Sunday, May 27, 2007

Season Review: The Year of False Dawns

A bank holiday weekend seems a good time to start the Goonerboy season review. Today, part one: a general review. This will be followed by some player ratings later in the week.

So why false dawns? Because this season has been absolutely chocked full of them. When? Well, how's about Baptista's four goals at Anfield. Adebayor's winner at Old Trafford. Henry's last gasp goal against United in January. The 3-1 drubbing of the Pool in the Cup at Anfield, followed by the victory against Bolton in the fourth-round replay. Perhaps even the 'easy' draw against PSV in the Champions League.

Put simply, there have been several moments over the course of the year where we've looked like a trophy-winning team; and by that I meant trophies within the actual season, not just victories at some indeterminate future date. But these moments, these 'false dawns' have been followed by crushing medicority and, well, failure.

I've talked about the 'false idols' of Anfield before - Baptista and Aliadiere - but, if nothing else, they were crucial to our only real success this season - reaching and almost beating Chelsea in the Carling Cup final. What followed that false dawn was the realisation that Baptista and Aliadiere are not, actually, very good. And our, understandable, inability to turnover a senior Chelsea team in Cardiff.

The two encouraging victories in the FA Cup were followed by two damp squibs of a performance against a Blackburn team we should have beaten. We didn't and the pain-fest that was the FA Cup final followed.

The 'easy' draw against PSV was followed by two of our worst performances of the season and our defeat to a very ordinary team, the type we must overcome easily if we're serious about winning the Champions League. Our exit in the Champions League ended what I called a 'make or break week' for the club, with the Carling Cup final, FA Cup replay and PSV 2nd leg all in one week. Needless to say we broke.

And finally, our enigmatic victories over United in the League. These were, for me, the undoubted highlight of the season; the atmosphere at the end of the match at the Grove was particularly incredible, the majority not only staying til the end but singing the team off with all their might.

But then what followed? Lots of games we dominated, should have won, but didn't. Away matches we lost, in which we either didn't turn up or were thumped. The lowlight of the season came in one of these games, a 4-1 thumping at Anfield were we looked out of ideas and like a bunch of boys against men.

The season has been disappointing because it promised so much; a kind of positive in a way. The end of last season was marked by our, almost, triumphant Champions League run, and stealing fourth place on the last day. This year we treaded water in the league for about three months. All the hope from last season evaporated at a painfully early stage.

Our squad this year was good enough to get a top four league position this year and no more. For me, that's not good enough. Yes, we've had injuries, and pretty devastating ones at that - which teams wouldn't suffer from losing players of the calibre of Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie - but there seems to me a horrible gnawing feeling that the problems run slightly deeper.

Our play seems as one dimensional as ever; we don't have enough goalscorers in the squad; there is virtually no coherence in our defence; we still don't have enough experienced players in the squad.

For me, we need a few new players. Attacking goalscoring wingers, not just converted central midfielders, are critical; a right back which can both defend and go forward would be nice; a replacement for the Beast who isn't a still pretty inexperienced 19 year old would be welcome; a dominating, tall centre-back should also be an option (if Arsene no longer has faith in Senderos). But who among us is really confident Arsene will spend this summer?

Overall, and even if our squad isn't significantly added to, we still have a fine, and in some cases exceptionally good, set of player. Hopefully, the promise of last season can be realised last year; but, as I've suggested, I think the squad needs strengthening.

Anyway, here's hoping we see a few more headers like Thierry's, and an absence, if possible, of those from the Alexs of this footballing world; a season of actual achievement, not just the promise of it.


Anonymous said...

Very well reflected, I like the analogy of false dawns.
As you say we have a very fine squad irrespective of whats added. Alot depends on who goes to what we need extra, but the minimum is a true attacking winger who can pass people, not someone converted.
Big seasons for TH, RVP, Theo, Hleb and Gallas required. It will also be interesting to see if we manage to get round the red tape and bring in Vela earlier. I look forward to reading your ratings.

Anonymous said...

Okay we didnt have a great season but the potential is there, you don't beat Utd twice in a season, gain points against Chelsea and teach Liverpool a couple of footballing lessons (bar the Anfield league game) if your no good! Where we've lost out is down to a combination of injuries, unbalanched personnel and experience. Now touch wood we shouldn't have as many injuries next season due to no WC. This means a fresh set of players. We need to bring in pacey out and out wingers so we can stretch teams more especially at home. We don't need much to complete our squad Arsene knows!

Anonymous said...

This last season was massively dominated by having an unfit Henry and RVP missing for the scond half.
We need these two fit again plus

Goalscoring wingers...the priority surely?

A striker ... a fast greedy 20 goal a season man.

A midfield tackler good as they all are, none of Gilberto, Cesc, Denilson, Diaby are natural tacklers, maybe Djourou can play there at times?

Goonerboy said...

I know the transfer was dodgy as anything, but we should have tried to get Mascherano. He plays the same role as Gilberto but better. I still think we need a tougher presence in midfield.

Anonymous said...

The problem is Wenger keeps insisting this team has potential and as such, will not likely buy too many new players. We never effectivly replace Vieira or Pires or Campbell or Reyes. When u lose so many influential players within 2 seasons and replace them with inexperienced potential, I think we are lucky to get into the CL let alone win any trophy.

I expect to discuss the same topic this time next season if the current team is not strengthen with experience.

Anonymous said...

Such simplistic conclussions amazes me.
How many of all our games the last season have you reviewed?
Have you watched all the games played including pre-season friendlies to determine which players are not good enough.
At times like this, i am so happy we have a manager that will review the clubs failings as purely lack of quality personnel.
We could go out and pay 35 million for Eto and Reibery and still not win anything next season. Or worse still loose the for the first half of the season to injury. Remember what happened to Diaby, we lost a very good player for 2/3rd of the season. The same could happen to an Eto or Ribbery. So where will that leave us?

Every match on TV i've recorded and re-watched a number of times. My conclussions are remarkedly different. The tentative start of the season with a number of home draws really screwed us. (Even that in itself is understandable. Teams come to the new Emirate and will naturally turn out special performances)

Anonymous said...

I mean't Wenger will not review our failings as purely a lack of players, like Benitez and ask for even more money.

Anonymous said...

If you are really looking for a false dawn then look no further than liverpool.
After winning the "champions" league they were expected to mount a serious challenge gor the premiership.

Anonymous said...

Why do people keep saying we need a replacement for Baptista? Have you forgotten he was just a loan player we got in exchange for Reyes at the last minute and had to find a place to fit him in? What we need is a replacement for Reyes and I think Wenger is well aware of this based on his recent comments.

Anonymous said...

I think oyur point about getting in real wide players who are comfortable there and have played their whole lives in that position rather than converting central midfielders to become wingers. its one experiment that I dont think has worked for either Hleb or Rosicky. Both would be better playing in an already over crowded central position. we need players that are happy to get round the back. it would give the team the balance that it craves.

This season had some really high spots and I think they have shown how good we can be, hence the utter frustration when we lose 2 more home points with yet another stupid home draw against a crappy team. after 4 early draws we were already something like 8 points off Utd and it was all over for the title race back in october.