If it had not been for such a difficult start to the season, Arsenal would now be fighting for the title.
And, that includes the loss of points against Wolves at home (unfortunate) and Fulham away (well deserved). The last few games have been disappointing, but Arsenal have gathered 29 points in their last 13 games and during the process it was able to pre-qualify for the CL against a very good Udinese, and win their CL-group against strong opposition with style and dominance.
Yet, it appears to be hard for so many fans to see the bigger picture, to let the past go and lower expectations a bit, to see the progress made, to accept that this is a forced-upon transitional year for us, and to be a bit more philosophical and grateful for what has been achieved since the start of October. Now there is a bit of time for the team to take stock and to re-focus again on the rest of the season. Soon, Arsenal will get back to winning ways, because all the ingredients are there, and Wenger is building another team that can go all the way.
So, how can Arsenal make the next step up in the New Year?
Twelve wishes for 2012 (in no particular order):
Full return to fitness of Wilshere: I love our midfield of Arteta, Ramsey and Song (ARS), but Wilshere offers additional skills that we are missing at times.
He is a born leader and fighter and, most importantly, he can pick a pass anytime, anywhere. The others are not bad at this either, in fact they are pretty good, but Jack is the young master. After Fabregas’ and Nasri’s departures, it was very cruel to lose him as well to a long-term injury. His imminent return will add a much needed other dimension to our football.
The return to fitness of our first choice FB’s: These are sorely missed at the moment, and it is just such bad luck that all four of our FB’s obtained long lasting injuries at the same time. As soon as Sagna and Santos are back in our team, Arsenal will become significantly stronger. Arsenal really struggle without proper FB’s and it is one of the main reasons we got so few points out of the festive season games.
The assimilation of the ‘mini-teams’: I have written before about the ‘New Arsenal’ consisting of three mini-teams at the moment: GK + defence, Midfield (ARS) and Attack: The Gerv, RvP and Theo. All three teams have stuck to their tasks well, but it is now time for some fluidity between the lines. I like the midfield to get more involved in supporting the attack by claiming ‘the hole’ area back and scoring more goals in the process. The return of our first choice FB’s will also help us to get more fluidity and diversity in our attacking play, which can only lead to more assists and goals.
More goals per game: our overreliance on RvP scoring the majority of our goals has to be reviewed and mitigated. We have been here before with Thierry Henry during his last few seasons. Arsenal has been a tad unlucky with strikers since the departure of Henry. Eduardo looked so promising for us, but THAT injury meant we never saw the best of him. Adebayor got carried away at a young age and it appeared he did not fit into our team as he clashed with too many fellow players. We got good money for him, and I believe he had to go, but we lost a very decent number two to RvP in the process. Bendtner got almost everybody fooled with his promise that at 24-25 years of age he will be the best in the world, and Chamakh, after such a promising start in 2010, has totally lost his confidence, and it seems almost impossible for him to find a way back now. A real shame.
But goals do not just come from strikers, they need to come for our wingers and midfielders, and defenders, as well. One of my biggest wishes is to see the whole team make a step-up this year, by taking more of the chances that we create. Theo, The Gerv, Ramsey, Arteta, Song, Wilshire, The Ox, and many others as well, all have the potential to become more lethal in front of goal. The Ox has only just joined us, but I hope all the others will improve significantly this year.
Buy a very decent no.2 striker, ideally in January: Campbell and Park are future prospects, but are not available or ready to be the first replacement for RvP in case of injury, suspension or fatigue. Chamakh does not seem to be able to claim this role anymore. TH2012 is a very good short-term option, but it would be great if Arsène can find us another gem of a nr.2 striker as soon as possible.
Keep our phenomenal spine together: our spine of Szczesny – Koz/TV/BFG – Song/Arteta – Wilshere/Ramsey – RvP can compete with any team in the PL and Europe. It is really important that Arsenal get all of these players on long-term contracts. As far as I know, the contracts of Szczesny, Song and RvP need to be renegotiated as soon as possible, so we can have some stability in our team for years to come.
THOF to become a fortress: I still can get so disappointed when I think that the Mancs won the PL last season whilst only winning four games away all season. Our away record was fantastic but our home record was not. It takes a long time for a new stadium to become a proper home, to become a fortress where visiting teams fear to play and three points are almost a given. The club needs to develop a strategy to increase the noise levels: it’s not easy but very necessary.
Finish in the top-four in 2012 and go all the way in the 2012-2013 season: I have every confidence that Arsene will guide this new team into a top-four spot again by the end of the season. We had a bad start, but since then Arsenal has done very well and we are now only one point away from the top-four. With Arsène’s experience and a lot of players returning from injury, and all the big teams having to come to us, I am confident we can do it again. And it would be quite an achievement after our horrible start. I expect us to start the 2012-2013 PL campaign as title contenders from the start.
A good cup run, and maybe win something this season: as we are going through a transitional year, I am not too confident we can win the FA-Cup or the CL-Cup. But, on the day, when most of our key players are fit, we can beat any team, and with a bit of luck we could get far this season.
More youngsters to make the grade now (words copied from GiE’s post on 3 Jan): We have a great Youth-Academy and it’s bearing fruit now with the likes of Wilshere, Frimpong, Bartley, Lansbury, Miquel, Coquelin. I don’t really think we should be investing too much in squad players from now on (these roles can be filled by youngsters) and instead focus on players to improve the first team.
Arsène to sign a new long-term contract: I would like Wenger to be given another three years to develop this new team into something special. Wenger has his mistakes, but he is the best match for the role of manager at Arsenal and we are so luck to have him. My biggest worry is that Real Madrid won’t win anything important again this year under Mourinho and they will try to lure Wenger away from Arsenal.
The return of Dennis Bergkamp, as an Assistant Manager: all is not well at Ajax, and Dennis is witnessing ugly political infighting between many of the greats of this fantastic club. There is quite a chance that the Iceman will end up on the losing side, or will simply decide to quit his role altogether at Ajax. If this were to be the case, Arsene should act and get the now fully qualified Bergkamp back to where he really belongs: the mighty Arse!
Most of the above wishes are realistic and achievable, and I am sure you’ll allow me the indulgent dream of DB’s return to our club!
Keep believing fellow Gooners and a very happy New Year to you all!