Writing this in the wake of Arsenal’s entertaining 2-0 victory over Liverpool, everything seems to be distinctly rosy concerning the Gunners at the moment. If you were reading this on approximately the 18th August, you would doubtless be reading a very different assessment indeed. In my opinion this is a stark message to not produce anything too reactionary, however, since that fatal day against Aston Villa where chants of “Speed, Spend, Spend!” and “Wenger Out” could be heard echoing around the Emirates, or perhaps more intensely on Twitter (I’m looking at you, Piers), Arsenal have beaten Fenerbache twice, Fulham, Spurs, Sunderland, Marseille, Stoke, Swansea, Napoli, Norwich and Palace – the only blip in the league being a draw at The Hawthorns, which is hardly a disgraceful result – (not to mention the stunning run of form Arsenal experienced in the 2nd half of last season). This, in my opinion, strongly suggests that Arsenal are a serious force to be reckoned with, rather than an average team in a brief vein of form. But just what can this Arsenal team achieve? And if they are genuine title contenders, why?
At the time of writing, Arsenal are in 1st place, 5 points ahead of second. This brings me nicely onto my first (obvious) point – if Arsenal don’t win the league, who will? Last season’s Champions, Manchester United, have found a real gem of a player in Adnan Januzaj, and Wayne Rooney appears to be entering better form, but obvious defensive cracks appeared in the loss to West Brom, draw at home to Southampton and even the 3-2 win at home to Stoke. I’m not for a minute attempting to suggest United were a particularly amazing defensive side under Sir Alex Ferguson, but there is a sense (supported by ex-pros) that teams are not as intimidated by the forlorn figure of David Moyes on the Old Trafford bench, as they were by the deity Sir Alex. It could also be argued that the fact Januzaj appears to be so influential after just a handful of Premier League starts suggests a lack of quality senior players at United. I believed Arsenal would finish above United before the season began, and I personally maintain that view. City and Chelsea arguably have more eye-catching and ‘world-class’ players than Arsenal, but I believe this is only truly the case in certain areas. Chelsea obviously have a superb attacking midfield, but appear to lack firepower up front, and defensive midfield and indeed defence itself sometimes seem shaky to me – this has been evident in away losses to Everton and Newcastle on Saturday. Likewise Manchester City have a brilliant midfield and sometimes attack, with the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo to name just a few. But their ‘first-choice’ ‘keeper seems to be faltering, and Vincent Kompany bears such a commanding influence that is so vital to City that this is surely a worry for fans, when he is fairly frequently injured. Liverpool, in my blue-tinted mind, are not really title contenders, but even so have shown their susceptibility to better teams with a defeat at Anfield to Southampton, and indeed the loss yesterday. Their midfield was, I believe, utterly dominated and outclassed by Arsenal’s, and it is only a matter of time before Luis Suarez incurs a 10-match-ban for some despicable act. I like to think Everton have a good shot at the Champions League, but realistically the Premier League is a pipe-dream, as we are a loan-striker away from Arouna Koné being our first choice, with misfiring Nikica Jelavic in reserve. Spurs probably have a better chance, but things don’t seem to have fully clicked yet (this could be interpreted positively), as some of Tottenham’s new signings haven’t fully adapted yet, and a lack of goals from open play is never really a good sign.
Arsenal definitely don’t have the squad depth of some of their more free-spending peers, (a bench of Fabianski, Jenkinson, Monreal, Hayden, Akpom and Bendtner was indicative of this), but this was largely down to an injury crisis. Arsenal’s midfield is as strong as any, with Mathieu Flamini performing an admirable job anchoring the midfield, allowing the likes of Özil, the amazing Ramsey, Cazorla and Wilshere to flourish, with Mikel Arteta also playing a disciplined integral role. There’s plenty of spice to bring on from the bench as well, with Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the young but impressive Gnabry, plus Walcott and Podolski to return from injury. Goalkeeper has been brought up frequently as a weak point of Arsenal over recent seasons, and despite perhaps having a season to forget last term, Wojciech Szczesny has strung together a series of vastly improved performances of late. Central defence appears finally to be a source of consistency and competency now, with the erratic-but-adept Laurent Koscielny partnered by experienced oversee-er Per Mertesacker. Kieran Gibbs can claim to be one of the Premier League’s most improved defenders too, and Monreal is a more-than-acceptable backup, whilst Bacary Sagna has returned to his form from a few seasons ago (admittedly Arsenal are extremely weak in centre-back depth). Olivier Giroud was overly-criticised last season, and is reaping the rewards of his persistence. His finishing is good, and I have also noticed how skilful he can be in link-up-play. Arsenal can comfortably say they can field a starting XI that is as good as any in the Premier League on their day, and could also play a decent second XI too.
Arsene Wenger. One man can have a massive influence on a club, and how it is run, from the very top onto the field of play. Wenger possesses a supreme tactical knowledge and philosophy that could be perceived to have bordered on stubborn at times, but is now (not for the first time by any means) basking in its abundant success. The patience shown in players, primely Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud, is also paying huge dividends. This could be Arsene Wenger’s last year of managing Arsenal, or any management whatsoever, and I’m sure he’d like to go out in glory. Arsenal fans have endured some tough times in recent years, but the faith shown by both the board (who rightly come under fire a lot), and the majority of reasonable fans has been well-placed, without a shadow of doubt.
A slightly minor point, but it has been well documented how Arsenal have had a tendency to shift their beset players in recent years – be it Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri or Cesc Fabregas. Of course, that trio, and others, have been good players, but the prudent approach is finally reaping its rewards, and this summer Arsenal merely got rid of deadwood, and brought in some okay player whose name I forget.
I would love to see Arsenal claim silverware this season. In my opinion, the Champions League is beyond them, but the only sticking point domestically would be if an even worse injury crisis were to hit, or a team like City or Chelsea went on an unmatchable run. The Gunners would do well to buy cover in both the centre of defence and centre forward region in January. There would certainly be a sense of circularity and ‘The Last Laugh’, if we witness, er, Thomas Vermaelen lifting the Premier League trophy come May.