Success is an anomaly. It cannot be achieved over-night. It is the result of hard-work, determination and self belief and only then can it be truly felt or perceived.
Arsenal, nearly a decade of hard-work and determination later, are closer to it than anyone else. Our recent run of form is not so recent considering that, barring defeat at Aston Villa, we’ve been undefeated since the trip away to Munich in March. It is testament to the pragmatic approach taken by Arsène Wenger that we are now winning back to back games with some of our first team players out injured.
‘The deeper the foundations, the stronger the fortress’, and certainly the foundations of this team were laid out from the back. It is not a coincidence that we had the 2nd best defense in the league last season and now that dissilient pod of self-doubt seems to have burst. Surety at the back has seeped through the team and helped them play with a certain flair which wasn’t there before. Arsenal lack a striker; we played most of last season with only one proper striker and have continued it into this season, though not for lack of trying to add another. The contribution from our midfield has increased so much, that we don’t feel the lack of a proper striker when Giroud is not firing.
Another positive of switching to a defensive approach is that Arsenal aren’t ‘uni-directional’ anymore. This essentially means we are able to play much better without the ball than we used to against teams who tend to control possession well, without getting frustrated. We are now much more decisive with the ball and know how to make possession count when we get the ball back. Off the ball play is as important as playing with it, because players play most of the match without it. This has been evident in games versus Stoke, Marseille and Swansea where we’ve made playing with lower possession count and use the counter attack, where we move through the gears and hit the opposition before they know what happened.
This team is now slowly going back to the type of football we usually associate with Arsène Wenger’s sides. Controlling the game and playing it at our own pace. This is something we’ve always been good at, be it against a 2nd string side or a top level one. The difference now is that we’ve managed to develop a second style to our game, or rather re-discover it under our manager. This was something the Invincibles were very good at. The notion that Arsène Wenger doesn’t adapt to the evolving game is as accurate as claiming that Chelsea play beautiful football. The Boss obviously went back to the drawing board last season when he saw that this team no longer had the cutting edge required to open up resolute defenses.
There is now a feel-good-factor about this team, quite simply because it is a team and not a collection of individuals brought together for insane amounts of money. This squad of functionally, technically and tactically astute players has been together for 2 very good seasons now, and the core for much longer. Arsène has managed to build another side that strikes the perfect balance of youth, experience and world class.
It’s the CheerLeader Effect and in the good way. If you asked a random person to pick out a world class player from our squad they’d say Mesut Ozil and probably Santi Cazorla, but if you asked anyone who’s watched Arsenal consistently they’d name most of the squad. Our players fit the system we play perfectly and as a result look like World Class players in their respective positions. We are no longer dependent on one single player for goals, or for one player to try and change the game. This has probably been Wenger’s biggest strength for me; consistently building sides capable of truly World Class status, despite being financially restricted and completely written off on more than one occasion.
Football has evolved, tactics have evolved, formations have evolved and as a result the way we play the game has evolved. One thing that has remained constant is the philosophy. Most people confuse that with tactics, the tactics change but the philosophy doesn’t. The penchant for playing beautiful football at Arsenal is synonymous with the clubs values, its almost a tradition. Young footballers will always be given their fair chance at the club, our manager is responsible for developing some truly World Class players, which in turn is a strong factor in attracting new talent to North London.
Our Chickens have finally come home to Roost, and aren’t they beautiful? Having to lose your chickens every year, it takes a man of great will power to get up and build another roost. To do it with the consistency of man who hasn’t lost an ounce of his passion for the game is remarkable to say the least. For as long as I’ve been an Arsenal fan never have I seen such a cohesiveness in the squad, they know each other like the back of their palms, they’ve been bred to fit the Arsenal way by the man who defines the Arsenal way.
I’ve exhausted my superlatives but I feel Arsenal are on the brink of recreating the success of the Invincible years, probably not the same but a fine re-creation would do me. What scares me, is that this team might go on to achieve ridiculous heights. The kind of heights you relate with back-to-back title winning teams. Not winning the odd trophy every other year, but consistently pushing themselves to surpass their own limits and who knows we might achieve something great.
Not might. We will.