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Need to make a bigger leap in 2013/14

Need to make a bigger leap in 2013/14

The 2012/13 season review has probably been done a million times now but here’s one more.

The reason I’m still doing this, despite being so very late to the party is because of my own sense of closure. Without doing this, I cannot let go of the season that just ended. A season which resembled a lot like the previous seasons, just with more tension and a little smaller margin to play with.

In the end, the club achieved yet another Champions League qualification. Yes, there’s still a play-off to contend with. However, given our seeding, it is unlikely that we’ll face any trouble beating whichever team pitted against us. There needs to be a separation of the end result versus that of our situation/ambition.

In July/August 2012, the target was surely to move the club closer to the top and try to bridge that huge gap between us and the Manchester clubs. In a way, that is achieved by reducing the gap from 20 points in 2011/12 to 16 points in 2012/13. The drop in position from 3rd to 4th might be negligible but qualification to CL was achieved earlier than the just concluded season.

If we are to judge the club from February onwards, then it was a remarkable achievement by the manager and the team to be able to clinch 4th spot. We were so far away, no one gave us a ghost of a chance. For the first time since Arsene Wenger took charge at Arsenal, my confidence wasn’t positive about being in the top 4. Yet, the team did managed to do what was required and for that, they too deserved plenty of praise.

We started off on the wrong foot.

We let that Dutch striker go. For me that was the right decision because of the statement he put out. Till this day, every time I think about that statement, it just creates anger within me. From then onwards, it was about making the right replacement to ensure that we don’t suffer because of the departure of the source of so many of our goals the season before.

It was not an individual effort that replaced the United man, but a collective effort from the 3 new signings that did the job. 102 goals were scored in 2012/13 compared to 95 in 2011/12. Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier had a combined total of 45 goals that bettered the Dutchman’s singular contribution of 37 goals in 2011/12.

We won as many league games as we did in the both season, 21 each. It was the draw and loss column that switched place. 10 draws and 7 defeats from the reversal of those 2 numbers, the season before. Improvement in terms of the number of goals conceded, 12 goals less were allowed to breach our defence. That, was helped by incredible run in the last 10 league games of the season, conceding only 5 goals in that sequence.

Many have point out that the improvement centred around the change of personnel within the defence. The temporary removal of Wojciech Szczesny to keep him in focus and the complete removal of Thomas Vermaelen to accommodate a more compatible pairing in the centre of defence. As Arseblog said in his blog, perhaps it was down to the fact that the players saw and realise that even the captain’s poor performance won’t be tolerated.

That move allowed the players to understand that anyone is replaceable. No place in the starting XI is guaranteed. We started to see a better working attitude from the players. Possession were not surrendered easily and sloppiness kicked out of the squad. This, coming on the back of poor performances earlier in the season which led to a high number of goals conceded due to individual errors.

However, lest we forget, we did have a very good defensive start to the season. Something which I’ll like to attribute to the maturing Per Mertesacker. Maturing in the sense that he grasped what was required to be a successful defender in the Premier League and worked on it. He knew that he had to be precise with his positioning to accommodate his lack of pace. Really top, top performance from the big German this season. If I’ve got one criticism of him, it would be that he should stop letting high ball bounce.

The remarkable end to the league season meant that on paper, we have at least achieved par for course. It is in the cup runs which we suffered more traumatic heartaches. The double domestic exits at the hands of Bradford and Blackburn respectively, were hard ones to swallow. Against teams in lower leagues, it is only fair to expect the team to win. The manner of those 2 defeats is the one that rankles the most. The attitude were appalling and the players just didn’t try hard enough.

If we analyse on an individual level, there are not many players who can look back at this season as a whole and be proud of their work. One man who can is Cazorla. I’m still over the moon that we’ve managed to sign the little magician. The people who says he’s a cheap version of Mata or Hazard or Silva; just do not see him in action enough. He’s better than the 3 of them and I’m not saying that because he’s one of us now.

The fact that the Spaniard slotted in seamlessly right from the first whistle, was nothing short of amazing. Many skilful players will struggle to adapt to the physical nature of the English game in their 1st season but not Cazorla. 38 league matches and 37 starts, is a testament to that fact. I just love the fact that he’s ambidextrous. No extra touch/time taken, just to get the ball on a favoured foot. I look forward to seeing more of him next season.

There are those who are consistent in their game and just like Mertesacker in defence, Mikel Arteta was the man in midfield. Known as the metronome midfielder, Arteta had to switch position to cover for the departure of Alex Song. He was professional enough to accept the role change without kicking up a fuss. Another one without the pace to burn but acclimatised by using his clever reading and positioning in the game.

Others like Kieran Gibbs, Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott all had decent seasons. Depending on how you look at it, I considered them (except for Giroud, cause I didn’t watch Montpellier last season) to have done better than they did the season before. It’s a matter of continuous progression and the British lads are young enough for that to happen.

Then, there are those who disappoint. Vermaelen has never had a consistent season except for his debut season but has really failed to live up to expectations this season. He isn’t winning tackles like he used to and that frustrations boils over and he concedes a lot of unnecessary free kicks. A pre season for Steve Bould to work some magic to Vermaelen; either to rediscover his form or to change the way the Belgian plays.

Another experienced figure who failed to hit the same heights that he normally does, is Bacary Sagna. Maybe it’s the two broken legs that he suffered the season before, that cause him to lose his physical prowess. Or maybe the contract situation hanging over his head is troubling him. If there’s a match which we remember him for his contribution, it will be that one at the Stadium of Light, at centre back. A position which I don’t mind seeing him move into.

There are others who haven’t been physically fit enough to make a proper consistent contribution to the team. Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby falls within this category. Hopes are that Wilshere will be alright with another pre season but the axe surely have to fall on Diaby. It’s a pity what has happened to his career but we cannot afford to have passengers in the first team.

If I’m to summarize the season as a whole, the word I’m looking for is “stagnant”. There are minor improvements here and there. The team is working much more collectively and there’s no denying that we have a much better team spirit. The stagnation part comes from the fact that we have not make a giant leap forward/ahead and there’s still a sizeable gap between us and the Manchester clubs.

C+. A grade I hate to see on my scorecard and I hope it’s the same for the management (not that I expect them to see this).