I have a strange hope growing for the second half of this season. Arsenal are now officially the Premier League’s darkhorse. Ignore the pundits, other mangers are, and for good reason. Fans get too caught up in starts and stops, but as any manager will tell you, the season is long and much can still happen with four competitions on the line. Arsenal aren’t “there” yet, but they are closer in talent than the season so far suggests and mentally, they’re only getting stronger.
Expectations for this current team have been everywhere, especially after the horrid start to the season. What’s interesting, however, is that Arsenal’s bad start might just bode well this season. How often have we watched the team have a good start only to flame out in the second half of the season?
But this might just be the year of the surprise.
Keeping it real…
I’m not naive, this team isn’t the greatest squad. But it has something that has been missing for quite a while: guts & heart. Adding four new starters (Arteta, Gervinho, Mertesacker, and Santos) and things are bound to be confusing for awhile. For some reason people were under the impression that the team would explode onto the scene with the new signings.
But that really made no sense. Anyone that has ever played on any group sport knows it takes time to learn about your teammates. Arsenal need that time. So yes, things are a bit shaky right now. Yes, the defense isn’t quite there (side note: can we keep Song in the defense? more on that in another post) but all that matters is Arsenal are learning to win. Learning to win in the midst of incredible pressure from fans and media; pressure compounded by the horrible start to the season; oh, and a wicked attack of the injuries.
But through it all, they’re learning to gut it out. One game at a time. Sure, the quality isn’t right, and the organization goes AWOL at times. But Gooners should be pleased. For the last couple of years we’ve started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Good teams get stronger as the season toils. They find ways to win.
Arsenal finally have a chance to be that team.
This is a second half squad
This team has second half rise written all over it. Arteta is becoming the team’s pivot point. Gervinho is still getting comfortable. Mertesacker has the poise in the backline we’ve been waiting for. Santos is a veteran of quality. And they all just met about a month ago.
As for the youngsters, Ramsey isn’t back yet. But give him some time. He desperately needs more games (and confidence). And, Frimpong isn’t quite ready yet to impose himself as a defensive midfielder -for instance, he still hits when he should tackle, but that’s a holdover of playing with youngsters, he’ll improve. Oh, and this AOC kid seems to have long-term brilliance potential. Wilshere is out, but should come back just when we’ll need his energy. Diaby is still out, but returns soon as well, just when we need depth with a player that knows the system.
And that’s one of our biggest issues, depth. Depth with grit. When the season hits in full force in January and Arsenal are knee deep in four competitions; when the season is going down to the wire for the four places to qualify and ManCiteh are self-destructing; Chelsea are feeling their age; Liverpool are finally learning how little talent they actually have; and, ManU becomes exhausted, Arsenal will just be starting to gel with a squad that has the grit to succeed.
One more pickup
There is, of course, still a need. There is still a need for that creative spark to gather the team. Arsene seems to know this, with his eye on Goetze, Hazard, Parejo and who knows who else. And, I won’t be surprised if another creative spark is added in January, but I won’t try to guess who.
But Gooners should be excited. One young super star on this squad in the January window might be the spark to launch the Club forward. So as we watch the Arsenal these next few months, judge them not on how well the win. Judge them on whether the grow game to game; whether they learn to gut out games. Because it’s a long season.