Despite the losses of the captain and leading goal scorer and the leading assist provider from last season over the summer, despite being written off by the media and lambasted by fans over transfer dealings, despite having the dark cloud of an empty Emirates trophy cabinet still looming above and shooting blanks in the opening two games, Arsenal have suddenly hit some form.
The departure of Robin van Persie was a big letdown for Arsenal. The captain, the main man, leaving to join Manchester United, even the three early signings could not soften that hammer blow. Song going was a little different, some fans seeing it as a shocking loss which will leave a crucial hole in midfield, with others willing to pay for his plane ticket to Barcelona. The season started with dismal predictions of Europa league places and goalless games. What a difference three wins can make. The game at Anfield was crucial, a dominating 2-0 win in which Arsenal played a (albeit poor) Liverpool side off the park. The 6-1 thrashing of Southampton followed, add to that the win away from home at French champions Montpellier in the Champions League, and Arsenal now appear strong and solid, free-scoring and together as a team. Good defensive displays have resulted in new assistant manager Steve Bould being lauded with praise, whether the solid and comfortable performances at the back is all down to him, we don’t know for sure, but he must be a great influence on the defense. A new positive attitude has swept over the majority of Gunners fans.
I believe with the new additions, the strength in the current squad is greater than in past seasons. The substitute bench will be very interesting this year. If players can keep fit Arsenal will have strong options to call upon. With the likes of Walcott and Koscielny already finding themselves as subs so far this term, players like Santos, Arshavin, Chamakh, Ramsey, Gervinho, Jenkinson and others could find themselves left out of the starting 11. The competition for places is hot right now, something you don’t usually associate with the Gunners – back up consisting of experienced and quality players.
For me, there are only five who appear to be unmovable on the team sheet – Arteta, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Cazorla and Podolski. All the other places will be judged on performance, fitness and mental strength. At the start of the season I seriously would not have believed Sagna’s place could be under threat, thinking that when he is fit he would walk straight back into the first team, but the young full-back Jenkinson has been excellent. Pace, power, strength and with the ability to bomb down the wing and pick a perfect cross, when Sagna does return from injury, he will surely have to fight for his position. Koscielny, probably Arsenal’s best defender last year, has also lost his place alongside new captain Vermaelen, with Per Mertesacker answering his doubters with superb form so far this season. Mannone looks set to continue in between the sticks as Szczesny is out injured again. The young Italian has not put a glove wrong so far, who’s to say that if he puts in a few outstanding performances while he has the chance, he won’t cement a place too. When Wilshire comes back he too will have to earn his place, the midfield has been brilliant so far, and if Diaby stays fit then Arsene Wenger will have some tough decisions to make. These are good problems to have.
The manager appears to have played his cards right. Arsenal will face the biggest test of their season so far at Manchester City on Sunday. If the team can continue the fine form and discipline shown in the previous games, then they are quite capable of getting all three points at the Etihad.
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This article was first posted on September 23, 2012