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English Premier Talk: Big Questions Surrounding Arsenal

Sometimes diagrams are unnecessary to unravel the failures that occur in any given soccer match.  Every week, we engage in discussions about mistakes; how this guy got pulled out of position or how a midfielder negligently left a player or a plot of land unmarked. These moments of disarray are certainly noteworthy, but like statistics, rarely do they tell the entire story.

A minute before full time against Sunderland, Arsenal was in a position to continue this short season’s narrative about standing up under pressure and growing up. Had Arsenal not conceded in the last few seconds of Ferguson time, we would have inevitably heard about how this Arsenal team may finally be ready to win tough points on the road in hostile environments in the face of adversity, also known as playing with ten men without Cesc Fabregas.

But one moment, literally in the final seconds of the match, changed all that. Apparently.

All of a sudden Arsenal is a team facing many of the same questions it had been facing the past few seasons. Is this team of no-longer-young players ready to fight? Are they capable of finally imposing themselves on all comers regardless of opposing style or in the face of adverse conditions?

Let me suggest that regardless of this weekend’s result, these questions would still have been relevant. One game or one goal doesn’t answer existential questions about who we are and who we can be.

While dwelling on what happened over the final few seconds may seem like the logical place to start pointing fingers, the ninety plus minutes before the Darren Bent-induced catastrophe offers plenty of answers to what went wrong and what went right. For example, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see that Gael Clichy’s consistently vulnerable performances are a concern. It also isn’t difficult to see that under the circumstances, with ten men, the team showed strength and composure for long periods of the match.

Rather than prosecuting moments, fans need to vent and then take a step back. It’s helpful when assessing team play to pay attention to, well, how the team played. Yes, points were dropped, but we too often fail to recognize that not all points dropped are equal. There are narratives between seemingly terminal moments that are just as relevant as the result. We too often discount that the ability to consistently create chances means something; not everything, but something. While over time, the inability to convert opportunities while regularly conceding is a problem, failure to convert in one game isn’t a pattern. Every team from the top to the bottom of the table leaves goals on the table. But again, it’s too early to determine whether this is a pattern that will plague Arsenal this season.

We simply just don’t have enough information even though fans feel the need to draw hard conclusions after every match. While Arsenal fans can rue the fact that we conceded late, fans can, for example, also take comfort in the fact that we seem a bit more stable in central defense. Both Koscielny and Squillaci look like more than decent signings. Taking comfort in promising defenders doesn’t feel as good as three points, but it doesn’t make their play any less relevant or important.

Patience is paramount. I know that makes sense, but every now and then, someone’s got to do it. Given what Chelsea are doing at the top of the table, it’s unlikely that we can afford to make this a habit of dropping last minute points, but it is early in a long season. Strange things can happen over the course of a season. At this point, it seems that Arsenal’s depth is greater than in past seasons. As the season progresses, this will matter more than two dropped points against Sunderland in September.

And with that, Carling Cup against Tottenham today at Three Point Lane. That likely means we’ll get to see Eboue, which is really what’s important, along with a smattering of other experienced players and reserves (also known as the future of the English national team). I know there’s the camp out there that believes we should field a strong team to go forth and win our first trophy since 2005, but if you’re still in that camp, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. The team Arsene fields will be the same type of team he’s been fielding for years in this competition. Therefore, there are only two possible outcomes for today’s game: 1) Fans will be laughing hysterically about Tottenham’s Champions League caliber squad’s inability to defeat our prepubescent squad; or 2) Fans will be complaining about how we don’t have the luxury of fielding a young squad anymore and how this team needs to win a trophy ASAP.

So now you know how it will end. The reactions are already written. Now all that’s left is to play the game.


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