Arsenal: 5 Factors Which Will Rejuvenate The Gunners in 2012/2013
The sands have shifted for the Premier League and Arsenal FC. For the first time since 2004, and that amazing season of the Invincibles, the Gunners are now viable Premier League contenders.
This comes on the back of having lost Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last season and Robin van Persie and Alex Song this past summer.
So the question must be asked; How have the Arsenal gone from losing four almost irreplaceable stars to being title contenders?
It is a question that has many answers, with every one beginning with the uttering of the sacred name that is Arsene Wenger.
Le Prof, as he is known to Arsenal's legion of fans, has been pivotal in the development of the English Premier League as a whole, and as he enters his 63rd year on planet football and his 16th year with the Gunners, he remains one of the best minds in the game.
With him at the helm, Arsenal will always stand a chance at Premier League glory, but he can't do everything, and certain factors have to be in place before any title challenge has a chance to blossom.
Here we look at five factors which will rejuvenate the Gunners' title challenge in 2012/2013 and beyond.
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Steve Bould is a legend at Arsenal FC.
The 49-year-old enjoyed a 20-year career as a professional footballer between 1980 and 2000 with various clubs, but he is most famous for his 287 appearances for the Gunners between 1988 and 1999.
As a player, Bould would be best described as a rugged centre half and is probably about as far away from an Arsene Wenger-type player as one could get.
He was, however, an important part of Wenger's first team in 1996 but was eventually sold to Sunderland in '98 as Le Prof started putting his stamp on the club.
That wasn't the end of Bould, though, and in 2001 he returned to the club in the capacity as youth team coach.
This season, Pat Rice retired after spending 44 years with the Gunners and Bould was the first man Wenger looked to replace him with.
The ex-centre half has made a natural transition from player to coach to assistant coach with Arsenal.
His background and relationship with many of the players in the first team made him the only choice to assist Wenger.
He commands respect through his past as a player and as a coach, and the first seeds of his influence can be seen in the new defensive meanness the Gunners have shown so far this season.
The early effects of his coaching are there for all to see but, perhaps, the best example so far this season was Arsenal's recent 3-1 win over Olympiakos in the Champions League.
Bould sat in the dug-out controlling matters for the suspended Wenger and spoke to Arsenal.com about how the team are slowly gaining in-game intelligence and a winning mentality.
"This is a results industry," he said, "and we got the result.
"We ground it out, we limited them to a few [chances] and we could have perhaps scored a few more so without being fantastic; we've had a great result."
These 38 words speak volumes about the change in mental direction of Arsenal under the watchful eye of their new coach and if this new steel can be married with Wenger's flair, the Gunners will be an incredibly hard team to beat...in any competition.
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Is there a better play-maker in the Premier League than Santi Cazorla?
Cazorla is a superb player, and if it were not for the golden generation of incredible midfielders in Spanish football, think Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas, he would easily have hit the 100-cap mark by now.
The La Liga Player of the Year in 2007, while at lowly Recreativo, is quick and agile, is blessed with incredible vision, is deceptively strong for his height at 5'6", is comfortable with the ball on either foot and naturally plays the game in the manner that Arsene Wenger spends years trying to coach.
In short, he is an Arsenal player.
With Cazorla in the team, the Gunners possess the most creative and devastating midfielder in the Premier League, and if he can avoid injury and coax the best out of the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, then Arsenal will have one of the best young midfields in Europe.
The 27-year-old Cazorla, in his short time as an Arsenal player, is now the very foundation of the team and like any lynch-pin, he is the focal point about which everything, that is good about the Gunners, rotates.
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Even after 16 years at the top with Arsenal, Arsene Wenger remains one of the best managers in football.
His qualities as a coach and his ability to read a player's potential development are second to none and as he builds, what could conceivably be his last Arsenal team, he is on the verge of leaving a dynasty.
No other manager in modern football has used or has shown as much faith in the development of young players as Wenger.
The Frenchman is not afraid to throw his youth players into the white-hot heat of Premiership action. But, it is in the cup competitions of the League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League where their real education as a footballer is learned.
This season, when many questioned Arsenal's chances of finishing in the top four, Arsene Wenger stayed quiet.
Le Prof was obviously confident of the talent at his disposal and in terms of potential, there is not a Premier League club today who can match the Gunners midfield.
Defensively, there is still work to do.
If Wenger could find a top-class defender to partner Thomas Vermaelen instead of either Laurent Koscielny or Per Mertesacker and pair them with the superb Kieran Gibbs on the left with either Carl Jenkinson or Bacary Sagna on the right, he would have his best defence since 1996.
So in those terms, the Gunners are very close to having a complete team.
Lukas Podolski will score goals and Olivier Giroud will eventually come good, but it is perhaps in the development of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a No. 10 role and Joel Campbell as a striker that the Gunners best future lies.
But all of that is with the manager, and as any Arsenal fan can tell you, "Arsene knows best."
Wenger's Flexible 4-2-3-1 Made on www.FootballUser.Com
This season, Arsene Wenger has utilised a variant of a 4-2-3-1 formation that can turn into a 4-3-3 at the flick of a switch.
Under the Frenchman, the Gunners have been an incredibly quick counter-attacking team, but it was not always the case.
In Thierry Henry's first couple of months with the club, he was primarily used as a lone centre forward to little effect.
Using a traditional 4-4-1-1 formation, Wenger kept his fellow countryman in the centre of the pitch as the traditional pinnacle of the team, but it simply did not work for either club or player.
So Le Prof started experimenting on the training ground by telling Henry to drift out to his natural left hand side while the Gunners were defending.
Then, when Arsenal broke in a counter attack the highly skilful Henry could use his scintillating pace and skill against the opposition's right full, whom he had previously isolated.
This simple tactic also had the knock on effect that if a mentally weak centre-half had followed Henry out to the wing too, he had now isolated two players in a small section of the pitch and created a huge gap through the middle at the same time.
When Wenger saw that this tactic was successful, he made his team train in this manner for hours upon hours until they perfected it in every single way.
The end result was Henry, who only scored twice in his first 17 games, going on to score 29 goals from remaining 40 fixtures that season.
This season, Wenger has returned to the tactics of 1999.
Lukas Podolski, while nowhere near the same calibre of player as Henry, naturally drifts out towards the left-hand side when Arsenal are defending. And like Henry, he too possesses incredible pace and power than can isolate opponents.
This simple tactic is one of the main reasons Arsenal have been so successful both defensively and offensively in the early part of the season.
With Podolski a potent threat who will always score goals at any level, it now falls to Arsene Wenger to bring the very best out of Gervinho, Giroud or Walcott or whoever will partner and support the prolific German striker.
The first part of Wenger's tactical plan alongside Steve Bould's influence is paying off, and Stage 2 is not far behind.
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The influence of the fans upon a team cannot be underestimated.
It is true that Arsenal have been in a perpetual state of flux since winning the title in 2004, but they have been slowly building towards a point in time that will arise in the near future, if they can hold onto key players and if their fans remain patient.
Arsene Wenger's football philosophy is well known. He likes to give young skilful players a chance in the team, but this can often be a double-edged sword.
If the youngster does well; he can go onto great things. Think of the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and Gibbs in the current set-up.
However, if the youth starts badly and gets nervous and feels the crowd's tension and impatience, his development can go backwards...or sometimes sidewards at best. Think Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner or even Carlos Vela as players who never reached their potential.
This, of course, is not all down to the fans and is mainly down to the player’s lack of application, but in individuals who have not prepared that mental barrier, the fans' disappointment can be devastating.
For the last couple of seasons, Arsenal's fans have been losing patience with some of the players and the manager at the club. This eventually culminated in Wenger being roundly booed after a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United.
This season, despite losing two more key players in the summer, Arsenal's fans have shown great solidarity and patience with this new-look team. The only discontent shown by them so far has been to question Theo Walcott's loyalty, which is entirely understandable, given his contract situation.
This current Arsenal team are, like the others over the past couple of seasons, in development.
But what sets this team apart is that the senior players Wenger has at his disposal do not want to go anywhere else.
They have made Arsenal their home and this, combined with a youth culture that wants to develop their game, makes Arsenal a very dangerous animal indeed.
Arsenal's fans realise this and a showing greater patience this season than in previous campaigns, and if they can help the development of the mentally weaker players, then Arsene Wenger and they will have a Gunners team worth cheering...for years to come.