Date: 7th April 2015 at 2:04pm
Written by:

Are We There Yet?
(Maybe)

First off two starting 11s for you to look at.
Schzy, Sagna, Mert, Kos, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Theo, Ox and Giroud.
Opsina, Debuchy, Kos, Gabriel, Moneral, Coq, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis, Santi and Giroud.

I think that there`s little doubt that the second team is far stronger than the first. It would be even stronger if we add Cech during the summer (not to suggest that Ospina has done anything wrong!) and maybe even get an upgrade on an aging, if still very good, Santi. Stick any of Sterling, Draxler or even Reus into Santi`s position and its coming close to an exceptional side.

What`s interesting is that the first 11 was the team that started in that 1-3 home defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season 2013/14. Frighteningly that will only be 2 years ago this August and what`s more it was probably our strongest eleven at the time. By the time we kick off the 2015/16 season we could have 7-8 different players for the same point two years ago. Just think about that for a moment. That isn`t gradual change or slow and steady improvement, that`s wholesale revolution and what`s more is that it`s seemed to have happened without many of us even noticing it!

The team that started the game against Villa that day, (the game that more and more looks like a landmark game for us and the perfect point to reference as a before and after example), has quite simply been gutted. Those not deemed up to the standard have been either dropped or even just ignored and they all face a very uncertain future at the club. Schzy, Gibbs, Jack and even poor old and unwanted Rosicky have all big decisions to make over the summer and with the exception of Gibbs I wouldn`t be at all surprised to see them playing elsewhere next season.

And all the common trait players, those who played in both games (Giroud and Ramsey and even potentially Kos) have stepped up to the plate, taken their game to another level.
Giroud, a player I have cursed on more than one occasion and about whom I still have lingering doubts about at the very top level has been simply exceptionally good this season. His minutes to goals ratio in the league is currently at about the 95 minute mark which is almost scary. There are no doubt more skilful players out there but I honestly can`t think of another striker in Europe that I`d trade for our handsome Frenchman to play the style of game that we ask Giroud to do. He`s also starting to bully defenders like I know that he can. There are shades of Drogba at his peak to Giroud`s game now. Players both similar in style and ability they were also both relatively late bloomers. It will interesting to see if Giroud can carry this type of form for a full season. Do that and he moves into the “world class” category.

Ramsey is now starting to show the form from last season and he seems much more comfortable and far more effective in the 4-1-2-3 type formation than the ill-suited 4-1-4-1 that we tried earlier in the season. This was used by Wenger, many feel , to accommodate a fit again Jack but it ended up impacting negatively on both Ozil and Ramsey (our two best players from last season). It will be interesting to see what Wenger does when Jack returns into contention. My feeling is he`ll sit on the bench a lot and really it`s hard to see a place for Jack in the team going forward. The current midfield setup requires three very different players to work (a sitting defensive player, a midfield engine and a creative player). Jack, for all his talent, is a bit too much of all three, a bit Jack of all trades but sadly for him a master of none. A great player to have on the bench as he can provide “backup” across the midfield but not good enough to start. If we add a quality midfielder in the summer (Schneiderlin for example) does Jack even make the bench?

For what it`s worth I don`t think we`ll win the league but I think we might push Chelsea close, make it uncomfortable for them at least. Add an FA Cup to that and then the season looks a lot brighter than it did a few shorts months ago. We also go into the summer for the first time in a long time needing neither to worry about a big name leaving nor needing major surgery to improve the team. For the first time in a years we can honestly say that we are genuinely one or two players short of a league title.

I honestly didn`t think that Wenger had it in him. But he`s gone about his business in a quiet and calm way since that Villa defeat. It hasn`t been all plain sailing by any means but in just twenty short months we`ve put ourselves in a position where we`re hoping for a runners-up position in the league, retaining the FA Cup and not that worried if Theo stays or goes. We could spend big on one player this summer (two if Theo goes) but the great thing is there`s is not a dire need anywhere. It would be nice to add a great keeper to the team or an alternative option to Coq but there is no pressing gap to fill.

I`ve gone on record as saying that we`d never win the league again with Wenger in charge but I`m already looking to next season and thinking maybe, just maybe. Do I honestly think that we`re there yet? Do you know what, I do. I really do.