Arsenal can overhaul Spurs if we learn the lessons of 2011/12 – Squeaky Bum time for AVB, Deja Vu for Gooners.

Laughing AVB on 3rd March but who will be smiling in May?
Laughing AVB on 3rd March but who will be smiling in May?

 

Alternative title – Arsene Master stroke while Tottenham Choke

I am not going to pretend I feel all is rosy in the Arsenal garden but I do believe now that we will overhaul Spurs and attain Champions League qualification. No this is not a trophy for me and yes I would still, unlike the majority it appears, have rather won the FA Cup and finished 5th. However I am confident of Arsenal now stringing together a sequence of results that will carry us were we need to go.

Is this because I feel Spurs will implode? No not particularly, although they are doing a passable impression of the team that might. Is it because we appear to have an easier run in than our North London neighbours? No, not that either, although again on paper it might appear to be the case. Is it because sadly we have only the league and they have the Europa League as well? No not especially although fresh legs can of course be a bonus. Is it because I don’t believe Gareth Bale is quite as good as the sycophantic journos and pundits tell us he is? No, but while I am at it he isn’t.

No my feeling is based more on historical precedent and team selection. I will elaborate but first to get you in the mood please enjoy the following all written after we have been defeated at White Hart Lane on the 3rd of March and according to most observers the North London power shift was on…….

Arsenal in a spiral of DOOM!!
Arsenal in a spiral of DOOM!!

 

‘As Welsh goal-scoring wizard Gareth Bale continues his streak of good form, and first-year manager Andre Villas-Boas continues to pump his fists in triumph along the sidelines, Tottenham look almost certain to top Arsenal this time. The Gunners, meanwhile, appear doomed to finish outside the top four for the first time in Wenger’s era.’ (Bleacher Report)

But they won the North London derby, strengthened their position and separated themselves further from their rival, big-picture-wise. Indeed, Tottenham is in a position to show why they’re different from Arsenal, the moment when they can show they are a club of ambition and upward trajectory. That moment will come if and when they qualify for Europe and therefore have the best leverage to hold on to their best player, Bale, and show that they are not a selling club. (ESPN)

The Gunners are fifth in the table, five points shy of Chelsea in fourth place, never mind Spurs in third, and with just ten games left they look set to miss out on a top-four finish for the first time under Wenger’s management. (BWIN)

Tottenham v Arsenal: North London is bright, North London is Lilywhite (Metro Blogs)

 

 Final word on the scene setting I give to Harry Rednapp, this written on the day of the NLD in the Sun

 

This time next year Rodney we will win the Premier League!!
This time next year Rodney we will win the Premier League!!

“Tottenham are about to end 18 YEARS of hurt and finish above local rivals Arsenal in the Premier League. It came within a whisker of happening last season, with just a point between them. Arsene Wenger’s Gunners have 15 or 16 good players and a few individuals who would get into the Spurs team.” (Oh please Twitchy!!)

Okay so let refresh our memories as to what happened in 2011/12 and then look at how and why this is so significant in my mind for 2012/13.

 

February 26th 2012. The North London Derby at the Emirates

5-2

 

Arsenal after and awful run in January which saw them take exactly ZERO points from 3 league games find themselves way of the Champions League pace and 10 points behind their bitter rivals, who similarly to this year are claiming the infamous power shift. Arsenal are 2 Nil down inside the first 20 or so minutes and face the real possibility of being 13 points behind their bitter rivals with only 12 games remaining.

Of course with Sagna’s header the turning point Arsenal secure the first of 2 famous 5-2 victories and the momentum was to swing back in our favour. But why was this?

Well something significant happened on the 26th February that for me at least was the true reason behind what happened next.

 

Date Match Score
03/03/12 Liverpool (A) 2-1 Win
06/03/12 Milan (H) 3-0 Win
12/03/12 Newcastle (H) 2-1 Win
21/03/12 Everton (A) 1-0 Win
24/03/12 Aston Villa (H) 3-0 Win
31/03/12 QPR (A) 2-1 Loss
08/04/12 Man City (H) 1-0 Win
11/04/12 Wolves (A) 3-0 Win
16/04/12 Wigan (H) 2-1 Loss
21/04/12 Chelsea (H) 0-0 Draw

 

So after the NLD victory what could have been a 13 point gap on the 3rd of March when Arsenal played next was a 7 point deficit. On the 3rd of March 2013 after the defeat at Spurs the gap curiously was the same.

So in 2012 the emphatic win and come back led to a sequence of super results. The win over Spurs and the following 6 games, 5 in the league showed above all had a common thread. So what was the common thread that was so significant in late February and March of 2012 that had not been there in January and early February?

Some of you might be there already but if not I will put you out of your misery. For Spurs on the 26th February and for every match in a busy March Arsenal fielded the exact same back 4. Indeed with the exception of a reversal at Loftus Road against a QPR side inspired and fighting for survival, Arsenal with the same settled back line of Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Gibbs won 7 out of 8 in all competitions, conceding only 6. They won 6 out of 7 in the league, securing 21 points from a possible 24 and climbed over Newcastle, Chelsea and Spurs ultimately into 3rd place.

Interestingly the line up changed against Wolves with Djourou and Santos coming in for Koscielny and Gibbs. Wolves were doomed and had given up so the disruption had no impact. Very interesting however that the next game that could ultimately have cost us a place in the Champions League, at home to Wigan, saw the same changed back 4.  Six weeks of a settled defence until injuries forced changes and the back four is carved open twice with ease by an ambitious enterprising Wigan in the sort of attacking form that took them to survival.  Koscielny and Gibbs returned against Chelsea and a clean sheet resulted.

The lesson for 2013

To give Wenger credit he has made some tough decisions for the past 2 games and the result has been 2 clean sheets in 2 very tricky away games.  I am not going to dwell on whether he could have made some decisions earlier or even in the past (Mark Schwarzer!!) but he has made them and the impact is positive. One change has been enforced at right back due to the Sagna’s injury but for those concerned that Carl Jenkinson what not be up to the cauldron at the Lane or in the Allianz need not have worried.  Jenko has a phenomenal engine and is able to get up and support Walcott in attack as well as get back and defend with precision and maturity. This but has a huge future at Arsenal and I am delighted he has stepped up so well, as I had my doubts last year.

Jenko - A Gooner for years
Jenko – A Gooner for years

The other 2 changes, dropping the skipper and the keeper must have been difficult decisions and you have to admire that. Fabianski and Koscielny certainly appear to have improved the communication and the balance in our back line. There is little doubt in my mind that Koz understands the limitations of Mertesacker, mobility and pace wise and positions himself accordingly.  This pairing does seem to suit us better and you could see the improvement in Arteta’s game against Swansea with the renewed confidence the pairing behind him brought . There are rumours that Vermaelen is carrying an ankle injury, but I am not so sure. Certainly the Captain’s notes in the programme v Reading will be an interesting read, particularly if he plays for his country between now and then.

The decision to make the changes was a critical one and the general shift away from playing the high line has been noticeable. The main point now if we look at the same period last year and draw from the obvious parallels is for Wenger to have the courage of his recent conviction. History and indeed common sense suggest that a settled back 4, indeed 5, breeds confidence and understanding. I see absolutely no reason to change a winning system now until he has to. So for me this means Jenkinson stays even when Bac is fit and the central pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny is allowed to flourish despite it mean our skipper and highest profile defender sits it out.

The only question that remains therefore is which of 2 superb left backs Wenger will opt to give the nod to against Reading. Assuming Monreal is on the road with Spain and Gibbs is at Colney building up his strength and fitness Wenger may opt for Kieran. Given that they are both so strong and reliable I actually do not have a preference but I just hope that once he decides he sticks to his guns between now and May.

Gibbs or Nacho? - The Big decision
Gibbs or Nacho? – The Big decision

Finally to reinforce my point you might be interested to see the following:

3/3 Spurs beat Arsenal 2-1 Back five –  Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto

10/03 Spurs lose to Liverpool 3-2   Back five – Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto

14/03 Spurs lose to Inter 4-1 Back five  – Friedel, Walker, Gallas, Vertonghen, Naughton (3 Changes)

17/03 Spurs lose to Fulham 1-0 Back five – LLoris, Naughton, Dawson, Caulker, Vertonghen (3 Changes)

Our neighbours most recent result courtesy of a rearranged defence and Berbatov now sees the gap close to 4 points and we have a home game in hand. At this stage of the season when every point counts for so much consistency is everything. Consistency of selection leads to consistency of performance, leads to consistency of results. I seriously hope that Wenger looks back at last season and remembers how that run of games from the end of February, despite a few wobbles in May, took us from 6th to 3rd. A run in no small part being made possible because he was able to select the same defenders week in week out.  If he looks further back to January last year when we lost all 3 games in the EPL and scraped past Leeds and Villa in the FA Cup, and on each occasion we had a different set of defenders.

Food for thought and I hope you will agree a degree of logic involved, but the parallels with 2012 are uncanny. The gap on the 3rd March both in 2012 and 2013 was 7 points and with a settled defence I feel history may be just about to repeat itself.

Who from my regulars envisaged me writing a blog suggesting it would be our defence that would show us the way?

If you answered YES to the above I don’t believe you!

 

Like what you read? Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter – http://twitter.com/goonerdave66

 

 

 

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19 comments

  1. It has never really been in doubt has it? Arsenal score more and concede less; they have a far simpler run in and they end in the top 4 every year. I expect Arsenal to finish 3rd and for Tottenham to battle with Chelsea who have to play an extra league game; FA Cup semi and travel a long way in the Europa. Arsenal being knocked out of Europe means they will end in the top 4 and get in a competition they will never win and get lots of money that they will pay to their players who aren’t good enough to win the league, challenge for the CL or win trophies – it’s a funny old game.

  2. all so very confident now…. truth is spurs have been more consistant up till now & arsenal are just as likely to lose against a bottom 5 club and less likely to do well against them above but evryone is convivnced that arsenal will prevail
    big slices of humble pie all round then if arsenal don’t make the top 4.

    1. If you actually read the blog there is no over confidence or brashness my friend. Just a message that we can learn from last year. I am one fo the fee Gunners who actually is not overly bothered and would rather have won a domestic cup as regular readers will tell you. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. i think this article is spot on, you can only loose a game of football by conceding more goals than you score simple, and with our only two strikers well off the mark, and myself not fully believing that Bale is the messiah whos indivdual diplays will carry spurs into the promise land of NL supremacy, AVB needs to stop his tinker tactics if spurs want to take 3rd/4th spot and make a long grinding europa run worth while.
    great blog, very good read even if you are a gooner

    COYS

    1. Thanks Gary. Glad you enjoyed and we should not forget we are all fans even if we are rivals. I do fear form you if as you say AVB keeps changing things and yes we know only too well how poor Adebayor can be once settled.

  4. Interesting read Dave though I do feel more emphasis should be given to to the fact we have an easier run in than the Spuds and they have their minor European ‘Plate’ competition to contend with.

    Every team in the PL this season have played poorly and it was up to any one team to make that extra bit of effort to win it. Manchester United did just that and they tweak and change their team all the time. Changing teams does not necessarily mean that they are going to struggle in the next game. If it’s done correctly it’s a way of keeping the team fresh and competitive for places and perhaps, free from injury.

    We, on the other hand (or more to the point Wenger) seem to pick the best we have available from our limited squad. This is totally wrong. Have you noticed …. Arshavin when he came, was great, then after game after game he became jaded …..result, what I would call burn out. Even Cazorla isn’t quite what he was when he first came. How many players come to us, are brilliant to start with and then slowly fade, can we put Vermaelen in that category? To back this argument up, how good is Koscielny since his return?

    In my opinion we will get above the Spuds and we will get into the CL but NOT because of Wenger and the team playing well, it’s because everyone else is either mediocre or poor.

    1. I could have written about comparative runs ins Pat old son but you know me better and that would not be a thoughtful blog. One has a reputation to maintain. Ha ha hope all well in sunny Espana

  5. here’s hoping.. i just wish this poxy international doesn’t fuck things up, on both our good form,or give them a chance to refresh and regroup…
    I totally ahree with Kos and Per from what we’ve got, but also think the deeper line is even more important than the personnel we have …
    the high line was a joke, especially against the pace thats in the premier league these days. Poor auld Per is fucked when a ball played over the top and he’s forced to chase,but when they have to run at him he’s brilliant at basically forcing them where he wants them to go,which is wide, and away from the goal..this deeper system was working so well in that Spurs game until TV5 decided to step forward for no-reason (usual lack of discipline) therefore leaving Per isolated…
    Also in the deeper system i feel MA8 has to sit alot deeper than he is or else have someone else do it for him when he forrays forward, cos he’s neglected it a little bit of late, at least until Ramsey / Diaby was beside him in Bayern / Swansea game, who could do the extra running for him..
    And lets hope we don’t fall into the same trap that Spurs have, they are concentrating on us and us only it seems, and that creates added pressure,especialoly for them as their games will be after ours.. WE shouldn’t forget Everton in all of this, they got a huge win v City and they are our game in hand, so that could put them ahead of us if it all went tit’s up…
    But as was said in earlier comment, if we don’t concede at least we won’t be losing games, and although our strike force isn’t exactly lethal, i still think we have enough to score in every game, we seem to have matured a bit, and realise that we don’t all have to push forward and score on every single attack therefore leaving ourselves open, like we have been guitly of far too often, e.g. the home game v’s Swansea, in reality a 0-0 wouldn’t have been the end of the world but we pushed and pushed so much that say for their 2nd goal all we had left defending was Jenkinson, who slipped and a slowly retreating Rosicky,
    sso as you say lets hope lessons learned, and this new found solidity remains and we push onward for 4th, no fuck it, we’ll go 3rd, why not.

  6. Nice one Dave.
    At first I thought you wouldn’t commit to any point you raised as you continually discountenanced each as they come untill you finally/strangely stuck with our ‘defence’.
    I have moaned over on twitter how Szczesny had not showed enough conviction in the manner he conceded the last 5 goals prelude the Spurs game. And the 2 goals against Spurs? I felt like flogging Vermaelen already. He was so culpable and unfocused that AVB needed to do little through Defoe and Bale to easily exploit our weakness and cost us a match we never looked like losing. And when Wenger made those changes, Boy, I was confident! And I still am. I can’t see us missing out on Saint Totteringham’s Day this year. Consistency is the key and I’m totally with you on this one Dave. Thanks.
    PS, interesting stats though.

  7. It is always nice to read something which gives us belief and confidence of finishing above spuds. All wishes for spuds to continue their season ending freefall down the table and remain forever in our shadow.

    And for that to actually happens, may wenger gets his selection of players right on the match day and may the selected players are switched on whole 90 minutes plus stoppage time.

    Amen!

  8. Interesting read as always Dave. I do believe the 3rd spot is very much in our hands now. If we miss out, it’s totally on us. We just need to keep winning our games and not bother about Chelsea or Spurs, any falters from them both is simply a bonus. Cheers mate!!

  9. Nice read Dave. The game against Bayern was a Fabianski show. Not just in terms of saves, but also in terms of communication. Shouting out about the gaps in the defence and pointing out players unmarked, For me he is the biggest change. Szcezny will be a good keeper. But probably his inexperience and the defenders seniority doesn’t work well for him. This is the precise reason why we need a organiser at the back. No names , either a keeper or a CB who is constantly looking out and getting people into shape.

    Both Mertesacker and Walcott said recently that the team has been communicating more. That for me just proves what many have been doubting. We don’t have leadership on the field. I would have thought TV is a natural leader. Watched a few games again and he is good individually but sometime flies solo. It took one defeat in which we gave away stupid goals for us to realise our shortcomings in defence. Really hope we don’t forget these learnings start of next season.

  10. Dave, nice work again. I loved the post Spurs quotes off the web. On the subject of Gibbs v Monreal I have to say I don’t think it’s a tough call, it’s Gibbs all day for me. Nacho’s goal doesn’t make up for his error at Spurs and his mistake early on at Swansea. I think for the remainder of this season it’s Gibbs’ position but from August it may be a different story.

    1. Michael I tend to agree. However if he persists with playing Santi on left which I hate he could go with the 2 Spaniards. I would rather see Gibbs and Lukas or see Podolski given a run at striker. Just needs to stick with his choice but yes Gibbs all day.

      1. I have found his obsession with linking Cazorla and Monreal a little soft. Podolski is criticised for his lack of effort but Cazorla hardly defends. I think there is more to this than meets the eye as I’m not expecting Podolski to be there next season.

  11. Thanks Dave, liked it very much. We definitely have a better run in than Spurs but I’d hate us to count our chickens. My heart says we can finish above them, my head says, I hope we don’t get any injuries in this International break because we need everyone fit. It is gonna be very tight.

  12. Good piece Dave. But I’m not going to judge one slip up from Spurs as a given that a downward spiral is in the making. We need to do well at all our games from now till end if season. So same applies to Spurs or any other club within our table range.

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