Arsenal were held to a second successive goalless draw, this time at the Britannia Stadium, in what has been a stuttering start to the Gunners’ Premier League campaign.
They once again dominated the play but were unable to find that decisive breakthrough, and are facing escalating criticism as a result.
But is such criticism entirely justified?
On face value, one would have to say yes; failing to find the net against mid-table opposition not only once but twice in succession is less than acceptable given Arsenal’s top-four aspirations.
Yet there are certainly positives to be taken from the two games.
The most notable being that Arsenal have now kept two consecutive Premier League clean sheets, something they managed just twice throughout the entirety of last season.
The fact that Vito Mannone had to step in for his first ever league game for the club against Stoke only makes that statistic even more commendable.
It’s not just that they are yet to concede; truth be told, they haven’t really looked like conceding in either game.
Thus, it very much reflects a group effort—from the goalkeeper, the defence and also the midfield—with the likes of Mikel Arteta’s early season defensive work more than atoning for the loss of Alex Song.
Of course, I must acknowledge that these are only two games; the defence could yet deteriorate given the number of matches that are yet to be played.
Nonetheless, these 180 minutes have provided evidence that we may finally be starting to see some form of progress in what has been such a problematic area for the Gunners over the past few years.
Perhaps it’s the appointment of former Arsenal centre-half Steve Bould as Arsene Wenger’s assistant that has seen the recent improvement.
Whatever the reasoning behind it, such solid defence from the whole team as a unit should be praised; it certainly bodes well for the rest of the season.
Another positive is the dominance that Arsenal have displayed in the two goalless draws.
Though they have not proved clinical enough and this remains a significant problem, it is massively encouraging that the team are at least playing well and taking the game to their opponents.
Had the team not been playing in such a manner, a degree of alarm amongst fans would certainly be warranted. But they have been playing the right balls, getting into good positions and doing everything they need to apart from putting the ball in the back of the net.
Of course, scoring goals is the most important part of football, but over time, it will come.
Although Santi Cazorla is already looking to be worth his weight in gold, it may take a bit longer for the rest of the new signings to gel together. But once Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski find their feet, the possession that Arsenal are currently enjoying will soon be translated into goals.
Is it too early to criticise Arsenal?
It seems that many fans are too eager to criticise the team. Despite the less than satisfying results, Arsenal's encouraging performances have laid the foundations for the club to go on and achieve success this year.
Furthermore, if these two draws were to have occurred at some point in the middle of the season, would they have attracted such attention and negativity?
I for one very much doubt it.
The club needs to remain positive. Besides, despite only having two points on the board they could be in a much worse position, as proved by last season’s opening few games.
If the fans can continue to get behind the team and give the players time to produce the desired results, the goals will arrive and Arsenal will once again find themselves climbing back to their rightful position in the higher echelons of the Premier League table.
As ever with Arsenal, patience is a virtue, and the potential is still there for the club to push on and turn this season into a memorable one.
Writing off their chances already would be foolish to say the least.
We’ve seen them bounce back before, and you can bet your bottom dollar that we will see it again.