Arsenal Review: So Far, So Good for Arsene Wenger and the Gunners
Arsenal fans have notoriously high expectations for their hallowed men in red and white—and rightly so, but I would defy most Gooners who expected, or even predicted such an excellent start to the side's 2013/14 campaign.
After a morale-sapping loss to Aston Villa on opening day, many fair-weather fans would be seen to completely slate Arsenal's aspirations for the year, and called for Arsene Wenger's head. Yet 11 games later—all but one a victory, the other a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Sunday—sees Arsenal leading the chasing pack at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
As well as this they also head the supposed "Group of Death" in the UEFA Champions League.
Not only that, but this seriously impressive run of form stretches back to the famous 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena back in March, where an Arsenal renaissance was born against the eventual champions of Europe, Bayern Munich.
It's not a stretch to call the Gunners the most in-form team in Europe, especially considering the way they humbled Napoli in the last UCL match day—who themselves remain unbeaten in league competition.
How do you explain this run of over 20 games with a solitary loss?
A few different factors come into play: Various players have improved massively or proven their worth to the team. A sensational foray into the transfer market has inspired hunger, belief and desire, and the manager continues to prove he is worth his salt.
Firstly, consider the Welshman in north London who decided not to up sticks this summer.
Aaron Ramsey, all things considered, has been nothing short of phenomenal so far this season, and you would be hard pressed to find someone in the entire league who has been playing so well.
His goalscoring record—eight goals in the last 11 fixtures—means he is the club's leading scorer, and is tied for third-most goals in the Premier League. Only Daniel Sturridge and Loic Remy have scored more.
Although this in itself is a fantastic improvement and a testament to Ramsey's keen eye for goal, it would slight Ramsey to say that's the only facet of his game that is better. In most games this year he has been omnipresent, always eager to create space and pick out a perfect pass.
He has been the Gunners' best player so far this season, bar none.
With a perfectly sound six goals to his name, Olivier Giroud has excelled in his extended run as the attack's focal point. With Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott among others spending notable time in the treatment room, Giroud has led the line for Wenger's men with aplomb.
Of note, Giroud's hold up play—his control of the ball, his patience and his touch—has been excellent, a vital factor contributing to Arsenal's success in the final third thus far this season. His ability to create opportunities for the likes of Ramsey has been a welcome addition to Arsenal's attacking repertoire.
Arsenal's two midfield additions this summer—Mesut Özil and Mathieu Flamini—have both excelled, albeit in entirely different ways.
Scarily, Özil is yet to fully acclimatise to the Premier League and is yet to play alongside Arsenal's diminutive maestro, the currently-injured Santi Cazorla. Consider his excellent form thus far—all three assists against Stoke City, for instance—and his very name on the team sheet instills a palpable sense of fear in the opposition's dressing room every time.
Flamini has been a different kind of successful, but his success is just as important as Özil's, if not even more so. His willingness to dive into challenges, to bully the opposing midfielders and play out from the back has made him the enforcer in the midst of it all that Wenger will have craved.
Arguably, not since Gilberto Silva was making his rounds in north London has there been a presence as fierce in Arsenal's midfield. Flamini will probably never win all the plaudits over, but his desire to do the "dark work", as Le Professeur refers to it, is a huge boon to the Gunners.
Who has been Arsenal's best player so far this season?
Arsenal's defense, too, has been quietly excellent for much of the season—taking special commendation must be Per Mertesacker. Wearing the captain's armband in place of Mikel Arteta early in the season, the German international has led by example. His excellent tackling and reliable command has made him Arsenal's best defender so far this season.
Arsenal's critics will point to their lack of "big games" thus far in the schedule—to Arsenal's credit, they knocked off Tottenham Hotspur in September and the aforementioned victory when hosting Napoli shows their appetite for the big games. Nevertheless, a big six weeks lie in waiting for Wenger's men.
Tough fixtures (Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea in the Capital One Cup and a pair of games against Jurgen Klopp and his fearless Borussia Dortmund) mean that it is more crucial than ever in the season for Arsenal's players to stay healthy and stay focused.
Tougher tests than before are in store, and competition will be perhaps fiercer than before—Arsenal, at the top of the Premier League table, are in their opponents' collective crosshairs now. While the Gunners' may not have been sussed out, there can be no chance of Arsenal being underestimated now.
Nevertheless, a dozen games into the campaign and just a single loss? Arsenal fans should be delighted. Big things are ahead for this talented squad. Title aspirations—or more—are not out of the question.
Europe, take note. Arsenal are on fire.
Have anything to add? Let me know—leave me a comment below, or follow me on Twitter: @callumlarr.
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