While many factors make up a team's season, at the end of the day we can often look back and focus on just one or two things that really defined how everything played out over the course of a year.
And while it usually takes some time to reflect on what went right or wrong for a team, our panel of supporters in the United States and Canada don't get that option. We asked them to tell us, good or bad, what characteristic stands out to them when they consider Arsenal's2012/13 Premier League campaign up until now.
Question: What has defined Arsenal's season so far and how can they overcome -- or continue -- that in the season's final months?
Simply put: inconsistency.
Arsenal have struggled all season finding a groove and playing in it. This is true whether you look at the entire season or even just look at two halves in a single game. So for example, one week Arsenal are beating Tottenham 5-2 and the next they drop an egg to Aston Villa. One half they manage just one goal against Newcastle, the next half they score six. I'm not saying I expect them to score six goals in every half (I wouldn't complain!) but rather just use that to illustrate how wildly this team can swing over the course of 30 minutes.
My favorite stat right now is one called "key passes" and it illustrates this problem with consistency perfectly.
Key passes are passes which lead to a shot. Not assists, or passes, but passes which create scoring chances. It's not as simple as, say, shots taken because shots can be created by individual play. Key passes are passes which arise from team effort and I think this stat is especially important for Arsenal this season because the team no longer relies as heavily on one or two players to win games for them.
In League play, Arsenal average 12 key passes a game this season. They also average 16 shots a game, meaning that on average about three out of every four shots that Arsenal take are created by team play. As a result, when Arsenal create 8 chances or less in a single game from passes, which they have done eight times this season, they have lost five games, drawn twice, and won just once. And when they create 13 or more chances, which they have done 11 times this season, they have won eight times, drawn twice, and lost just once.
The problem is that Arsenal have been inconsistent in getting the ball to a teammate in a scoring position this season. For example, Arsenal created 14 chances off 411 total passes in the seven goal blitz on Newcastle. They then followed that up with the lowest point this season in terms of key passes, the 1-1 draw against Southampton, where the Gunners created just four chances in 538 total passes. With so few chances, Arsenal scraped by with a draw on the good fortune of a do Prado own goal.
But the problem with inconsistency is that the only cure is consistency. And I know that's a tautology but it's true; success breeds success, confidence builds confidence, winning begets winning, however you want to put it. Arsenal do, by-and-large, work hard for each other on the pitch. So, it's just going to take time to get all the parts to click together more consistently and the success will follow.
As the Brits say, "form is temporary, class is permanent" and from what I see, there's a lot of talent in this Arsenal team. That talent just needs to take the opportunity presented and run with it.
Sadly, the defining issues seem to be the same as in recent seasons. This Arsenal team is incredibly fragile defensively, is plagued by costly individual errors that almost always are punished by goals, and for all the passing and creative play, is far too wasteful in front of goal.
But I would be hard-pressed to find a greater overall malady affecting the Arsenal than what Tim has put forth, that of inconsistency. It's not only match-by-match, either. Arsenal occasionally struggle from half-to-half, which is in itself excruciating to watch. The delayed West Ham home match was a great example of this. We looked pedestrian against the Hammers in the first half, playing to a 1-1 stalemate at halftime, in which neither side looked like controlling the match. Yet after halftime, Arsenal came out and blew their doors off, scoring 4 unanswered goals in a performance that would surely have yielded even more if there had not been a long injury delay for West Ham's Daniel Potts. And even after the delay, at no point did Arsenal look even slightly uncomfortable. In short, Arsenal seem to suffer from acute schizophrenia of performance.
Tim is also completely correct in showing the statistical evidence for Arsenal's up-and-down nature. Our creative play sometimes is stifled, and in those events, the team suffers and the results bear this out.
Conversely, when things click, Arsenal seem to sweep teams aside, evoking more positive results, naturally. I would posit, though, that when things do not seem to be working for the team creatively, we are left with what we have due to the paucity of options, particularly attacking options, from the bench. Frequently, when the first choice attacking three of Podolski, Giroud, and Walcott are employed from the start, we are left with zero strikers on the bench to come on and perhaps change the match in our favor.
And it's not only strikers but midfielders as well; we have struggled to find a player like Rosicky or Benayoun, both of whom were able to enter the fray and change things up from the bench as needed, either to provide greater attacking impetus, or to slow the match down and provide needed cover on the wings or in midfield when we seemed more porous defensively.
For now, if we need goals, we are forced generally to rely on Aaron Ramsey or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, players who I like very much but who have also been quite inconsistent this season. And if we need to solidify defensively, we are forced to rely on Aaron Ramsey or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Or occasionally Francis Coquelin.
There are bright spots to the season. The team has shown spirit in hard-fought wins over Swansea and Brighton in the FA Cup, and the win away at Sunderland was as dedicated a team performance as we've seen this season-although if Arsenal had not been so profligate with goalscoring opportunities, the scoreline would have been much more favorable, and the second half would not have been nearly as nervy. I have been impressed by consecutive poised performances from new boy Nacho Monreal, yet it will be difficult not to wonder over the next few months, whether further additions to a small squad would have made a difference.
I desperately hope we don't encounter many such moments of retrospection between now and June.
I definitely agree with Tim that the defining characteristic of this Arsenal squad has been inconsistency, and in my opinion that really comes down to the defensive indiscipline that has plagued them for so much of this campaign. I think it’s accurate to say that Arsenal’s offense has sputtered at key moments when they certainly should have done better to put games away (only for those games to get away from them soon thereafter), but if you zoom out and observe other teams over the course of a season you’ll see that even the ones who have dumped millions of pounds into their attack still blow hot and cold on offense. The difference is these teams (usually the ones nearer the top of the table) are able to retain a fair amount of “consistency” because they can rely on their defensive base, absorb opposing pressure and effectively keep from conceding goals that will lose them points. For whatever reason Arsenal simply haven’t been able to rely on their defense to do that often enough this campaign, and the result is they’re usually purely at the mercy of their offense (and consequently whatever defense they’re up against) to keep churning out goals at a rate that’s in proportion with the goals they’re conceding.
I think it’s possible however that Arsenal may just be starting to slowly realize the value of exerting more collective effort on defense, especially after a vital result like the one they earned with only ten men at the Stadium of Light. If you’re being honest you’d have to say that on the day Arsenal’s overall finishing was wretched, but in the end a focused, collective effort on defense was what won the game, not a surplus of goals.
So far this seasons it seems that Arsenal have placed far too much emphasis on their ability to simply outscore their opponents and the byproduct of that has meant they’ve been stretched at the back, leaving players isolated to commit individual errors without adequate cover. But recent results suggest that if the squad balances its attack with a renewed sense of defensive discipline, they do in fact have the ability to hold onto leads and consequently valuable points as they finish out the season.
Tim’s analysis of the season so far has outlined much of the inconsistency we have witnessed from this Arsenal team since August. This team just loves to keep us on our toes. As he discussed, the team cannot seem to maintain consistency even within the game and statistics reflect that. If only second half results counted so far in the league, Arsenal would be top, with a record of P26 W13 D11 L2, having scored 29 goals and conceded just 11 (the fewest of any top-flight side for the second 45). Conversely, they would stand mid-table at 10th if only first-half scorelines counted (P26 W6 D14 L6) with 21 scored and 18 conceded.
Another phrase which seems to come up pretty frequently this season is ‘individual errors’. One of the main problems that have cost Arsenal points this season has been individual errors leading to goals (we top the league table when it comes to this). There are few doubts that there is quality in this Arsenal squad but significant lapses in concentration have cost the club valuable points.
It seems as though Arsenal are being consistent at being inconsistent this season. And like Tim suggests, the only way to turn this around is by being more consistent, especially in the first half. The odds of winning a game increase dramatically when the team is leading at half time and the team can definitely improve on its performance by starting the game all guns blazing. Early goals destabilize the opponent and build confidence within the team. Statistics also show that this Arsenal side have been better than previous incarnations at maintaining a lead: our chances of winning are 82 percent if we score first.
While I agree with Tim that inconsistency has defined Arsenal this season, I feel that there is key factor in play that has led to that inconsistency. The impact, every-day players on the club have simply not played enough games together to form a proper bond and to help everyone get the most out of each other on a consistent basis.
Looking at the players that have started the most games this season, names like Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, among others, have either just joined the club or missed a significant portion of time last season due to injury. Especially with some of the youth on the field, this Arsenal team would truly benefit from more matches together.
The ultimate goal, and the ultimate sign of consistency, is a team that gets the most out of their players on a regular basis. Arsenal simply have not had the same bodies on the field enough to achieve that standard. Can Arsenal overcome this? We’ll find out, but I think this is a team that may peak towards the end of the year rather than regress with more matches underneath them.
Inconsistency is a good word, but it is not the word that pops into my head. I think of tactics, or in many cases a lack thereof. Arsenal have deployed similar tactics in every match this season, and many managers are cluing into this. Against Southampton the areas of the pitch where key passes have been generated are largely plugged with players, the same was true at Sunderland and only by a defensive shift (or positional error depending on your point of view) was space afforded to Cazorla to hit that low drive into the net.
The inconsistency of results or even play during matches comes from using the same tactics against Manchester City, Stoke City, Tottenham, Liverpool and QPR. I chose those five clubs because they are all quite different from each other. One team is a passing team, another is a running and crossing team, Stoke plays route one football, QPR puts 10 men behind the ball and another tries to attack players one on one. One tactical approach against five different footballing ideologies is doomed to inconsistency. There is no golden formation and there is not only one way to play the beautiful game.
Arsenal cannot overpower or outclass every opponent, every week in the manner that they might have in 1991 or 2004. It takes calculated tactics designed to tear apart each opponent differently to breed that success and consistency of results. Changes in the tactical formation or the tactics on the pitch will create more team play and result in more of the key passes that Tim is referring. More key passes will lead to more goals, more goals will lead to more wins.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 15 Feb 2013