Golf coaches have a phrase that they are fond of using; they insist that ‘feel and real are two different things’. There can be a disjuncture between what the player feels they are doing in their swing and what the video evidence actually shows they are doing. The situation with Arsenal currently is reminiscent of that analogous example. Many Arsenal supporters, as well as many neutrals, believe that Arsenal have made progress this season. It just ‘feels’ a better season than last. The numbers however, don’t necessarily concur with this school of thought. They tend to suggest Arsenal have more or less stood still. There are good arguments on both sides of the debate and it comes down to a question of perception.
The weekend’s 1-1 draw away at Manchester United means Arsenal require only one point from their remaining two games to secure a top three finish and automatic qualification for the Champions League. This would also be an improvement from last season’s 4th place finish. However the draw at Old Trafford also ensured that Arsenal will finish with fewer points than they did last season. They can reach a maximum of 77 points compared to last season’s total of 79. They are in the FA Cup final, which they won last season, and were knocked out at the last 16 stage of the Champions League once again.
So how have Arsenal managed to create the impression that they have progressed, if their season when written down on paper looks very much like the last? In the last two season’s Arsenal have had one good half and one poor half, but the timing of their good run in this campaign might account for the good vibes around the club. Last season they were top of the League on New Year’s Day, and topped the league for 126 days in total, before slipping away to 4th. This season that sat in 6th on New Year’s day and have since claimed 38 points from a possible 48 to climb to 3rd and at one stage 2nd. The good half, in other words, has come at the end of the season and therefore resonates with people a bit more.
Arsenal’s good half this season has also contained more notable results compared to their good run in the autumn of 2013. The major doubt looming over Arsenal going into this season was their ability to cope away from home against their rivals within the top four following the 6-3 defeat at Man City, the 5-1 dismantling at the hands of Liverpool, the 6-0 debacle at Stamford Bridge and the customary limp performance and 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford last season. Plus there was a 3-0 defeat away at Everton, which often gets forgotten, where they were thoroughly outplayed.
There has been an improvement on this front. Arsenal’s good run in the second half of this season has included a 2-0 away win at Man City, a 4-1 beating of Liverpool at the Emirates, and an FA Cup win at Old Trafford against United. There have been league draws at Anfield and Old Trafford as well; a point at either of those grounds is always a credible outcome. They lost a tight encounter away at Chelsea in October 2-0, at a time of the season when Chelsea were in full flight, but compared to their previous visit there it was an improved display.
Arsenal’s good run at the beginning of 2013/14 was in truth, built upon a very friendly fixture list early on. They found themselves 8 points clear in December and that after having lost to Aston Villa at home on the opening day. However, their only two stand out domestic results were wins over Tottenham and Liverpool at the Emirates; two matches where they were favourites. The fact that this season’s ‘good half’ has retained some good away results at grounds they have typically found tough accounts for the perception that Arsenal have progressed. If they win their final two matches they will have massed 44 points in their final 19 games of the season, compared to 42 points in the first 19 games of the 2013/14 season. So this season’s ‘good half’ will be fractionally better.
Aesthetics are an important part of how people perceive teams and players, and there is also a feeling that Arsenal just ‘look’ a better team than last season. In that campaign they relied heavily on Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey’s third man runs to penetrate and counter attack teams. When both were injured at the same time last spring, Arsenal really struggled offensively due to a lack of pace. In the aforementioned defeat at Goodison they had a front three of Podolski, Giroud and Rosicky. All three of those players have their merits, but it wasn’t an attacking line up with the right blend of attributes.
This season, mainly due to the acquisitions of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck, they have had more variety and a counter attacking threat. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was excellent until getting injured, and helped provide this as well. (As a side note, it is the emergence of these three players that mean Theo Walcott could well be deemed surplus to requirements). The added pace has certainly aided Olivier Giroud who has looked an improved player though he relies heavily on having these runners around him.
With two home games remaining against Sunderland and West Brom they have chance to improve on the 68 goals they scored last season having already reached 67. They have conceded 35 goals this season compared to last season’s 41, though that number was very much skewed by the big away defeats. They actually kept more clean sheets last season, with Wojech Szczesny sharing the Golden Glove with Petr Cech. So once again, it’s difficult to establish which improvements are real and which are merely perceived.
I would argue that there has been a modest amount of progression at Arsenal, certainly in the quality and style of their football, which is the basis for winning games. Many people assume that Arsenal’s style of football is never in question, but there is no doubt that between 2011 and 2014 due to the loss of key offensive players the style and quality of football dipped. Arsene Wenger has almost completed the rebuilding of his forward line, and the quality of their offensive play is on the way up. The lack of a home victory against the three other teams in the top four indicates a touch more firepower might be needed.
The definite regression of Manchester City and Liverpool this season, as well as the fact that Manchester United’s post-Ferguson transition is lasting longer than anticipated have all contributed to perhaps flattering Arsenal in terms of their League position. That may be a touch harsh, because you still have to earn the points, but it’s certainly made life a bit more comfortable. There is no reason to think Chelsea will take a step back next season, if anything one would expect them to get stronger, so it will take a substantial improvement for Arsenal to overhaul them.
They have however, in the last two years, moved on from being a club with the burden of a nine year trophy drought who scraped into the top four on the final day of the season, to a team that now finishes in the top four quite comfortably and has the chance to win back to back FA Cups. That’s progress of a kind.
Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive
Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.
Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.
But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.
Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.
For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.
Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.
But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.
After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:
“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.
“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”
“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”
With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.
When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.
Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.
But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.
Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…
Özil against Watford was falling down when a gust of wind went past him. It was appalling. Welbeck yesterday was one of the worst dives
— Joe B ??????? (@JblincoTHFC) March 16, 2018
Only just seen the Welbeck dive, he must be embarrassed even appealing for that.
— Joshhh (@JJonesTHFC) March 16, 2018
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
If you had any doubt about how this country treats Dele Alli (one of its brightest prospects in years) look at the difference in how the media and in particular fans, are talking about the #Welbeck dive. ? #COYS #THFC
— Gary Ford (@Spursfordie) March 15, 2018
Imagine if this was @dele_official who did this and the media onslaught! Danny Welbeck you diving cheat! Hope the likes of @talkSPORT @GaryLineker @alanshearer to name a few subject Danny to the same treatment they have subjected Dele too this season! https://t.co/MXFMAkOGcN
— H (@LittleMissTHFC) March 15, 2018
— Lucas (@MoughtTHFC) March 15, 2018
Welbeck is a cheat end of. Ruined a good game.
— THFC (@RaoullyT69) March 15, 2018
Look how everyone destroys Dele over diving. No one will comment on Welbeck’s dive. Shocking! #THFC
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
— Steve Williams (@spurssteve69) March 15, 2018
Welbeck dives. Dele will be in trouble in the morning. #THFC
— Stephen Vincent (@StevieV14) March 15, 2018
If Dele Alli did what Welbeck just did?
— Billy Adams (@ThfcAdams) March 15, 2018
Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?
Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.
Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.
They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.
These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.
Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.
In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.
The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.
Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.
Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.
Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.
The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.
Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.
It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.
When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.
If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.
There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.
Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.
It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.
It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
Sessegnon or Bale? Past or future? Spurs must make right move this summer
Jack Wilshere’s Everton arrival would surely spell the end for Morgan Schneiderlin?
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
Everton signing Rodrigo at £35m would undermine Cenk Tosun position
Tottenham Hotspur3 weeks ago
Tottenham Hotspur must push Toby Alderweireld toward Barcelona
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Jurgen Klopp’s brave January decision is playing off thanks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Liverpool4 weeks ago
Mohamed Salah: Is Liverpool’s Egyptian star the best player in the world right now?
Brentford4 weeks ago
Romaine Sawyers – Blossoming in the Championship with play-off contenders Brentford
English Premier League3 weeks ago
Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle United: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain growing into role under Jurgen Klopp
Chelsea4 days ago
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold finds himself at the centre of Jurgen Klopp’s plans
Arsenal4 weeks ago
Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City: Three talking points from Wembley