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Monday, 8 June 2015

Season Review 2014-2015

Another successful season
There's been something of a debate in recent weeks on the Arsenal related social media accounts, questioning whether or not Arsenal have made progress. Various arguments have been put forward for both sides of the coin, those in favour largely pointing to finishing in third instead of fourth, while those against have pointed to a lower points tally. In the middle are those who are unsure but who might be more likely to point to the way we are playing, or the players in the squad. Whichever way you look at it there is an argument in every direction. It's one of those things that not all of us will agree on. What can't possibly be denied is that, with another FA Cup on the sideboard, this was another successful season for Arsenal. Any season that ends with one of those four pieces of silverware we play for in our possession has to be one associated with success. The level of that success may be open to interpretation, but I'll take any of them and look back on it with some pride.
For my money we have made progress this year. I fully accept that, on numerous occasions, we have been dire. I also fully accept that we never really challenged for the Title this year, whereas last season we threw it away after Christmas. But it's worth noting that we were 12 points behind Chelsea not long in to October, and finished that same distance from them in May. That being the case it is easy to work out where things went wrong in terms of the Premier League. Arsene Wenger might blame a hangover from the World Cup but that would be nonsense. Certainly other teams didn't seem to suffer it. It is true that Per Mertesacker wasn't himself until well in to January, but that wouldn't excuse Arsene not signing a central defender despite knowing that Laurent Koscielny had a problem with his Achilles tendon. It doesn't explain why he chose to not sign anyone to compete with Olivier Giroud until after he had broken his leg at Everton. It doesn't explain why he chose to freeze out the likes of Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolksi when the team was failing to perform week after week. It doesn't explain why it took injuries to Ramsey, Flamini and Arteta for him to give Francis Coquelin his chance around the Christmas period. Those first three or four months of the season saw us at our worst, and going absolutely nowhere, yet it was all totally avoidable. If it hadn't been for Alexis Sanchez, the signing of this season by any Premier League side, we would have been in the bottom half and heading into oblivion.
Given the way we played after Christmas in 2014, and then up to Christmas at the back end of the year, it was a horrible 12 months for us on the pitch, barring the FA Cup win. In many ways this might explain why there is a thought that we have progressed this season. It may be that, because we finished last season so badly, but this one so well, it seems we're a better team when we might actually be. I'm clearly not saying that is the case, but it is certainly a logical theory. Are we really better now than we were at the back end of 2013 when we were top of the table? I'd say we are because we can beat good sides in big games, and that was the one thing we weren't doing then. Okay, we haven't beaten Chelsea again this season, but the win at Manchester City was a spark that got the team to realise they could compete. Santi Cazorla put in probably the best individual performance by any Arsenal player this season at the Etihad, and Francis Coquelin came of age that day. Put that together with Giroud scoring a goal against a top side in a tight game and you can see how the players have got better.
There were other good wins in the last few months, the dismantlings of Liverpool, Stoke and Villa (twice) being the best examples. There were also the two wins in Manchester. The main reason I genuinely believe we've improved is the way we won those matches. Alexis Sanchez brought with him the Barcelona ploy of closing down high up the pitch. In the early part of the season you could see his frustration that, having done 30 yards to close down a defender or a midfielder, he turned round to find that the next Arsenal player was nowhere near, so the pressure wasn't worthwhile. In those games where we played well, and the FA Cup Final was the ultimate example of it, Alexis wasn't the only one. The ball would be played in to midfield by our opponents and immediately there would be 2, maybe 3, Arsenal players closing them down. The result would be that we got the ball within around 40 yards of the opposition goal and were already behind their midfield. Once you're in that area then the quality of Ozil, Alexis, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky will destroy people. I can't explain why we don't play like that more often than not, but when we do we are exceptional.
The squad still needs work, of course. I don't believe either of our goalkeepers is quite at the top level, and I'd be more than happy if we signed a 33 year-old Petr Cech with Szczesny loaned to Southampton for a year to prove himself in the Premier League. I'm not sure we need any more defenders. Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gabriel look a good trio of centre-backs. We have Debuchy and Bellerin at right-back, and Monreal and Gibbs at left-back. I would like to see Calum Chambers loaned out for a year while Carl Jenkinson came back to be the fourth centre-back. That way we would know if Chambers is up to it - his lack of pace means he needs to have Mertesacker's positional sense and I'm not sure of that at the moment. I'd like another defensive minded midfield player to keep Coquelin on his toes, and I'd like another top class striker. At the same time the likes of Sanogo need to be sent away as they are never going to be good enough in a million years. But it's fair to say there is far less dead wood around than there has been for a long time.
All in all I am happy with our season. Of course I am frustrated that our bad start meant we didn't get a shout for the Premier League, and we should have reached at least the quarter-final in Europe. However, we won the FA Cup again, and that is no mean feat. As I said above the players have proved to themselves that they can win the big games, and win them well. Hopefully next season will be even better.

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