01 February 2013

The Road Behind...

Despite the relative angst I've been feeling all year as we limp along, the future looks, well, I was going to say bright but I don't want to get ahead of myself. However, for as frustrating as the first half of the season has been, we are actually doing fairly well. After all, who gives up their #1 scorer, a Balloon D'Or candidate, and maintains a pace similar to the year before? In fact, last year at this same point (after 24 games), we had 34 points to this year's 38 points and had scored 39 goals to this year's 48. We'll keep in mind that seasons are difficult to compare; whom had we played and where by this point last year? A more energetic man than I would go through to compare. Maybe we had played more of the tougher opponents in our first 24 last year.  Maybe I'll go back and see.... For now, the tables are there for comparison. Can we count on Spurs to tumble as they did last year? Will Everton maintain its pace? Time will tell.

When van Persie left, we all felt predictable waves of despair and anger and worse. However, it must be said that, despite his own dithering over his contract this year, Mr. Walcott seems to be coming around. Sure, he still takes silly shots when he should really pass, and, yeah, he still insists on playing in a more central role when his skills are clearly better-suited to playing the wing. However, he has become is becoming a much-more consistent player, one who might even be on the verge of making teams worry when they see him. The offense itself seems to be rounding into form as well as Giroud settles in and defines his role and as Podolski and Cazorla gel with Wilshere, Walcott, and the rest. I still maintain that another striker should have  been brought in. All the same, van Persie, for all of his goals last year, may have inhibited the development of other players. It's similar to the effect Michael Jordan had or that Kobe Bryant has--they can score as often as they want, but other players need the ball at least once a while with a chance to score. We might be seeing that happen. Last year, van Persie scored 30, and our next-highest scorer was Walcott, with...8. Some guys pop more than eight shots per game. This year, Walcott already has 11, Giroud has 9, Cazorla has 8, and Podolski has 7. Did I mention that Walcott has only started in 13 out of 24 games? We're not going to see any of these guys in the top five this year, but I'll trade that for feeling more confident than I did last year when I think we can all remember how terrifying it was to watch Glass Joe carrying the offense. Every time that man leaned over more than 10 degrees, I feared that he would fall over and break a bone. This year, we can claim the double-advantage of (a) scoring more than last year, and (b) proclaiming as self-righteously as we want that we have a genuine team built on democracy and sharing and equality. We'll have to proclaim that last bit kind of loud if we're going to be heard. Man U is pretty far ahead of us.

Out with a whimper...

So, the transfer window has closed, and all we have to show for it is one signing. No disrespect towards Ignacio Monreal--in fact, I'm excited for his arrival--but I can't help feeling that this amounts to little more than a panacea for what ails us. Don't get me wrong; I'm confident that he will prove his quality in just as many ways as his compatriot, Santi, but I can't help asking a few questions:
  1. If Gibbs had not gone down with his thigh injury, would this signing have gone through now anyway, or would it have waited (as is rumored) until the summer?
  2. If Liverpool had not scored a couple of (let's face it, ugly and lucky) goals in which Santos, unwittingly (as if he has any other way) or not, played a role, would this signing have gone through now instead of in the summer?
  3. Why were linked with strikers throughout the window only to come away with "just" a defender? I say "just" not to disparage Monreal but to remind us that Wenger had talked about two signings but closes the window on one, perhaps in the process closing the door on the Champions League).
  4. This is a lesser issue, as I doubt we'll get past Bayern in the UCL even if we had signed a Cavani, Villa, or Lopez, but does this help us in the UCL? Monreal is cup-tied and is unavailable for action, and Gibbs is unlikely to be fit for the first round match with Bayern, so we'll have a back-four of Vermaelen, Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Sagna. Not bad on paper, but what happens if one of them goes down to injury? Do we throw on Santos? We just might regret loaning out Jenkinson, whose only glaring flaw was losing the ball to Michu because no one dropped back to receive a pass from him. 
It's hard then to see how much this will help us try to close out the year with a trophy, as we'll be calling a fourth-place finish until other silverware falls in our laps. Before we get too glum, it is worth remembering that, despite all of the focus on names like Cavani, Adrian, and Villa, our offense isn't really the issue--we are, after all, the 3rd-highest scoring team at 48 goals in the Prem so far. Not bad, especially when you compare goals per Euro:
Weekly Salary (est.)
EPL Goals
Each goal costs…
Man United
Van Persie
Man City
Now, I know that the story is more complicated than that--teams play more than two forwards, guys have had injuries, etc., etc. The point I'm making is that, offensively, we don't look all that bad. On the other hand, more than half of our EPL goals have come in just six games: 6 against Southampton, 5 against Reading, 7 against Newcastle, 5 against West Ham, and 5 against Spurs. Of those, I think we can agree that only Spurs count as a quality opponent. This leaves us with 23 goals in our other 18 EPL games. In terms of sample-size and relevance, that's a truer measure of our firepower. Simply put, we're just not scoring enough against opponents whom we have to beat in order to climb the table, and that's why we should have gone after forwards. Villa, the one we were linked to most often, was valued at somewhere around 15 million. We offered 8? To a Barcelona team that didn't really want to sell? I'm sorry, but that just doesn't add up. Hopefully, our goals will.