Have Arsenal Improved Or Are We Stagnant?

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.

Why?

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.


42 Responses to Have Arsenal Improved Or Are We Stagnant?

  1. BJA says:

    I am sick and tired of Wenger. I hear those stories how he pulled out of di maria deal at the last moment, had a meeting with cristiano ronaldo but didnt sign him and had a chance to buy drogba but didnt.Those three players are worth more than 150mln euros !!! We can say that at least he has bought Serge Gnabry,Wellington da Silva and Ramsey who are going to be superstars but you always want more.How did we miss on Paul Pogba again ? He is going to be a brilliant player.Lets buy Lacina Traore for a start, Monsieur Wenger ! He is probably worth around 5 millions and since he will be worth 50 millions in 5 years and considering we`ve made a 56 mln pounds profit it is not much money, isnt it? Spend some cash for your own good, Arsene !

  2. Duttlenheim says:

    @bja …. yeah well I’m quite certain Wenger is sick and tired of a nobody like you telling him how to do his job. You guys are even then ….. cheers

  3. jay says:

    well said desi i couldnt agree more a well thought out article, but i do still wish wenger would spend some more money a goalie maybe

  4. Steve Oloo in Tanzania says:

    You are bang on again, it was really frustrating to watch us being outplayed by European minnows back then only to wallop all and sundry in England enrout to the championship title. This was compounded by the fact that we had what the world over agrees was the best ever gunners squad of Henry,Vieira,Ljungberg, Pires,Edu and ofcourse the English backbone in defense! if you leave the 3-2 & 5-1 wins against celta vigo & Inter Milan respectively, there’s nothing else worthwhile!
    Now look at our so called ”Spineless” squad and boy do I luv how they zap’em all over Europe! So have we improved in Europe while taking a significant dip in England! Tell me Desi.

  5. Phil23 says:

    I’d like to add that our squad size and depth have grown hugely. We have a squad that can sustain up to 5 injuries at once (Unless to all key players) for a whole season. The competition for places is top notch which hasn’t often been the case. So what if we lost a game away to the champions with 4 of your best players out of the side. If we were at home with a near full squad and Chelsea came along with Drogba Malouda Lampard and Terry out we would expect a win and would not have put up with being dominated most of the game. I’m glad to see Nasri playing well for France. In a months time Arsenal will still be in all competitions and within touching distance of Cheslea. Other teams will face their own problems including Chelsea because it’s a long race. Good post Desi I am ashamed of fools like BJA who don’t belong on this sight.

  6. Karthik says:

    We have improved, certainly in the fans’ minds even if they don’t acknowledge it. Just compare the mood around blogs prior to visits to Sunderland and Blackburn last season and this one. Even depression mongers were more confident this time around. People must realise that Wenger has constructed an incredibly well-managed institution(for its capacity) and success is around the corner. Keep faith in Arsene. Arsene Knows.

  7. MSL says:

    Though we have kept up in pace with the ever improving EPL, the question is have we pulled ahead of the curve? This season is going to show us that. Previously, outside the top four, Spurs,Everton, Villa were the real tough opponents. This year we have a City and a pretty damn good Spurs’ squad.

    I had a few gripes with Wenger though. A goalkeeper and backline situation. We now look like we have a backline that is going to be in place for a long time.

    Another one I am not so sure about. Wenger is financially astute and hardlined. He won’t pay a damn dime over his valuation. This led us to not signing a few good players whose market value would have been much higher when sold. You know the names. Back then he had his hands tied and played by his rules. Now, I would like to see Wenger take a couple of punts with a few players who may be valued higher than he reckons.

    To reach a CL QF/SL stage with this squad is a huge achievement. Especially so if the players are built here for the most part, young and should have been purchased within value.

    One last thing about the winning mentality. Wenger is hell bent on winning his way and no other. When media pundits talk about Wenger’s winning attitude they mean that he is not putting pure winning above everything. He wants to win by playing a brand of football that he believes is the ‘right’ way. I like the club for many reasons but please can we put ends before the means? Let me know what you think about this.

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      I would say we should not put means over ends. It is the basic for Club’s success. Arsenal’ strength is now in their style. I dont know about England , i am very very sure outside England Arsenal without style would not be Arsenal at all and it will be just another club.

      You may have few points , but still you are basing your whole argument basing on what could have been’s and taking it for granted. It is not a given that if we change our style we will get a trophy . If that is the case probably Blackburn will win a trophy 😀 , i know that is an extreme case. I would like the argument better if you removed certainties.

      May be Jose Mourinho and defensive football could win things , not just defensive football.

      • MSL says:

        Nope, not assuming certainities of winning when playing a different way. Just asking if Wenger is willing to adapt a different game plan and sacrificing some of your play. Flexibility is quite important, wouldn’t you think? You have to admire the Chelsea side, the flexibility they have is remarkable.

  8. Ajinkya says:

    No doubt Arsenal are a great team. But I think the problem with us is not rotating the squad. You cannot field the same team again and again. Especially when the conditions are demanding, and there are so many cups to go for. Now Van Persie is out, consequently Chamakh will have to feature in every game and pick up injuries, it goes round and round. I think we are a good team but are unable to manage resources well.

    • Phil23 says:

      Don’t forget we have a third striker in Bendtner. Your taking a very dim view on our striker situation. We have three high level strikers to all fight it out over one position. Chelsea have two to fight it out over two spots. United have three strikers to fight over 3 spots. Liverpool only have Torres. City who have unlimited funds only have the same as us, Adebeyor Tevez and Balotelli.

  9. rickygunners says:

    Yeah improvement of course, but other teams also improve. Whatever you said will not change the thinking of other fans. A club like Arsenal not investing in players but surprisingly with a growing wage bill is not acceptable. Some players need to be let off to save up the money for world class players wage.

  10. GF60 says:

    Hit the nail on the head Desi. The article should be made compulsory reading for all the doom and gloomers who can’t see further than the end of their noses. Viera, Denis, Freddie,Thierry, Bobby et al couldn’t progress in the CL as far as we’ve been over the past 5 years. But, in fairness, and this is something we seem to have lost, in league games they did know how to get from our end of the pitch to having a shot in under 10 seconds. How do we get the best of both worlds?

  11. Me says:

    NEVER. Just look at the team from the 2007/2008 season

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007%E2%80%9308_Arsenal_F.C._season

    We are not stagnating, we are getting worse.

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      That does not make much sense. I feel we have come far off from that team. Most of the team is still the same with 2 years behind them. I reckon Cesc was not the same player he is. He has come long way from there. I cannot really think of a way in which you can justify the statement with the earlier squad.

      • Me says:

        Let’s take a look at the players.

        Almunia – Almunia
        Clichy before Birmingham – Clichy after Birmingham
        Sagna – Sagna (now a better version of him)
        Gallas – Koscielny (Gallas can eat him for breakfast)
        Toure – Vermaelen (Vermaelen is the better player)
        Flamini/Gilberto – Song (F/G miles better than Song)
        Fabregas – played pretty much on top of his game but is slightly better now
        Hleb – surely was better than Nasri
        Rosicky – much better before the injury
        Adebayor – Ten times better and more efficient than Chamakh
        Eduardo – at least played some games in contrary to van Persie

        We would surely, no doubt about it, won the title hadn’t it been for Martin Taylor. I’m still gutted about it and always will be, but I have to admit, this Arsenal team is some way off that of 2007/2008.

      • T2T says:

        Me, your comparison is interesting. If your memory has failed you, I’ll help: Every day, several bloggers kept critisising Hleb and we should get rid of him. Now, you think he is better than Nasri.

        In my opinion, today’s Arsenal squad is better than ever before. The difference is that we 5-9 years ago had better starting XI:
        Lehmann
        Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Clichy
        Ljungberg, Vieira, Gilberto, Pires
        Bergkamp, Henry

        I do believe that outside the starting XI, the next 20 or so players are better than what we had 7-8 years ago.

      • @Me ,
        I think you conveniently avoided whatever did not suit you.
        Or may be you are only talking about the starting line up, even in that case, i do not see Arshavin included anywhere in you r comparison.
        I accept first team is closer to what you say, but the current squad is miles better than the 2007/2008 squad. Most of the current squad was there in 2007/2008 too , but all those have come forward a long way including Cesc.
        I would certainly say we have much better squad now. Also our starting line up now is at least equivalent to that of the starting line up then.
        I think our probable best squad will be better than that of 2007/2008 squad i dont know what is our best squad now that is why i am not giving the players name :). The squad strength is what we have gained over years.

  12. Dan says:

    We haven’t improved, and such an assertion that we have is ludicrous.

    This current Arsenal team, even with its perennially injured key players playing, would get spanked silly by the Invincibles.

    This 4-5-1 system (and it is a 4-5-1 before any of you say it’s 4-3-3) is a joke and the philosophy of passing the ball into the back of the net hasn’t worked since its implementation five seasons ago.

    Wenger needs to go back to the model of the Invicibles and start by getting rid of the deadwood (Almunia, Fabianski, Eboue, Koscielny, Djourou, Song, Denilson, Diaby, RoSICKy, Bendtner and Co.).

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      Mate if building an invincible side is that easy , there should have been about few 100 invincible sides in the football history 😀 .

  13. Goonerist says:

    @BJA

    You stupid cunt!!! It’s one thing having frustrations with the team, like we all go, and another to say you are sick and tired of our manager. Look at the state Liverpool and Man Urd find themselves in at the moment, is that what you’d like? Look at Chelsea and City, they maybe enjoying their money now but what happens when their owners move on is anyones guess. We seem to be the only club thinking long term and you have to admire that.

    • Jayanta says:

      The state of Liverpool & Manu has nothing to do with football activity. It’s because, unfortunately they have fallen into the hand of people who want to make money out of sports. I hope same doesn’t happen to Arsenal, but doubt still persists as one of the major share holder ( Kroenka ) is here to make money.

      MANU is earning much more than Arsenal, they are saddled with debt servicing which is none of the fault of Fergie despite that compare his achievement for last 5 years to ours. Liverpool if you take away the debt servicing, they are not at any poorer position, again it has nothing to do with football activity.

      I still have greatest admiration of Arsene and belive he is the best person to take forward but
      what you do if he refuses to amend the lapses. I can’t hope much with Almunia, Song, Clichy, Signa. They will never be world class, you can’t make world class team without world class players. Its very very difficult to progress without a strong defence. Why he can’t find physically strong player.

      We are alaways in the loop but unable to push desicively and money was never a problem otherwise you don’t make profit atleast for last 3 years and clear the debt in haste which was schedule for long term. Here comes the rigidity of Arsene. Who is not investing the football income to build the team and management is happy to clear debt in haste ( looks like in this rate debt will be over in next few years which was scheduled for long term ).

      • MSL says:

        Another aspect of spending on good players is brand-value capitalization. Arsenal have the lowest brand value amongst the top four. We have a new marketing manager who is expected to improve our image as a brand to remain competitive. A few expensive signings may pay themselves off if we can raise the money. Winning is going to become essential in order to improve the brand market value, which is going to be a huge source of income for the like of City and Chelsea to break even.

        Also Goonerist you chose the wrong examples. The name you are looking for is Leeds United.

      • Hong_gunner says:

        @ Jayanta – i was reading your post until you came up with names of Song and Sagna(atleast spell it properly, as ‘a’ and ‘i’ are nowhere near on the keyboard). It’s a shame you can’t see Song improving. yes, he hasn’t had a good start to the season, but surely, he’s in the top 4 best holding midfielders in the premiership. and I’ll let you know, its hard to find a holding midfielder as good as him and who can fit into our system on the cheap. and he has a long career ahead of him, hence will definitely get more better with time. well, Sagna has been a regular for France and has been doing very well. he was one of our most consistent performers last season. tell me something, what is your criteria for “world class”?

      • Jayanta says:

        Hong_Gunner

        We have waited for 5 years, this year with 7 games, we are adrift by 7 points, why is it so ? I wish you that your optimism wins us something this year.

        As per spending is concern, Chealsea is in their under wears, MANU & Liverpool is co-passenger to that. Mancity will soon join them. We are still wearing the overcoats, we have enough room to loosen up, are we ready for that?

        Whatever Mancini and Viera says, I won’t be surprised if MCITY wins title. Spuds are very close and pushing hard, therefore we don’t have much room to manouver.

        When we are going to play Spuds, they will employ their giraff at our box, how r we going to settle that issue as that giraffe’s record agains us is quite good.

  14. afcpaul says:

    We have been steadily improving since losing almost everyone from our invincibles side. their are’nt many managers who could have done a job like that on the budget wenger had at the time. This season for me will see our biggest improvement, and we will all see it when our fab four are back fully firing. I cannot think of any team in europe that could cope with losing four key players for as many weeks as we have. Keep them fit and we will be very close to a trophy come may.

  15. skwam says:

    the one match that left me feeling we had improved was last weeks loss to chelsea. our best striker, RVP was out, our best midfielder/player and captain Cesc, was not there and our best defender TV was also out. never mind the Theos and Rambos. The two Chelsea goals were essentially near if not actually unstoppable. The way Arsenal played gave me a lot of confidence in the bunch of young players we have…..all they need is to keep the same tempo and attitude regarless the side they playing, big or small.

  16. deephenry says:

    We can make all kinds of analysis about improvements and team ethics and all that but unless and until we win something, we can not say we have improved, especially when wenger had the chance to strengthen the team in all positions and he chose to ignore. He knew many players are injury prone as we all knew. So no amount of analysis will be of any solace.

  17. critic says:

    before i read anything here’s my opinion :
    we have vastly strengthen defense with sound players which are not better than gallas for the team.
    but arsenal needs to work as a unit while defending…we can see that on tv that things are improving on that front…

  18. GMan says:

    I think there are 2 things we need – 1. A top goalkeeper and 2. A super striker like Henry was, like how Drogba is for Chelsea now.. and am sure we’ll win the league..!

    • Jayanta says:

      Mate if you can figure out that like many others why management cannot see that and execute. Where are they stuck?

      • May be the problem could be there was only one Henry and he is no more that Henry and there is only one Drogba and he is with Chelsea 😀 .

        It is always easy to talk about something, but doing it is the difficult thing. I do not know what work you do. But whenever i talked lightly of some work, i later realized it is not that easy to do it. I guess it is applicable for anything even in your own field of expertise.

  19. Karthik says:

    I really wonder if all these know alls who keep saying we have to get rid of XYZ will say the same if we win the league this year. People have to realise we are making progress, we ARE better than last year and most definitely better than 2 seasons ago. Yes, we need a better goalie, but like Desi has been saying our defence is irresponsible and the goalie has to deal with every cross. And van Persie is in Drogba’s league, it’s just that he is oe unfortunate fella.

  20. Hong_gunner says:

    there is no doubt we’ve been improving. and all the slack Wenger keeps getting, is because of his own good doings. there were times when our Arsenal would finish in the top 10 and summarize the season as a good one(as my dad used to tell me). even before Wenger arrived, we weren’t the most entertaining side in the league. where people fail to see the point is that, even in this barren phase of 5 years, we’ve consistently remained in the top 4(getting into the champions league is as vital as winning the carling cup or even the FA cup, imo) and have been challenging for the title till march/april on a couple of occasions. and we’ve almost cleared our debts and are starting to make big profits. band-wagoners excluded, there’s no reason why any gooner should be disappointed as though we have been dumped into the championship. yes, we should win trophies given the quality of players that we have and the manager we have, but it will come. its better to keep winning trophies with a few barren spells in between for the next 30-40 years than to spend out big and not knowing what the future holds for us. I salute you Wenger!

  21. sila says:

    God help us if we do not buy a goal keeper and improve our defense line by January!

  22. Metalhead says:

    The media plays a big role in defining a clubs image, especially television. They will always judge a team based on the trophies won. Understandably so. They are the so called ‘neutrals’. They judge all teams that play, not only Arsenal. They are like neighbors judging your kid. He is good only if he is a class topper. What potential he shows otherwise does not count. But the parents know what progress the kid is making. Only thing is the potential has to materialize onto something significant (a major trophy in this case). Once it does people will shut their mouths for some time at least!

  23. Shashi says:

    Desi, I think what actually matters is how Arsenal have improved relative to who they are in competition with. In that respect, you correctly point out that Arsenal are a much stronger force in Europe than they were a decade ago. This has led to good results in european competitions but domestically things are different. While we may have improved, our rivals have improved much more than us. There are different reasons for each club but overall our competitors are much closer than they used to be. This just means that they have improved far much more than we have. This is the critical point, if we haven’t improved enough to keep the gap with our competitors then that relative improvement is still negative. It’s like saying that this time I am running faster in the race than I ever did, but my competitors are running even faster than they ever did.

  24. critic says:

    everything is relative dude, if u want to talk improvement or stagnancy u need to talk relative to other teams…in that regard arsenal haven’t improved much and neither they are stagnant…they r just oscillating back n forth….

  25. wilbrod says:

    I think we ve improved a lot..case in point is our Display against Chelsea. We all agree this Chelsea team z way stronger than what the ‘Invicibles’ played against, this Man city, Spuds,Sun’lnd … are much more improved as well. Winning trophies, as we all should know z nt the only and everthg to consider when u judging progress.

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