Vaart’s goal, then celebration in the crowd after, so many things wrong on one play and everything was allowed.

Fulham – 3 pts – A non penalty called, and then a total collapse of concentration in the second match.

City – 1 pt – Clear handball in the area by Richards not called.

Wolves – 2 pts – Several non calls against Wolves and a lack of finish by Arsenal, should have been a 3 pointer easily.

QPR – 3 pts – 2 lapses of concentration by TV5 and a handful of opportunities missed, saw the Gunners dominate and somehow still lose.

Chelsea – 2 pts – A non penalty call, and hitting the woodwork twice, again dominated and came away with a draw.

Stoke – 2 pts – Several opportunities in front of goal missed and some shouts for yet another penalty go unanswered.

Norwich – 2 pts – Inability to close out the match even after a stirring comeback.

So in essence if you look at the manageable matches, between the inability to finish off the match, or the refs being by in large unkind, the club left MANY points on the table. By my count 17 points. That would have put Arsenal right in the thick of the race for the title, and those matches are definitely some where the Gunners can improve next year.

I have mentioned the situation of the refs before, and I will do so once more. Arsenal have had 3 penalties called all year and none at the Emirates. For a team that averages as much possession as the Gunners do and the type of football that is played, by in large in the opponents area, there is just no way that should be the case.

The fact that Arsenal are now getting results once again against the top-tier teams is a great foundation going forward as this is where the trouble was year after year in the “Cesc years”. To improve and regain the dominance over the bottom half of the table couple with the resurgence versus the upper half, next year looks quite promising.

Summer Moves – Final Thoughts

None of us know what Arsenal will do to strengthen the team for next year. We do know Podolski is headed to the Emirates. We know that M’Vila is more than likely to arrive as well. After those two names everything really is up for debate. Does Arsenal add another defender? A creative midfielder? Another striker if RvP doesn’t re-sign, or indeed adding another striker anyway if he does re-sign. The possibilities are endless, specially when we don’t know what will happen with the likes of Arshavin and the rest of the loanees.

One thing is for sure, if Arsenal manage to just have a NORMAL injury season like most teams do, with the reinforcements likely to arrive and the addition of those injured players, next year could well be the start of something special at the Emirates. You have Podolski coming, M’Vila likely on the way, Wilshere hopefully on the mend, Ryo coming back from a succesful loan and the likelihood of other additions, well that makes me one happy Gooner. Another year of CL football, another year finishing above the Yids, and the prospect of having a top team in the coming season, well it just makes me want to take a couple of weeks of and have the season start now, I am sure most would agree with that.

So let’s see what captain Vantastic does in the coming weeks and that will shape the Gunners’ activity during the summer, until then, let’s enjoy this crazy season. Applaud AW and the lads for somehow avoiding most of the land mines and turning in a brave performance to land where the club belongs but where many never thought they would finish. What a great feeling to shut up the non believers and negative, biased, journos.

I will be chiming in and again as news warrants. Come on You Gunners!




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