Well supporting your team really can take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions can it not?
On Saturday I travelled to London excited but simultaneously nervous ahead of the visit of Liverpool and 5 days later I sit at my desk still grinning as I type after an amazing snatch and grab in Dortmund, contemplating my trip Old Trafford this weekend in bullish mood. It is not a bullishness born out of my usual over optimism however but more built on an increasing confidence in the maturity of the team and its new found ability to defend.
The point is that the organizational ability of the back 5 and their belief in themselves has been there since March but that was not enough. As Alan Hansen so annoyingly but accurately reflected, this team still had the ability to shoot itself in the foot. Now the fans may have been irritated by the BBC and the bitter Scot but only the foolish would ignore the truth of his observations. Arsenal’s back 5 however well marshalled on the pitch by Mertesacker, now totally at ease with the pace of our league, have still too often been guilty of lapses in concentration and rash decision making.
Individually I feel based solely on ability our first choice 4 are a match for most defenders in the Premier League and Szczesny has improved beyond all recognition this season. However where we have suffered in the past and still this season has been with individual error, poor decisions and the afore mentioned lapses in concentration. I have said before and proved it that statistically that if you concede more than 36 goals in the league season you are highly unlikely to win the league. Keeping clean sheets as much as winning breeds confidence and instills a belief in the offensive minded players we have to go and enjoy their football, create and express themselves.
In short potential champions do not:
– Allow Darren Bent space in the box when we are 3 Nil up at home and the game is won.
– Lunge into a penalty box challenge on the edge of the area when you are away from home at Sunderland.
– Fail to close down Cameron on the edge of the area and allow him to shoot at home v Stoke
– Allow a full back to run unchallenged on a to give and go in the penalty area late in the game v Swansea
– Only half clear a loose ball to the edge of the area straight to Howson v Norwich.
But they do:
– Shut out Tottenham and limited them so only efforts from outside the area.
– Stop the most inform strike partnership with 14 goals between them from scoring.
The reality is all 5 of the games where error or lack of concentration cost us a goal it did not cost us the game and we won all 5 – Fulham, Sunderland, Stoke, Swansea and Norwich.
The question is, if those 5 teams were Chelsea, Everton, Southampton, Man City or Man United would be have gone on to win the matches having gifted a lead, or allowed the opposition back into a game? Last season one might have had doubts on that question.
If it is just as case that our players are more hyped for the big games that is unacceptable because keeping clean sheets can be as much of a habit as winning football matches. Equally complacency when winning games can be costly even if it has not proved to be so yet in the Premier League, barring the freak Villa game.
The good news is that in the past 5 days we have shown remarkable concentration and have defended brilliantly against 2 of the best attacking sides we are likely to play. Say what you want about Liverpool but they have been scoring for fun and what we achieved last night in Germany will have made the footballing world sit up an begin to take us seriously. Very few pundits have ever doubted Arsene Wenger’s ability to produce attacking fluency but most would have questioned his record in producing effective defensive units, post 2006 in particular.
The reality is that despite many fans calling for striking reinforcements in January it is my belief that our ability to genuinely challenge for this title will be decided by our ability to keep clean sheets or at least to minimize the goals conceded against our rivals. I confidently predicted that this season we will be only the second side in Premier league history to have 5 players hit double figures in the league but that on its own will not bring the glory we crave. This current side needs to maintain the recent concentration level and its mean streak through November and December when we face the sterner tests. That starts this weekend at Old Trafford and I will be checking the football betting markets online for the odds on Arsenal keeping a third clean sheet against a potential rival.
I would have to say however that I am slightly less comfortable with our defensive replacements than I am with our attacking alternatives when fit. I want to be convinced by Jenkinson, but I am not yet and whilst Vermaelen is still a class act on his day, it is how he performs in a partnership with either first choice than concerns me. I am more than content with Monreal on the bench and he has performed well when called upon.
It would not be one of my pieces without the customary historical research/precedents so here it comes:
Arsenal title winners in my lifetime, at the back:
Arsenals, after 10 games without playing City, Chelsea or United are on track to concede 34 goals and to score 83. I confidently predict that that would win the Premiership of take us VERY close. If however we concede more than 36 I would be astonished if we won this league. So watch the goals conceded column and if we are under 17 on Boxing Day evening half way through, having played everyone WE ARE ON!
The key question is can we maintain the new mean streak through the sterner tests to come? The answer I hope is yes but I do feel it is hugely dependent on the fitness of the current first choice back four. I would be looking for Wenger to bring in a right sided defender ahead of a striker and I know that puts me in a tiny minority and for crying out loud find out what Sagna wants and give it to him Arsene. No one in the squad deserves it more.
Let’s begin with a clean sheet on Sunday with the added incentive of preventing our ex skipper score. 1 Nil to the Arsenal will do nicely and the best odds in the Premier League are here.
Like what you read? Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter – http://twitter.com/goonerdave66