"EXCLUSIVE:"Arsenal "always" falters in February/March

In the kind of breath-taking exposé that at first shocks readers into a stunned, dispirited silence, The Independent says today that “recent history does suggest that it is always in the months of February and March that the Gunners’ title challenge falters.” I’m sure that, like me, many of you look at that headline or lead-in and say to yourself, “crap. February was terrible, and March looks like it’ll turn out even worse!” Then, with little else to say, we shake our fists at the sky and utter oaths like “consarn it” and “fiddlesticks.” This is, after all, a family-friendly publication. This prediction from The Independent looms over us like the Sword of Damocles, dooming us, it seems to abject failure. After all, who are we to resist the weight of history? Who do we think we are to dare dream of achieving such power?

A closer read, however, suggests that there’s both more and less to the lurid headline. What follows is this:

Since the club last won the Premier League in 2003-04, they have been in the top two on 1 February in three different seasons, but in none of those campaigns did they improve their position during those months, falling down the table in two.

Little to argue with there. In three seasons since winning the Prem in 2004, then, we’ve been in first place on 1 February only to fall down the table each time. In 2004-05, for example, we were in second place, ten points behind Chelsea but finished in second, 12 points behind them. In other words, the gap only grew two points. How that counts as faltering, especially in a season that Chelsea set a new record for points in a season, is perhaps lost on me.

The story is a bit starker in 2007-08, when we went from being level on 57 points with Man U on 1 February only to fall to third, four points behind them (87-83). In the span of time that Man U used to take 30 points, we could only manage 26, so yes, we did stumble, a fact accentuated by Chelsea slipping ahead of us at 85 points. Stuck in there somewhere, of course, was a horrifying leg-break to Eduardo that did more than deprive us of a key player; it arguably sapped morale at a key point in the season.

The last case-study for which there is complete data is then 2010-11, which saw us five points behind Man U (51-46) on that first day of February, and falling to fourth—12 points back of Man U and behind Chelsea and Man City to boot. This, in my book, is the only one that counts as truly faltering. This is the only season in which the margin truly grew and that seemed to grow as a result of our own frailties such as when we drew with Newcastle after being 4-0 or lost shockers such as the league cup to Birimingham (which has no bearing on the Prem, of course, but highlights how inconsistent we were).

Yes, as Homer reminds us,”you can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that.” In other words, yes, on the face of it, Arsenal seems to falter in February and March. That sounds grim. Look at it another way—despite facing better-financed clubs, despite losing key players to transfers and injuries—we sustain title-challenges for far longer than we perhaps have a right to do. So we falter in March? How many matches remain, Independent, when this swoon sinks us? Ten? Twelve? In each instance proffered, a case can be made that we held out longer than almost anyone else. No, we didn’t succeed, and yes, we couldn’t match point-for-point with Man U or Chelsea over the long run. That’s not the marvel.  The marvel lies in how long we held on against squads that were far superior to us. There’s no trophy for that kind of persistence; indeed, many critics, among them quite a few Gooners, prefer to dub it failure.

The narrative is a bit harder to shake, especially given how the script seems to be writing itself yet again this year. We’re a club in transition and have been for a few seasons now while our rivals seem immune to transitions as they simply reload year after year by signing key players time and again—some from us, some out from under us. Yeah, I’m clinging a bit stubbornly to scraps of pride while eyeing enviously the trophies that others are polishing, but I refuse to accept the facile “analysis” that paints as as forlorn and inept losers doomed to repeat the past. This may not be our year to rewrite that script, but it’s too early to suggest that the writing is on the wall, the ink is dried, or whatever other metaphor is needed.

Ten matches. Thirty points. There’s still time. It might take a minor miracle, but stranger things have happened.

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10 thoughts on “"EXCLUSIVE:"Arsenal "always" falters in February/March

  1. Anonymous

    I'm afraid its a bit of a truism. It's not just the premiership though. We appear to go out if all competitions in feb. All down to lack of squad depth and possibly lack of belief within the team.We have been playing poorly since christmas. Slow and laboured for most first halves. Cannot understand why, apart from possible tiredness.

  2. Anonymous

    That's exactyl what it is,lack of depth in our squad, and even the good players we have on our bench don't seem to get a chance to play and leave e.g Podolski talking about leaving us what a shame.

  3. Anonymous

    I think the frustration is that we had it in our grasp we were looking great. It was cruel luck robbing us of Theo. His pace gives us a crucial dimension which we dont have now. Sinse xmas we labour up to the edge of the box and play it sideways. There is no goalscorers in out team where our rivals all have atleaat 3. It was a necessity to get someone In january and not sign an injured player shortterm to cover for our injured players thats retarted. I just dont see where our goals consistently come from and thats why we struggle in key games.

  4. Anonymous

    Hard attempt to hide club's failings thats what this article is all about and that title mystifies readers but actually it is just a false dawn. It is lack of ambition and naivety shown by the club to surpass two transfer windows and not sign any one, oh sorry I forgot we did sign a crocked 31 yr old. And then the greatest spin doctor comes out says we did not have any other option. It is just pure negligence.

  5. Anonymous

    I think some of you commenting miss the bloody point. The headline says Arsenal “allways falter” in febuary and march. What constitutes faltering? The author of this article laid it out clearly, that apart from one season since Arsenal last won the PL, Arsenal haven't faltered they just dropped a few more points.

  6. Anonymous

    If Arsenal continue to self destruct in Feb/March,blame Wenger. This sort of thing has been going on since Feb 2008.A seasoned manager shd not allow such mistakes to occur time and again.Yeah I know he has punche .d the air ,sorry above his weight.The problem is why the hell does this not happen at MU or any other teams?I am afraid id Arsenal fail againie win atrophy or get cl soccer,he shd really go.No ifs and buts . He has been more aet than any other top manager and still there is no improvement..

  7. Anonymous

    Arsenal always start with a bang in August. I don'know why but it must be due to the firmer surface on the pitch. Come Feb/Mar the grounds are more soggy and maybe the ball takes a longer time to get to the next player. I maybe wrong but it's the same for all teams.So Wenger has no excuse.When you see why the gunners take a longer time to score due to the elaborate passing,I wonder the gunners /Wenger can't be like other teams.Even the lowly teams string less passes to score.Football is about scoring goals and winning. You don't get points for making the most passes.

  8. Anonymous

    There always seem to be a multiplicity of explanations for why Arsenal falters, stumbles or, just plain, falls down.Sadly, this time as in others, the explanation seems to narrow down to one: Arsene Wenger.I believe he is a very good off-the-pitch manager who can bring out the best in many players, can develop younger players up to their potential and very capable of spotting nascent talent. HOWEVER, that said, I also think that he may not be a great “game-time manager” nor a great general-manager who can wheel-and-deal and obtain the best deal when seeking to sign, trade or even retain players.We have all seen for several years the hemming-and-hawing that goes on throughout the transfer periods while Arsene waits to the very end in the (misguided) hope that desperation will result in the other sides ceding him a player at bargain prices. Typically, he has lost this game of “chicken” more than he has won. Ozil may be a fluke or aberration rather than the norm. Were someone else in charge of this aspect, once Arsene identifies a player, things might be better given that he seems to be unwilling to recognize that the marketplace is not what it once was. As to game-time, I suspect he is capable of developing a strategy for each match (although I sometimes think it consists of passing the ball for so long the other side loses focus, get bored or mesmerized, and allow Arsenal to finally shoot and hopefully score) but not of making the kinds of changes or adjustments if things go awry. This is not unusual and we see it in other team sports where half-time is not just for taking a swig of water, urinating, and getting bandaged, but also, for reviewing the films, identifying a potential weakness in your own or other the other side and then trying to recover or maintain the advantage. Jon has noted how Wenger seems to wait far too long to make a change. Whether this is the result of a resolute belief in where his initial game plan and that time will prove him right or a faith in the players he sent out at the start regardless of how they are faring. This past weekend was evidence of this failing and, maybe, some of the others, as well.Consider that things were not going right as the match progressed but at no time, even after the half, did Wenger choose to change players or strategy. When you are barely getting a shot on goal, something is wrong. Do you or should you wait 70 minutes? Was this a stubborn belief in his initial scheme or a tacit admission that, thanks to his inability to strengthen the team in January and, I might add, to the extent now needed last summer, he really has no troops on the bench?He has been out-coached by Jose and others, sometimes escaping with a win or draw, but rarely have the victories been a demonstration of coaching or management prowess. We are seeing other managers now “catching up” and getting far more out of lesser squads, unless of course, we are deluded into thinking ours is so much better. Worse yet, the failure of depth has resulted in over-working the players we have and the lethargy or “tired legs” that are now in evidence. I doubt that Theo would have made an appreciable difference, but that is my personal view as to his inability to finish. Ramsey has been a greater loss. The lack of a duo, let alone, a trio of scorers, ala Liverpool or MC, has become evident.Looking forward toward the end of this season, despite the Panglossian view (see Voltaire's Candide or better yet, Leonard Bernstein's musical version) of Jon and others, I cannot see 30 out of 30. I fear the worst and am hoping that we can hold to 4th even though that means another round of added matches in summertime. If we fall below, the attraction of CL disappears as will the potential of those stars that have been waved before our eyes only to have them disappear when the handkerchief is waved a second time.

  9. Anonymous

    I don't get and I'm too lazy to look up Pangloss but I assume it's something to do with optimism, on the other hand you might have too much pessimism. I agree that 30 for 30 is too much to hope for, but if we beat chelsea and city (i know, it's unlikely) the race will be tighter than before. they'll still have a point on us but maybe, just maybe, they will drop points elsewhere while we continue to claim ours. it may not be enough for 1st but should be enough to be 2nd or 3rd!


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