I think over the last few years some fans have formed the opinion that we are stagnant and it’s “same old, same old Arsenal” with no improvements. In the last five years our league position has been 4, 4, 3, 4, 3. So looking only at that this, the point seems valid. This theory is further strengthened by the fact that we’ve not won any Cups in this period and by our relative lack of big name signings.
In effect, five years no trophies, always there or thereabouts – same old Arsenal.
It is however, interesting to note that the Premiership has become stronger with each passing year. So it can be said that any team that maintains its position in the League is naturally improving. Let’s explore this further.
Firstly, there is no doubt the money coming into the Premier League these days is much higher than the other leagues around Europe. Given the fact that the TV monies are shared across clubs, even the smaller clubs get a fair amount and have been able to spend in order to strengthen.
Secondly, following Wenger’s lead, the approach to fitness and training across Premier League clubs has changed a lot over the years. Even smaller clubs have players who are quick and have exceptional stamina.
Finally, again Arsene is the culprit here, all clubs now have plenty of top class foreign players. Some clubs have also signed excellent managers from abroad.
While we didn’t like it that Wigan beat us last year or the manner of the defeat, they also took scalps of Chelsea and Liverpool at home and drew with City. West Brom made 10 changes to their side but they beat moneybags City in the Carling Cup a few weeks ago. There are plenty of such examples where expensively assembled squads have been humbled by smaller teams. This shows the smaller teams now have a great deal of depth and a much stronger spirit.
All this put together has made the Premiership the toughest league to win. I won’t say technically it’s the best league but physically and mentally it is the most demanding. Even technically, it is much better than earlier due to the arrival of many foreign players.
There is another way of looking at this as well. For the last few years, most pundits and some bloggers have been writing Arsenal off. Other teams spend money and they improve. Logic says they will surpass Arsenal. At the end of the season they’re proven wrong year after year.
Simple enough, because Arsenal have been improving as well! We’ve been improving tactically, technically, mentally, physically, and by adding the right players. Can anyone deny that Song, Cesc, Diaby, Walcott, Wilshere, and others are not better than what they were a year or two ago? As they’ve grown up many of our players have become stronger, faster, and more experienced. These improvements make an obvious difference on the pitch.
When Arsene says buying is not always the solution, some fans don’t get the point. But those who look back at the way the League and Arsenal have evolved can clearly see what Le Boss is trying to say.
Let’s explore even further.
In 2001-02 we did the double. It was an excellent Arsenal side. That team made history by going an entire season unbeaten away from home in the Premier League.
In contrast, last season Chelsea – despite the money they’ve spent, their star names, their winning mentality, and all that – lost 5 games away from home.
It would be easy to say that the Arsenal side from 01-02 was better than last season’s Chelsea squad.
Interestingly, that same Arsenal side that did the double in England lost all three away games in the first round of the Champions League against Mallorca, Panathanaikos, and Schalke! We barely qualified to the second round on the basis of goal difference.
This is how the Guardian match report about our visit to Greece started,
Arsenal’s hopes of even progressing to the second round of the Champions League, let alone fulfilling their lofty ambitions of challenging Europe’s best, look forlorn after another dismal, insipid and at times pitiful display on foreign soil.
In those days the second round was a group phase. Arsenal got knocked out and teams like Deportivo La Coruna and eventual finalists Bayer Leverkusen got through. We lost two away games and a home game, also drawing the third away game.
In contrast, last year Chelsea waltzed through their group phase against teams like Athletico Madrid and Porto. They too lost in the second round but only against a highly defensive Inter side that went on to win the title.
To me, this difference has come about because more and more good players are coming to the Premier League, even to the smaller teams, because of the wages they can get here and the brand of the League. The Premiership has become stronger and that means the top teams in the League find it much easier in Europe when compared to 7-10 years ago.
These days Arsenal fans take wins in the first round for granted and the losses only come when we play a weakened team after qualification has been secured. A couple of seasons ago wins over sides like Roma and Villareal were considered par for the course. In the last three years, quarter-final, semi-final, and quarter-final appearances in the Champions League didn’t even get much respect from some fans.
When you put it all together, it’s pretty clear that Arsenal have made significant improvements.