On the eve of the return of the EPL, I ask you this: what do you really expect of Arsenal this season? I’ll keep my own thoughts on the matter private (unless you follow me on Twitter) as I don’t want to create bias. It seems our entire squad has a new look and feel to it, despite undergoing minor changes. For now, the first team is a good blend of youth with experience, but there comes a time when you realize that no matter how hard you work, there will always be something missing from a side, and I extend that statement to apply to any team in any sport in the world.
You see it when Barcelona play Real Madrid in the hallowed El Clasico. When the two are facing other opposition, they look unbeatable, but together it seems one always cancels the other out by the end of the match. Whether it’s Ronaldo sealing the match with beautiful skill, Xavi’s chemistry with Iniesta dominating midfield, or some unknown factor, there’s no such thing as a perfect football side.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this. Who cares if there’s no perfect team in football? Well, it’s a bigger problem than you think. There simply isn’t a way to create a squad capable of overcoming any challenge thrown at them. Roberto Mancini tries the hardest out of any manager to build a team that’s “complete” but it’s never worked out, and for good reason; having 18 superstars on one team will always create problems, unless you can find a way to fit them all on the pitch, all the time.
We’re a team of possession; passing and moving is what we do, and we do it well.
“This football club is all about flair, attacking flair at pace. Allowing boys to be brave and express themselves. My personal philosophy is still the same – to get the ball down and play, to get the ball played on the floor. Thankfully, that’s what it is here.”
We’re a team who have 10 players well capable of attacking at all times, and that creates defensive weakness. Yes, our problems have been massaged by the arrival of Steve Bould, but it would be outlandish to say that our back line has been rehabilitated over the space of two months. You could see at Anfield that at times we were holding on by the skin of our teeth, keeping our advantage through a combination of defensive resilience and good luck, with young Raheem Sterling rattling a brilliant effort off the post. We’re getting better, but we’re still well off of the days of Bould and Adams shutting out any team at a whim.
Not to say that we haven’t improved as a team in almost every aspect, we have. You see it on the pitch. There are more leaders in the team, players who know they have to fight for each other and themselves if they want to be successful. Gone is the “one man team” mantra that has hung over our heads for ages. We’re now a team who knows that there are no “easy wins” and no reasons to lose. We stand up to be counted and admit our mistakes. This season is Arsenal reborn, a team with a new outlook and philosophy.
What we do need to work on is attacking cohesion. Every time I’ve mentioned our forwards I’ve stressed patience is key, but maybe it’s not what we should be doing. Maybe we should set the bar extremely high, and let the team have at it.
Crowds have profound effects over matches, that much is obvious. Take the second leg of our CL game vs. AC Milan. We’d gone to the San Siro and embarrassed ourselves in a 4-0 rout. It was too easy for the Rossoneri. They thought the end result was beyond doubt, that they were through to the quarter finals without a hitch. What they got when they came to the Emirates was almost one of the greatest comeback stories of this decade. Our boys came out hungry and willing to give it all, in one last-ditch attempt to win what should have been rightfully theirs. The fans had the Emirates hopping, it was a sight behold even from behind a tv screen. Everybody went to that ground expecting the best possible showing of what we can do, no matter that opposition. We were rewarded with a performance that still raises hairs on the back of my neck. What that match showed is that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to have confidence in yourself, and to expect nothing but the best. Maybe our team should act like this more often. Instead of going for the perfect play, lay siege on the opposition, hold nothing back.
We shouldn’t go into each match wondering who will concede first, but if we’ll win by 4 or 5 this time. There shouldn’t be a single doubt in anyone’s mind that we can walk about champions. The best teams in the world have this attitude and arrogance, so why can’t we?
Raise your expectations people, the Arsenal have returned.