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    True shocks don’t happen in elite sports

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    Was this really a shock?

     

                Home                         Away

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     Key: Arsenal 1969-1970

             Arsenal 1970-1971

             Leicester 2014-201

             Leicester 2015-2016

             Arsenal 2021-2022

             Man City 2021-2022

    Sometimes in life, amazing things happen and we say wow! In elite sports they don’t, not really. You have to be top class to win. Leicester, in 2015-16, bought extremely well that season. N’Golo Kante, Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth and Shinji Okazaki came in to great effect. Also Jamie Vardy proved himself to be top class as did a young Rihad Mahrez. Kasper Schmeichel finally showed himself a worthy successor to his father. Sometimes goalkeepers bloom late. Leicester proved the launching pad for great players and with the big guns having a bad season, romped to the title. It was a surprise but not amazing. They had several players capable of gracing any teams. We just didn’t know how good they were until that season. Selling key players proved their undoing as did the demands of European football  but they remained a far better team than in the past.

    The teams are always good

    Now, I know what you are saying, Gus, this is an Arsenal column, what’s all this guff about Leicester?  Well read on, I will try to underline some areas which I have seen in my lifetime and how shocks come about. But also emphasise that in elite sports they are not such big shocks after all. And so let’s go back through the mists of time to my first row, Arsenal in 1969-1970. We were poor and finished 12th. We won a total of 15 matches out of 42 and we finished 12th. But we drew 18! So you can see how we could have chalked up many more wins. We only drew 7 the next season and won 29 times to win the title.

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    We had top top players

    The difference between us and Leicester was that we did it with more or less the same set of players. I believe that the massive confidence boost of winning the Fairs Cup (Europa League) in 1970 got the players to feel tall. A mostly English squad had players overlooked for England because of the star names in front of them, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks, Jack Charlton, Terry Cooper, Geoff Hurst, Alan Ball and others stopped Bob Wilson (later declared for Scotland), Peter Simpson, John Radford, Ray Kennedy, Charlie George and Geordie Armstrong and others from getting more caps. They were only at best a shade behind the superstar names. They were bloody good players. We should not have been 12th. And so we proved as we won the double the next season. But we definitely played above ourselves as did Leicester. Leicester got a massive boost by going out in front and gaining confidence all the time as the other teams forgot they had to finish above Leicester to win the title.

    We never do things easy

    We had to do things the hard way as we didn’t get off to a flyer, drawing our first 2 but we had several good runs and we kept in touch with the top, finally beating the Spuds away in our last game to climb the mountain.

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    Look at this list of names

    Nottingham Forest came up from the second division in 1977 to win the title the next year, which is even better than Leicester or us but they had the incomparable Brian Clough and amazing players such as Martin O’Neill, Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Archie Gemmill, John Robertson, Peter Withe, Tony Woodcock and plenty of others. Truly that quality of players made it no shock. Again we may not have known it at the time but those players had great careers.

    Can we provide an upset?

    And so to now and Arsenal. My second last row is us last season. 13 losses! But would it be a huge shock if we won the league? No, it wouldn’t. We have added some players who are proven winners. All our young players are a year older, they know that the only thing that matters is not to give up as we did against Man City, Liverpool and the Spuds as examples that come to mind. And not to lose concentration like against Everton and Palace.

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    Will this guy be a world great?

    It would, of course, be a surprise. The final row shows what we have to do. The gulf between us and City is enormous, you just have to look at those stats to see what I mean. What we need is simple, for the ultimate blossoming of our young talents unto a level that means greatness. For the team to gel, to battle, to be consistent. Man City lost 3 matches, Liverpool 2. That’s what we need. I have said many times in this column, the only currency that Arteta can trade in is, not bitcoin, not dollars, but wins.

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    And this guy?

    The right shock

    The question is, do we have players like Kante and Mahrez, and yes, Vardy, who stepped up to become leading players of their generation? I hope so. Bad teams don’t win the league and there are no true shocks in elite sports. I will be happy with a nice surprise and a red team from North London sitting on top of all the others. I will not be happy if we don’t improve on last season. That will be a shock I don’t want to see.  And I want to see us beat Leicester next game. Surely at home, with key players gone, they can't cause an upset? Up the Arsenal!

     

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    Especially this guy?

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