Where Has It Gone Wrong? Comparing Arsenal 2012 To Arsenal 2011
Assessing Arsenal’s sharp decline during the past 12 months, looking at each area of the 2011 team compared to the current side and where things have gone wrong
The Champions League was never a competition that Arsenal fans envisaged Robin Van Persie lifting the trophy for come the end of the season, but the humiliation in Milan last Wednesday night left a dreadful feeling of realisation in Arsenal fans. Whether you want Arsene out or you would do anything to keep him at the club, AC Milan revealed to more or less every Arsenal fan that we are simply not a very good team any more.
In less than a year, we have gone from one of the best Arsenal sides formed under Arsene’s reign to a side that is probably his worst. The lack of desire, innovation and ability in the Arsenal side on Wednesday night and then again on Saturday against Sunderland was plain for all to see and they were results where for once, you could not begrudge the opposition the victory in the slightest. Both AC Milan and Sunderland were better in every single department and something needs to change at the club.
So how have we got in this situation? How have we managed to develop from a side that was heroically beating Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium to one that was barely able to manufacture a clear cut chance at the San Siro or the Stadium of Light? Last summer was a huge summer of change but the negative effects of that change only became apparent to many Arsenal fans, including myself, in the last week.
This post will take a look at comparing the two Arsenal sides in the past year and take a shot at deciding why the huge fall from grace has occurred from Arsenal.
A year ago, you could expect the Arsenal side to line up like this:
Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Fabregas, Walcott, Van Persie, Nasri
Nowadays, an Arsenal side would probably appear a little like this:
Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott/Chamberlain, Van Persie, Gervinho
So what has changed? Comparing the two sides, you can only see three glaring differences in truth. No Fabregas, no Clichy and no Nasri. On top of that, you have the absentee of Wilshere through injury, although that is roughly balanced out by the missing Vermaelen from the side last year, who spent most of the season on the sidelines.
So what is it about the side last year that was so much more effective than this year? Why could a side with Fabregas and Nasri not do what a side with Arteta and Ramsey can? Let’s break the sides in to four areas
Wojciech Szczesny is one of the few players who appears in both sides. So surely that is one area that is just as stable as last year? In many respects, the answer is yes. Szczesny is still a fantastic shot stopper, a commanding presence and by far the best goalkeeper at the club.
However, despite this, you can’t help but feel the enthusiasm and consistency of the new goalkeeper has disappeared from the one we saw a year ago.
During the course of his appearances last year, since his Premiership debut against Manchester United, Szczesny made one glaring error in the form of the calamitous mix up with Laurent Koscielny in the Carling Cup final.
This year though, the amount of errors has risen significantly. Ones that spring to mind are from Kyle Walker, the Fulham game on New Years Day and various goals conceded from free kicks. All of these have created cause for concern but I still don’t think there is any doubt Szczesny will be our number one for a long time.
The lad is a star in the making, but the same repeated errors do need to be ironed out of his game to really cement his position. There is no doubt a slight decline in his game has affected the side massively.
This is one area that is particularly difficult to compare because for the majority of this season, Arsenal haven’t been able to keep the same back four together. However, I would go as far as saying this is the only overall area in which we have improved from last year. Laurent Koscielny in particular has come on leaps and bounds in his development as a footballer after THAT error last year, so much so that I consider him to be our most complete centre back, ahead of Thomas Vermaelen.
Per Mertesacker has also proved to be a decent addition to a defence that is renowned as fragile. His reading and experience of the game has proved invaluable to Arsenal and he has dramatically improved in recent games to prove many, like myself, who criticised him near the beginning of the season wrong. It’s a measure of how much he has improved that he was sorely missed in midweek during that disgraceful performance in Italy.
The one area that I do feel we have decreased in quality in, is the left back position. Whilst Clichy was prone to errors, he was marvellous on his day. Admittedly, I do feel Andre Santos and Kieran Gibbs can be just as good as Clichy, but injuries to the pair across the course of the campaign have left us missing the regularity of a left back we can always rely on to be available. I would take Clichy back in a flash.
This, above any, is the main area that reflects the decrease in quality of Arsenal over the last year. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the acquisition of Mikel Arteta was a superb one and he is a player that is more than competent of filling the midfield area for Arsenal. He has added some much needed experience to our midfield. However, I also feel we desperately miss the abilities of Wilshere, Nasri and Fabregas to change the game in an instant.
Whilst I do admire both Arteta and Ramsey, they don’t at this moment in time strike me as the players who can create a piece of magic that can turn a whole game around. Both are adapt at passing and finishing, but they still miss that little bit of flair that Nasri and Fabregas have.
As a player travelling to the Emirates, I would not feel the same fear lining up against Cesc and Nasri as I would lining up against Arteta and Ramsey. Cesc did it multiple times during his Arsenal career. He’d pick the ball up and produce something world class to completely change the run of play.
Bar Ramsey’s goal last week against Sunderland, I don’t see him as being the sort of player who can do that at the moment. I am still confident he can become that player, however.
Wilshere is also one of the main reasons for Arsenal’s decline. He has been a huge miss this season. Last year he was an absolute revelation in the Arsenal midfield but without him, we lack a player who can keep the ball in dangerous areas and then distribute it.
Against Barcelona at the Emirates, we matched them in terms of passing, keeping the ball and getting out of danger. I could never imagine this Arsenal side doing the same thing.
Finally, attack. Undoubtedly, Robin Van Persie is the main man for both Arsenal sides I’m comparing and if anything, he has been a lot more prolific and effective this year than last. However, past that, I think we are a lot worse off compared to last year. We are missing a Marouane Chamakh who was still full of confidence and scoring for fun, at least at the start of the season anyway.
Whilst we also have the emergence of Oxlade-Chamberlain who will go on to become an Arsenal great, we have a Theo Walcott who is lost without the supply from Fabregas and Nasri. Theo is assisting Van Persie on a regular basis this season but he is missing the ability of a Cesc or Nasri who can find him in acres of space so he can score goals like the ones he did against Chelsea and Blackburn last year.
In terms of the left wing, we have Gervinho who is a fantastic player. That’s a given. However, his lack of confidence and ability in front of the opposition’s net is something that has cost us thus far this season. Whilst we may be more of a threat in evading players on the wing, with a misfiring Gervinho and Walcott, we are certainly less clinical than last year.
Overall, I believe we are a different side to last year for so many reasons. Whilst we are a more direct, effective side in some departures, we are certainly less effective at keeping the ball and scaring the opposition. Last year, sides knew they wouldn’t get a sniff of the ball at the Emirates.
How different it is this year… For me, there is one overriding reason for the fall in our power. That reason is Cesc Fabregas.
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