Arsenal FC: 6 Biggest Surprises at the Emirates in 2012-2013

Rohan SubraSenior Analyst IOctober 8, 2012

Arsenal FC: 6 Biggest Surprises at the Emirates in 2012-2013

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    We know the story so far. 

    Arsenal have started the season looking like a new team (in many positive ways), but haven't really gotten the points to show for in: 12 points in seven games.

    The Steve Bould effect, which was noticeable in the first four games, has slightly worn off, as the defense is starting to be shaky. The attack is as usual: It can often be lethal, but it has moments of benignity.

    These things are very interesting in themselves, but another fun thing to do is compare the unfolding of events to predictions or expectations.

    Here are the six biggest surprises so far for Arsenal.

Fullbacks' Improvement

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    Last year, it was a moan-and-groan type situation for Arsenal fans every single time Carl Jenkinson came onto the pitch: His first Arsenal goal wasn't exactly a great omen, as it wound up in the back of his own net, and the kid just seemed like an inexperienced guy who made blunders.

    But over the summer, he made some great improvements, and you have to hand it to the British/Finnish right back. Not only is he quite solid defensively, Jenkinson has been a threat on the right wing; his cross set up Gervinho's goal against Montpellier.

    And on the left, Kieran Gibbs has been absolutely fantastic.

    If I had to give an Arsenal player Man of the Match against Chelsea, I would certainly give it to Gibbs, who was winning balls all over the place against the Blues. His tackling skills have gone up a few notches, and it's really helped the Gunners thus far.

    Plus, he has turned into an offensive force on the left flank: In the 6-1 hammering of Southampton, the Englishman was the cause of both of the Saints' own goals. He has been linking up well with Podolski and Gervinho, making good overlapping runs on that side to become an attacking danger.

Diaby Playing out of His Mind

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    Abou Diaby is always associated to the word "injury" in some way. (Even now, the Frenchman is out for a couple more weeks.)

    Anyway, Diaby made a fantastic comeback from injury, and with his play, he rose in the minds of Gunners fans, showing his true talent.

    Arteta's ability to hold the midfield properly helped Diaby greatly since that allowed him to make slaloming runs into dangerous areas in the opposition's half. For such a big guy, he has surprisingly quick and shifty feet.

    By way of scoring, he may not have had much success, but he is now able to cap off his runs with good incisive passes, a quality which can never hurt, especially at Arsenal.

    He won man of the match multiple times, including against Liverpool, and showed that his history of not playing won't affect him.

    Hopefully for Arsenal, he won't look back after his injury and will keep on playing the way he is.

Mannone's Dramatic Progress

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    Yet another player who has improved a lot.

    Due to Szczesny's rib and ankle injuries—although maybe the lack of solidity in his recent form has played a role in his absence—Vito Mannone has been getting starts for the Gunners, something which didn't happen last year.

    The Italian has done a decent job so far. Joleon Lescott's goal for Manchester City could have been pegged on him, and the same can be said of Juan Mata's free kick to give Chelsea the win (though in that one, he shares the blame with Koscielny).

    Apart from those two incidents, Mannone has done much better than he has done in recent years at the Emirates. 

    Szczesny's injury has helped to show that Mannone isn't the blunder-prone keeper that we have seen, though everyone has their bad moments.

    He has already started seven out of Arsenal's 10 games in all competitions.

Giroud and Walcott: Lack of Playing Time

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    Olivier Giroud's arrival at Arsenal sparked enthusiasm from Gooners. Was it going to be the year that Arsenal finally got a big threat in the attack, not just Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny to be danger men on set pieces?

    So far, he has certainly held up the ball quite well, using his head to assist Aaron Ramsey for his goal against Olympiakos. Despite having shown what he is made of, it isn't a signing that I would call a success so far.

    Sure, he has scored two goals, but his confidence isn't increasing because he isn't getting played. He is a great player, and there is no doubt that he would impress were he playing, but Wenger isn't allowing him to do so.

    Theo Walcott's lack of playing time, on the other hand, is more explicable. The whole contract negotiations are dragging on, and Wenger doesn't want to give him a consistent starting spot until he can commit to his future with Arsenal, which isn't a big surprise.

    This is included, however, because it wasn't something we anticipated at the beginning of the season. He probably will start to see more time on the pitch now because he played well against West Ham, managing a goal and an assist with hardly any playing time.

Mertesacker Can Steal Koscielny's Starting Spot

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    Last season was what we call a breakout year for Laurent Koscielny.

    There seems to be a rule of players adjusting to English Premier League football after a year at Arsenal, and Koscielny didn't buck the trend. Last summer, he got faster, stronger and simply better overall, winning a place in Arsenal fans' hearts.

    But now, Per Mertesacker is has adapted to English football just the same and could threaten Koscielny's spot in the Starting XI. The German is no longer a clumsy, too-tall center back; he has become a much better ball-winner and his heading ability has increased as well.

    Koscielny's blunders against Chelsea probably didn't help, either. Wenger decided to use the Frenchman paired up with Vermaelen in the big game. Deciding that one person is at fault is very subjective, but "Kos" could take at least some blame for both goals.

    I think that Koscielny is nevertheless a better player; it will just take him some time to get back to match fitness after his injury, which kept him out at the beginning of the season.

    Maybe for now Mertesacker will get more playing time, but don't be surprised to see Koscielny in the lineup later on this season.

A Harmonious Duo in Midfield

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    We knew that Cazorla could be great, but I don't know if any Arsenal fans expected him to be this good right off the bat. The little Spaniard is able to get the offense going by making great runs through the middle of the pitch.

    He is the definition of a complete player. He can dribble really well, as his quick feet make him astonishingly good at maneuvering tight spaces. His vision is brilliant, almost setting Olivier Giroud up for the fourth Arsenal goal on Saturday, and his shooting skills are shown in this left-footed strike.

    Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, is doing spectacular things. Like most midfielders who came out of the Barcelona academy, he is great at calming the team every time he gets the ball in the middle of the park, and we all know his vision is superb.

    His biggest improvement this year is his defensive ability. Last year, he played further forward, but now he is settling back and winning a lot of balls in the midfield. He is even winning many headers and showing his hustle all over the place.

    These two guys' styles are complementary. While Arteta gets the offense going with passing, Cazorla likes to make runs first; his calm is the opposite of Cazorla's energy and fire.

    Arteta and Cazorla are really helping to prove the stereotype that Spaniards make the best midfielders, and hopefully for Arsenal, they will continue to do that.

    Because right now, they are doing a wonderful job. 

Final Thoughts

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    Gervinho's scoring run could be a surprise, but I think that despite his number of goals, he isn't even playing that well in my opinion. That's why he isn't included here.

    If there was one man whose season is going exactly the way I was expecting it to, it's Lukas Podolski. The German international can be really involved in the attack or sort of absent at times, but he has been scoring goals, and we knew he would do that.

    As for Walcott's great play, I think it would be great for Arsenal to get him in the attack, so Wenger should try to get his contract signed as soon as possible.

    What do you think are the biggest surprises of the season?

    Please leave comments and feedback.