Whilst trying to treadmill my consumed daily calories off yesterday lunchtime, I listened to the excellent Arsecast Extra from Monday and aside from the usual humour from the two hosts, there was one interesting question that a listener posed. It was one in which was a toughie to be asked on the spot, asking whether or not Arsenal had gone backwards this season, or words to that effect. Naturally James and Andrew discussed and debated with thoughtful musings, but the question has been going around in my head since yesterday afternoon, so I thought I’d do some ‘out loud’ thinking for you.
I suppose the question on whether we have made any progress depends on your state of mind towards the club and probably more specifically the manager. Those that feel his time has come and he should have abdicated long ago, will tell you that we have stagnated, maybe even moved backwards compared to last year because we haven’t really challenged for the title this year at all.
In the cold light of day it’s hard not to disagree with the fact we’ve never really looked like challenging, owing in part to Chelski’s form early season and our failure to keep up, labouring to too many draws. But simply dismissing our season because we haven’t competed as closely to the oil whoring clubs is a bit too simplistic a stick with which to conveniently beat the manager with this season, I think. If you flip it around and look at the points tally, as well as the possibility of finishing second or third, there will be those staunch supporters of the manager that will argue that a finish on those grounds represents a slight climb in the league and therefore a positive season. Again, too simplistic to measure one season on a single metric or a couple of metrics based on where your allegiances lie.
Football – as Arsène has pointed out – is about unpredictabilities, emotions and the intangibles, as much as it is about the data. That’s why as a fan, I change my mind so often, veering from “I do wonder if the manager has run his race”, to “maybe Arsène should get one more crack at it”. This season alone has seen me swing from one side to another and in a way 2014/15 has been a concentrated metaphor of Arsène’s second half of his reign at the club. There has been what feels like some quite low ‘lows’, but these have been tempered with some quite high ‘highs’, particularly since Christmas.
But what does this mean in terms of whether we’ve gone backwards or are treading water? Are we simply stagnating?
I don’t think so. Only this morning I saw a Tweet from a fellow Gooner saying they are less fussed about the upcoming transfer window than they’ve ever been before and I have to say, I am in agreement with them, because I finally feel like we have a squad strong enough for a level of rotation that even Arsène could be happy with. Sure, we’ve ballsed up this season with the pre-Christmas malaise, but the level of injuries we had at one time felt unprecedented to my untrained eyes. I look at Physioroom.com quite a lot to see their Premier League Injury Table (it goes some way towards feeling that common football ailment of feeling your club is more hard-done-by than others) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen us top the league so much with such a high volume of injuries as we did at the start of the season. At one point we were up to 17. SEVENTEEN! That’s like 75% of a squad!
My point here is not to argue the misfortunes of fate, but merely to point out that I feel that our level of injuries have been greater than ever before this season, or at least it feels it. Yet it could still be seen as a positive season if we win the FA Cup and finish third. As I said above, I am a fan who changes dependent on the circumstance and at this moment in time there is still hope, but it’s also hope for next season too. It’s hope for next season because through the multitude of injuries there have been players who have forced their way into the first team and have, in doing so, strengthened us greatly since that dark start to the season. Bellerin and Coquelin have added squad depth through more game time and maturity in their performances. Do you think the Coquelin from the start of this season will be the one at the end of next season? I don’t. I think that through the injury crisis the green shoots of a very strong team have emerged, so on that basis, I would say that ultimately I don’t think we have gone backwards. Even if there is no FA Cup to show for it. Even if we finish on the same points tally and get the same league position as we’ve become synonymous with. I still think we’ve made progress.
Perhaps it’s just blind faith, hope and optimism. What do you think?