Arsenal’s non-existent Spine has them challenging for the title Pundits said we could not win

You need a SPINE to win it

You need a SPINE to win it

I’ve always found it funny how people take football pundits seriously when they know that their main job is being on television. Mainly because being on television means you have to be either crazy as shit and able to make a spectacle or make a proper sensible analysis all the time. The latter is of course beyond most people, as it requires a good eye and patience to watch each and every game with said good eye. What most of these so called ‘Pundits’ do is that they bandy about some common phrases which were actually used in an intelligent analysis by someone but has since been deprived of every last bit of meaning by repetitive usage. This is a real thing, studied in depth in cognitive psychology and the term used for it is ‘semantic satiation’.

So anyhow, one of these phrases is about how a team is set up: “A strong spine’. The ‘spine’ they say has to be strong. Now to be fair this isn’t yet a meaningless opinion to have and isn’t as grandiose as the statement ‘X FC are one signing away from a title winning squad’. Simply because the ‘spine’ of a team consists of more than one player and is more representative of squad quality and ability than a single big name. A spine can, in my opinion anyway, carry a team through a season in patches where the periphery of the squad begins to wobble and is not able to produce the performance greater than the sum of its individual parts. There is a really interesting article from @Poznaninmypants right here where he talks about a lot of interesting waffle.

A title winning squad has a lot of things going for it and apart from a strong spine it must have ‘cohesion’ (I’m actually covering all the buzzwords of the season), consistency and heart. Everybody from the gaffer to the coach driver and the kit man have been using ‘cohesion’ to describe the development of the team this season so we will let that go. “Heart” is a very romantic concept and wants me want to tear up so we must let that go as well, I am however far more interested in the consistency of the squad.

Squad depth and strength are really all about perspective in our case where injuries routinely give us visits like an unwanted cousin. You really should not be judging a team’s squad when it has 9 people out injured, especially people of the calibre of Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. However what is important is that the people who do go onto the pitch week in and week out have a stable level of performance which does not vary too much.

Obviously the eye catching displays of Mesut Ozil have been a revelation and he has really turned into our most dependable player on the sly, hiding behind the shining performances of Sanchez and all the hooplah surrounding Walcott’s rise to central striker position Ozil has taken his game to another level. Not to rate this column very highly but I do seem to remember that all the Star Man pieces I wrote were about Mesut Ozil. Because of his obvious potency and importance to the team we will not be looking at the German today.

A Pair of footballing magicians

A  footballing magicians

 We will be taking an in depth look at the team and a short look at a few of the others who have been overlooked in my opinion, and do not receive the share of credit that they deserve this term. It is all going to tie together to our title aspirations and ‘cohesion’ and ‘spine’. The bookies suggest that City still top the title odds but Arsenal a firm second favourites at around 7/4. I will be using both and for data so just keep in mind that an ‘(S)’ indicates data from Squawka and a ‘(W)’ indicates stats from Whoscored. I use both because they use slightly different ways to quantify football output and it becomes interesting where they have a conflict. Incidentally it was on Sqawka yesterday that Robert Pires says that is the Premier League Wenger wants the most this season.

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Arsenal over all is at the top of the pack based on their overall performance score(S) standing above fellow title contenders such as Manchester City and Manchester United. We have a massive 4141 points to City’s 3562 which to me seems a ridiculous amount of difference at this point in the season and we top the league with an overall rating of 7.21(W) which strongly correlates to the facts discussed here. What this means is that in every game that we have played we have our players have collectively outpaced their City counterparts in the departments of football which show up on the stats utilised by Squawka. We are 4th in the Goalscoring charts and tied for second with Man City in the least goals conceded charts. Our shot accuracy is 51% which is second only to City and by a measly width of 2% that too(S). Our passing places us 3rd behind both Manchester clubs with an accuracy of 85% and 5,396 passes completed this campaign(S). Chances created shows Arsenal at their very best, topping the league easily with 178 chances created which I seem to remember is among the top five in Europe’s top five leagues combined. We are winning 53% of our duels and completing 66% of our take-ons(S), better than anybody else. Interestingly our total defensive actions place us 8th in the Premier League(S)- I take this to mean that the need for these last ditch attempts has been lessened, in other words- everybody is pulling their weight defensively.  However, we also are 2nd on the defensive errors list with 11 errors and 2 leading to goal(S). If we hadn’t made those two errors we would have conceded the least goals in the league. Also we have 4 players in the Team of the League (W) with Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil all making the cut. Our dear Alexis also ends up at the top of the player charts(S) with total 480 points placing him there, which is surprising given his recent lack of output(W). With him in the top ten list from (W) are Koscielny, Ozil and Cazorla.

The title winning sides all had a great spine, such is the legend. Once upon a time a manager hit upon the magic formula of the spine to league winning and since then the world as we know it has never been the same. Now if you look at it carefully we have amongst our midst the very ‘spine’ that we are told to take note of.

Spine strengthening

Spine strengthening

Petr Cech: By the end of the season this man is going to end up as the signing of the campaign for us. It is only for him that we gathered the momentum we have and the Bayern Munich game at the Emirates was proof of his credentials. His presence at the back gives us peace of mind and I don’t care what anybody says- that miss from Gomis was as much down to his imposing frame as Bellerin’s lightning speed. Anecdotal evidence would tell us that out of the 12-15 points John Terry predicted Cech is worth, he has already saved us at least 5-6. He’s saved us against the Spurs. An Arsenal legend right there, with his cap and all.

Laurent Koscielny: What a rock. What a Gunner. I don’t know where we would be without this guy. He has been one of the best centre backs in the league this season and every season since he came here his development curve has only been upward. He is putting up performances which can tell you why he is Kos the Boss! You only need to take a look at his ball winning and interception numbers to realise why he keeps a lot of promising defenders out of the France squad And then he goes on and promises us a Rabona in the final game if we win the league before then! I say people, save your money. It’s gonna happen this time. A Koscielny Rabona to assist a flying header from Petr Cech which will then strike Ozil’s hand before going in. Proving once and for all where the true Hand of God lies(kidding!).

A wizard with either foot

A wizard with either foot

Santi Cazorla: The blog linked above will tell you a lot more about Cazorla and his abilities than I can include here, so do take a look. I can only repeat what so many others have-Cazorla is magic. He’s the ship on which Ozil is carrying his all-conquering form. His left peg is sorcery and his right peg is the devil’s staff. He completes passes for fun and there is no better dribbler in the squad if you ask me. Especially in the defensive areas of the pitch where any mistake is fatal. I wonder if somebody has compiled a list of the fouls Santi suffers in our own half. I suspect it will be substantially more than any other deep lying mid. In any case, his shoulders carry our hopes for the season. He is at the very middle of the spine. I have offered up a prayer in his name every day since we defeated Munich, I suggest everybody else start doing the same.


Alexis Sanchez: His charge seems to be running out and he needs rest. Rest real bad. The electrical engineering equivalent would be if our supply was losing power but that is not the case. Alexis is more of a thunderstorm. He needs a bit of time to gather the energy. Even through his apparent drought, he has found the heart to give a 1000% commitment when he finds the lungs. He has chased down left backs and wingers till he could do no more. He bursts. He thunders. He electrifies. He is gathering the clouds again; he is waiting for the right moment. When it will come I can assure you he will light up the Emirates again. We ask for too much perhaps, but this boy will deliver on all fronts.

Olivier Giroud:  Mesut Ozil has supplied assists to Olivier Giroud more than any other playmaker has for a goalscorer. I hope this puts an end to the train of thought in our minds which says that Giroud’s presence is making us blunt. Or that Ozil and Walcott is a better combination. I do not want to see any of that anymore lads. They are a competing partnership sure, but at the moment Ollie boy is making hay while Ozil shines. His physicality is picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Alexis’ leaking form pipe. Scoring for France past Neuer must have done him a load of good and I for one am hoping that he gets a continued run in the team even when Walcott comes back. He had to earn his place with super sub appearances, and we should let Walcott do the same just to be fair. I do think Wenger thinks along these lines, and we will see this play out in the weeks to come.

There you have it folks. A title winning team with a title winning spine working under a title winning manager. No doubt about it. The times, they are a-changing.  It’s too soon to be sure but never too soon to hope.

Here’s to a good game today. COYG.

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