Arsenal’s Defence And Defending Arsenal
There has been a lot of attacking of Arsenal by Gooners on twitter recently and the stagnant air of negativity has even driven some very well liked tweeters into hibernation as they cannot stand to read the streams of abuse hurled towards the club and its players.
Instead of exasperating me to the point of quitting twitter it has, for want of a better word, inspired me to adapt my post. This piece was originally going to be entirely about the defence and, ironically, defending them and I’ll still do that but now the piece is going to be a bit longer and will be about defending the club as well. I suggest getting a cuppa as this is a long one but I really hope you’ll stay to the end because I think the message is worth hearing.
I’m as desperate for success as the next Gooner however I do not think we have a divine right to trophies nor do I think we have a divine right to challenge for trophies and I most certainly do not think that we should buy a sense of entitlement by selling out to the sugar daddies of the world.
That said I do believe that we should be challenging. Not because we are The Arsenal but because we have one of the best managers in the world, a world-class stadium full of supporters, world-class training facilities, top coaching staff, an enviable youth set-up, the best pitch in the world and a group of very talented players to take to it. I see no reason why we should not compete moving forward but understand fully why we have not challenged for the league in recent years even if I don’t like the fact we haven’t especially given the players we’ve had.
And now I want to dispel a few myths that kept cropping up in a twitter conversation last night and are used fervently by some as the reason Arsenal are not winning trophies.
Myth 1: We don’t challenge.
This is a falsehood. If you said that we do not challenge for the entirety of the marathon then I might agree with you but even then I still think it does the club an injustice to say that they do not challenge. Since our last trophy in 2005 we have been in a Champions League Final, 2 League Cup Finals and finished 4 points off the title. Over the past 7 seasons the runner up in the league has finished an average of 4.28 points behind the winners so in that season despite finishing 3rdwe can argue that Arsenal challenged for the title. Despite not winning a trophy in that time we have competed for a trophy on 4 occasions so technically have only had 3 years of not competing.
It is completely fair to say that Arsenal have not won a major trophy in 7 years but there have been worse periods for our club and there will be worse in the future as well. No club wins a trophy every season for a prolonged period of time because teams run in phases and Arsenal were unlucky to be embarking upon their rebuilding process when Chelsea came in and changed the landscape. The counter argument to this is Manchester United rebuilding and winning during that time but some fail to realise that Manchester United were and are a much bigger brand than us, had a massive stadium for years before the Emirates was built and had the luxury of excellent commercial deals. Moving forward Arsenal will be able to boast similar luxuries. Up until the end of this season money is a valid excuse for not being able to compete with clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United who have both won major trophies in the oil era and moving forward we can still complain about the financial clout of City and Chelsea but we will no longer be able to say it’s impossible to compete because we’ll be on almost even footing with Liverpool and United who have proven it can be done. Not done cheaply but done nonetheless.
Myth 2: We don’t spend any money
This is the biggest piece of bull I’ve ever heard. The club’s accounts are there for all to see and many media sources regularly break down the numbers for all clubs.
Just to make this perfectly clear for anyone who is in doubt, the TPA (Transfer Proceeds Account) is EMPTY. What that means is that we have spent all of the 70% we are required to put back into transfers and wages from our player sales. The other 30% the club can do what they wish with it however the figures show that Arsenal have actually ploughed that 30% back into player wages and transfers and then some more. Arsenal have spent more than they have brought in over the past 7 years. So far this summer we have spent close to £20m on transfers.
Over the past 7 years we have sold players and brought in around £191m and were required to put £134m of that into the TPA. Over the same period we spent £152m which is £18m more than what was in the TPA and then we add the £20m from Giroud and Podolski as well as the reported fee for Cazorla which I’ll be stingy on and call £15m. That brings our transfer spend to £187m which is £4m less than we brought in. This is not taking into account the backdated pay we gave to Cesc of £5m or the signing on fees paid to new signings or the wages they have demanded or the improved terms we’ve offered to many players over this time including Saga, Wilshere, Vermaelen and more recently Koscielny. So in fact we have spent more money than we have brought in through player sales. To say that we do not spend any money is rubbish and to suggest that we do not spend enough is just credit card mentality because we spend as much as we can afford to. We haven’t been extremely frugal over the past few years as some would suggest and moving forward with improved commercial income we will probably be spending a lot more.
Myth 3: We don’t replace the players we sell
This is another falsehood. We do replace them. We may not replace them like for like but when a player leaves you have three choices; buy a direct replacement, (buy someone different and) change dimension of the team or buy/promote a young player who will become the eventual replacement.
In most cases Arsenal have done one of the latter two. When we sold Henry there was no player that could have been for Arsenal what he was, we might have had a replacement in Reyes who I believe Wenger bought to eventually replace Henry as the striker who drifts in from the wing and Reyes possibly had it in him to be Henry’s eventual replacement but he became wasted talent. Instead we decided to replace him with two players. Firstly with Eduardo for his goalscoring ability and secondly with Theo Walcott who we hoped and I believe still hope will be able to become Henry’s replacement up front. Theo will never be as good as Henry but he can still be a very good player for Arsenal.
With Adebayor we moved completely to a lone striker system (contrary to popular belief Adebayor mostly played up front with Eduardo the season before leaving) and RvP, Eduardo and Bendtner (who was joint second top scorer that season) shared responsibility as the lone striker. The following season we can argue that we lost no-one of note but gained Koscielny and Chamakh. Chamakh might have his critics but he started really well and sadly the league caught up with him and since then he has had such little game time he has been unable to make an impact as a second choice lone striker with his best performances coming in games where he has played as part of a two.
Then we lost Cesc and Nasri. Nasri we replaced with Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain and still had change not only in transfers but also in wages as those two players combined earned less last year than Nasri was demanding. I think 99% of Arsenal supporters agree that we sold at the right time and got a good price for him. Cesc we did not replace directly because we already had Ramsey who despite his detractors is one of our best prospects and could still be the player we all knew he could be before his leg break. Let us not forget that we’ve known for years that Cesc would eventually return to Barca and Ramsey’s performances before his leg break made that eventuality not seem so bad.
We also replaced Cesc by bringing in Arteta to fill Jack’s deep role having fully moved to the 4-2-3-1 formation the year before (having trialled it in a few games in 2009/10) and allowing Rosicky to move back into the centre having mainly been deployed wide in a 4-4-2 or on the left in the 4-2-3-1. Certainly we have not replaced a player directly but there are valid reasons why not. Henry had no peers and any new player would have meant a change in direction. Adebayor was, has been and always will be a temperamental player who will have a great season then drop off and when he left we weren’t losing a 30 goal striker we were selling a 16 goal (total) striker for £25m and giving another opportunity to a striker who scored 15 goals that year (Bendtner).
Can the club be blamed for losing RvP to injury in November in an international friendly? I don’t think so. Nasri was replaced with one very good player in Gervinho and one player who will be better than Nasri in The Ox. Cesc had and has very few peers and replacing him would have meant buying Xavi, Inieista or Silva. We had no chance of getting any of those players so we had to go for option 2 or 3.
Myth 4: We are never in for the best players
This is false because it infers that we have no interest in top players. It does not consider the circumstances when that player was available. For example, David Silva cost City £24m. At the time we had Nasri and Cesc (both in positions that Silva has since gone on to play for City), so why spend £24m to replace Nasri who at the time was a fan favourite and acclimatised to the league? Why buy a player for £24m in Cesc’s position when you have Cesc? Aguero cost £35m when we already had RvP and needed to strengthen other areas of the team.
The only player bought by one of our rivals over the past 8 years that I cannot justify us not being in for was Vincent Kompany. For his ability and price I cannot understand us not being in for him but then again his ability is retrospective as City signed potential, the exact same thing we are given grief for by a faction of our own supporters. Most other players that we’ve missed out on has been because of money. Mata’s signing on fee at Chelsea I believe was £7m. I cannot confirm if this is 100% true but it seems to be the most consistently quoted figure. To put that into perspective we spent less than £7m on Sagna, on Rosicky, on Ramsey or put another way we spent less on Toure, Song, RvP and Vieira combined.
Can we say that we were never in for Hazard or Kagawa? I think so. Kagawa seemed bolted on for United from the word go and we never seemed to display any interest at all. Hazard on the other hand we had been interested in for years but his mercenary attitude and price tag I believe put Wenger off. £30m for a Nasri-esque turncoat was probably £15m too much. Hazard also made it clear quite early on that his preference was to play in blue. Not the red of Manchester or the white of Madrid but the blue of Manchester or of Chelsea, the two biggest oil whores in all of the world. Arsenal signed one of the hottest strikers in Europe in Giroud for a pittance and signed one of the most consistent performers in probably the second hardest league after the EPL in Podolski for another pittance (in relative terms).
Myth 5: The defence is crap
This is a myth until proven otherwise. Yes we let in a lot of goals last season but we had 18 different starting back four combinations and where injuries and subs have taken place where the back four has changed with more than 30 minutes of the match remaining we have had 24 different combinations.
What is arguably our first choice back four played the first game together but then did not play together in the league until the 26th game! They also only played 10 games together so you can argue that we played with a second choice defence for 28 games. We only managed to play the same back four for more than three games on the trot twice! Once for 4 games and then once for 3 games and in the other 31 games we only managed to put the same back four out for two games in a row four times!
We used 14 different players in defence last season but with 7 of those players playing more that one position we’ve technically used 21 players in four positions! How any team can cope with that amount of change and upheaval and not concede a lot of goals I do not understand. The defence could well be crap but until they get a regular run of games together we cannot say and until that time it is just a myth.
The above table for me really says a lot about how well the club did to finish 3rd last season. Some have blamed it on Spurs’ collapse but I say that we still had to win our games. Spurs could have lost every game from Christmas and we could have still finished behind them. You can only win the games that you have in front of you and Spurs didn’t win theirs. We play the same teams as they do so why should their collapse mean our revival means less?
From 17th to 3rd with the defensive problems we had and the amount of new players we had to bed in and the fact that we lost two very good players very late in the summer and still managed to finish a point higher and with more goals is something that should be celebrated and considered a platform for future success rather than another reason to moan. With a fit defence or at the very least a group of defenders who now know each other a lot better we should be able to concede fewer goals and regardless of whether RvP stays or goes or if Cazorla signs or not we have a team for next season.
I think it is important to stress that we are finally becoming a team again because since the invincible season we have had a tendency to play through one player and as such have been a one man team in the sense that ten players play to the strengths of one rather that all pulling together for the same goal. First it was Henry, then Cesc and now Robin. Regardless if whether Robin goes or stays I think we’ve seen the end of it. I wrote a piece in March on team spirit and my good friend and fellow blogger Dave Seager, better known as Goonerdave66 wrote a piece at the back end of May which explains in greater detail the need to play as a team not as a collection of supporting acts.
We should be immensely proud of our club for remaining part of the premier league elite (despite not winning trophies) when there is so much money floating around and shouldn’t always look at Arsenal so negatively. I wrote a piece a while back on us fans and I still believe that the constant negativity on social media sites and in the ground plays a big part in the “failures” of the team. They are human too. Sure they get paid lots of money and have media training etc but none of that makes you any less of a person or any more able to deal with constant negativity. They say to smile when you are talking on the phone because the other person can sense it so why can other people not sense negativity?
The club is in good shape and everything is going pretty well except we don’t have any recent trophies to show for it but they will come. This club has gone through dry patches before and we’ll have more in the future but as long as there are fans to get behind the club and the team then we’ll always come bouncing back.
This team might not be as special as the invincibles but they are a talented group and I’m confident that this season will be a fruitful one and I don’t say that because I’m overly positive or because I feel the need to kid myself. I say this because I wholeheartedly believe it is true. They say you don’t know what love is until you’ve truly felt it and then you realise that everything you thought was love before wasn’t really love. That is what I feel with this season.
Thanks for reading! If you liked what you read please comment on this post, subscribe by email, share with friends and follow me on twitter (@thedanielcowan).