Arsenal: 5 Biggest Positives from the Gunners' 2012-13 Season
As is their wont, Arsenal have not given fans a moment's security this season. Supporters are still sweating over whether the club will qualify for the Champions League and retain its status as one of Europe's top clubs.
And the road to this point has been fraught with suspense and false dawns. The worst start that Arsene Wenger has ever overseen at Arsenal has only been made up for by the ineptitude of the club's rivals.
When one looks past the surface, however, this season has delivered its share of positives. Arsenal would not be in the driver's seat in the race for fourth place were it not for the types of events that make Piers Morgan mercifully step away from his Twitter account.
Though the story of the 2012-13 season has not yet been finished, let's take a look back at five of its biggest positives.
Last season, Arsenal did not replace Cesc Fabregas, and there was a massive gap at the front tip of midfield.
Perhaps if Jack Wilshere had not been injured for the whole season things would have been different, but Aaron Ramsey was forced to assume the role, and he struggled mightily. Only by the left foot of Robin van Persie did Arsenal make up for the lost creativity.
During last summer's transfer window, Arsene Wenger finally decided to do something about the problem and snapped up Santi Cazorla from a cash-strapped Malaga side.
The results were immediate, and Cazorla is still paying dividends.
The Spaniard can dribble past defenders, play an immaculate pass, score with the simple stroke of his boot and use either foot to strikingly equal effect. Used either as an attacking midfielder or left winger, he is amazingly Arsenal's top goalscorer.
As soon as Jack Wilshere returned from a 16-month injury layoff last November, it was obvious how much Arsenal missed him when he was out last season.
Almost immediately after he became fit, Wenger could not resist selecting the versatile midfielder in almost every game.
Wilshere quickly regained the immaculate touch and sublime vision that he displayed to such great effect during his breakout 2010-11 campaign. And of course, he continued to display a work rate reflective of the tremendous devotion he has to Arsenal.
Unsurprisingly, Wilshere has regained his status as a fan favorite, even if he has not been missed that much during his current spell on the sidelines. It is amazing how quickly he made up for lost time. Hopefully, this season will be a springboard to many more sterling displays in an Arsenal shirt.
A More Balanced Attack
Last season, Arsenal relied so heavily on the goalscoring of Robin van Persie that Arsene Wenger felt compelled to purchase two strikers to replace him when he left. One injury to the Dutchman, and the Gunners probably would not have squeaked into the Champions League.
Even Wenger felt that the team was too reliant on one man to score its goals (via The Guardian). So the fact that no one man has assumed the role of chief goalscorer is a good thing.
Three players currently have double-digit goal tallies in the Barclays Premier League: Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. The latter, who is the only traditional striker of the three, has the fewest. Lukas Podolski is close behind with eight goals.
With more players getting in on the scoring, there is more room for error, as one man's off day will not result in the entire team suffering.
No longer does the squad rely on Cesc Fabregas to create the chances or van Persie to score them: The whole side operates as a cohesive unit.
Real Competition for Places
This is more of a recent development, but it's one that Arsenal fans are happy to see come late rather than never.
For too long, underperforming players would remain in the starting XI due to a paucity of options or the inexplicably strong faith of Arsene Wenger. For example, Thomas Vermaelen remained in the team well past his early-season good form, presumably because he wears the captain's armband.
Now that's changing. When Lukasz Fabianski (who is a free agent at the end of the season) was fit to return to first-team action, Wenger immediately demoted the underwhelming Wojciech Szczesny. Laurent Koscielny took up Vermaelen's spot and has remained ever since.
That is a true meritocracy. And, by showing that no one's place is untouchable, Wenger stokes productive competition and can wring the most out of his players. Those who cannot withstand the heat are not good enough to play for Arsenal.
A Team Without Transfer Controversy
With Theo Walcott tied down to a long-term contract, Arsenal are finally set for their first summer in multiple seasons without at least one transfer saga.
Breathe in. Breathe out. It's a nice feeling, isn't it?
Fans had their share of drama with Walcott's "will he or won't he" routine, but there is no more controversy to be had now.
We all know about last summer's exodus, with Alex Song and, of course, Robin van Persie's contentious exits. And the year before that, Samir Nasri held Arsenal hostage for more money from Manchester City, while the press rabidly clung to the interminable "Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona" story.
Drama like that precludes a club from purchasing new players, as they do not know how much money they have to spend and prospective players have no idea what type of team they will play in.
This summer, Arsenal will have none of that, with the possible exception of Bacary Sagna on a smaller scale. That stability will set the Gunners up to build the base for future success if they play their cards right.