A Quarter-Term Report on Arsenal
Arsenal are now a quarter of the way through their 2013/14 campaign and it’s fair to say they’ve exceeded expectations.
Although Arsenal may have lost their last game at Old Trafford, a broader picture redeems the Gunners. They sit at the top of the Premier League table in a season in which many pundits had predicted they would fall out of the top four.
They are also on course to qualify from an extremely hazardous Champions League group, having secured a landmark victory over Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
Over the next few slides, we examine some of the highlights (and low points) of this first quarter of Arsenal’s 2013/14 season before awarding an overall grade.
Player of the First Quarter: Aaron Ramsey
No surprises here: Aaron Ramsey has not just been the best player at Arsenal but the best player in the entire Premier League.
His transformation has been remarkable. Having been a target of the fans' frustrations in previous seasons, Ramsey has emerged as the very heartbeat of this current Arsenal side.
Ramsey's performances have been regularly punctuated by goals. The stats are astonishing: In a matter of months, he has doubled his tally of career goals and now has 11 for the season.
At this stage, you would not bet against him notching 20 goals this season. If he can do that, Ramsey will surely be a front-runner for the Footballer of the Year award.
Signing of the First Quarter: Mathieu Flamini
It takes a truly special signing to stop Mesut Ozil claiming this award. Ozil has reinvigorated the entire club and justified his price tag as Arsenal's record signing.
However, acquiring Mathieu Flamini on a free transfer is one of the smartest moves Arsene Wenger has ever made. Many were dubious about Flamini's credentials, but he has shown he's every bit as fit as the player who left for AC Milan in 2008.
Flamini has added steel to Arsenal's spine and instantly established himself as a leader on the field. Those qualities are almost impossible to find. To get them for free is remarkable.
Goal of the First Quarter: Jack Wilshere vs. Norwich
Arsenal will have to do something pretty spectacular to score a better goal than this in the rest of 2013/14.
This goal felt like the pinnacle of Arsene Wenger's aesthetic achievements at Arsenal. It was a dazzling display of precision pinball in and around the penalty area, culminating in the calmest of side-footed finishes from Jack Wilshere.
There was something poetic, too, about Wilshere being the man to finish the move. He is a true product of the Arsenal academy and a disciple of Wenger's philosophy.
Match of the First Quarter: Arsenal vs. Napoli
Arsenal's best performance of the season thus far came in this 2-0 victory over Napoli.
This was the game in which Arsenal's passing game clicked most coherently. Quite simply, they blew Napoli off the park. Mesut Ozil was the star, scoring the opener with a cushioned volley before creating the second for Olivier Giroud.
The performance was also impressive for the mature way in which Arsenal saw out the second half.
The win was particularly sweet as it came against Rafael Benitez, who is hardly the most popular of figures at the Emirates Stadium.
Disappointment of the First Quarter: The Opening Day
Despite their positive start, Arsenal have suffered a few disappointments. There have been the customary injury problems, a feeble Capital One Cup exit against Chelsea and the defeat at Old Trafford.
However, the greatest disappointment has probably been the opening-day defeat against Aston Villa.
It was a match Arsenal should have won and had they done so, their lead at the top of the Premier League would be even more daunting for their rivals.
Overall Grade: A Minus
Arsenal deserve a huge amount of credit for their performances from the start of the season until now.
They have confounded expectations to emerge as the Premier League's most reliable performers. Arsene Wenger is getting the best from a squad stretched by injuries and has restored his reputation as a world-class manager.
Why is it not a the perfect A grade, then?
Simply because, despite all the positives, Arsenal's start has not been perfect. They will be disappointed to have gone out of the Capital One Cup to rivals Chelsea, robbing them of an opportunity to end their long wait for silverware.
High-profile defeats against Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund have also irked Arsene Wenger and damaged their trophy-winning credentials.
However, overall, it has been a hugely promising first quarter. Consistency is key. If the Gunners can maintain their domestic form, they will surely be in the shake-up for the Premier League title come May.
What have you made of the opening quarter of Arsenal's 2013/14 campaign? Let us know below.