Positives Taken from the First Half of Arsenal's Season
We are currently in the midway point of the grueling football calendar and Arsenal stalwart, Arsene Wenger, can look back at the first half of his team’s 2013-14 campaign with a measure of pride. In recent campaigns, the Gunners have come close to glory only to fall short for one reason or the other.
This season, there’s a different feel around the Emirates and it’s looking likely that this could be the season Arsenal evicts the Black Widow spider from its trophy cabinet.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 positives taken from the first half of Arsenal’s 2013-14 campaign.
The Acquisitions of Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini
In the past, Arsenal was always linked with superstars in the transfer window but they were never going to put their money where their mouth was.
After failed pursuits for Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez, the fans believed it was going to be one of those summers but on transfer deadline day, the fans were astonished to see Mesut Ozil arrive at the Emirates for a record fee.
While Mesut Ozil dominated the back pages as you’d expect, the Gunners also secured a free transfer for the combative and tenacious prodigal son, Mathieu Flamini, who has added some steel to the midfield. Ozil has gone on to score five goals and provide nine assists while Flamini picked up where he left off in 2008.
Massive Clearout of the 'Deadwood'
This season, Arsenal was ruthless in dealing with those players that offered little or no contribution to the team’s cause in the previous campaign and as many as 22 players (seven first team players and 15 reserves) were shown the exit door this summer.
The club managed to receive close to 10 million pounds for the duo of Vito Mannone and Gervinho, while they cut their losses by releasing Denilson, Andrey Arshavin, Sebastien Squillaci, Andre Santos and Marouane Chamakh on free transfers.
The Impressive Away Record
It began with a spirited 2-0 win against the eventual Champions League winners of last season, Bayern Munich. Then an away victory against Swansea was followed up with a Tomas Rosicky-inspired win at West Brom. Three nervy 1-0 wins over Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle played a big role in Arsenal qualifying for the Champions League at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
They picked up where they left off with an away victory over Fenerbahce in the Champions League playoffs and followed it up with another away victory over Fulham. Aaron Ramsey stole the show in the wins over Sunderland, Olympique Marseille and Swansea before Jack Wilshere spared the team’s blushes against West Brom.
Crystal Palace were eased out and Arsenal’s most iconic away victory this season at Dortmund saw them arrive at Old Trafford high on confidence but a Robin van Persie strike brought that impregnable away form to an abrupt end. However, that hasn't stopped the team in its tracks and have only lost two other away games this season—against Napoli and Manchester City.
The Meteoric Rise of Aaron Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey has been an epitome of excellence and a breath of fresh air for Arsenal this season. The tale of his career is the type of stuff you want to watch in a documentary and get inspired.
Touted as the next big thing when he was signed from Cardiff, he gave the fans a glimpse of his sheer quality when he scored his first goal against Fenerbahce in 2008. His progression was continuous and he was on a steep learning curve, understudying a maestro like Cesc Fabregas but in February 2010, his career suffered a massive setback when he suffered a horrific injury at Stoke.
This season, Ramsey has advanced to astronomical levels in his overall game play (best tackler in the Premier League, amazing passing statistics, per Premier League.com) and the most jaw-dropping achievement about the young lad this season has been his ability to find the back of the net with consummate ease.
He’s currently facing an injury lay-off but you can bet your smart money for the Welsh Dragon to hit the 20-goal mark this season.
Tomas Rosicky’s Performances
Sometimes, I tend to wonder if Tomas Rosicky is really 33-years-old. I can remember him saying that he feels a lot younger than he is but when Rosicky is on the pitch, his determination, drive, class and most importantly, work rate, has been a major positive this season.
According to WhoScored, Rosicky has made 12 tackles, eight interceptions, committed 17 fouls, made 16 key passes and he has a pass completion percentage of 84.4 percent. If there’s any player that deserves a contract extension at the club, it’s Tomas Rosicky and of course, Bacary Sagna.
The Per Mertesacker-Laurent Koscielny Defensive Pivot
When Thomas Vermaelen joined the club in 2009, he was an indispensable player to the team and his six goals in his debut campaign endeared him to the hearts of Arsenal fans.
His Achilles tendon injury he suffered in his second season kept him out for close to seven months, but the club had acquired the services of a certain Laurent Koscielny that played alongside Johan Djourou for a considerable chunk of the campaign.
After acclimatizing to life in the Premier League, Mertesacker had his fair share of critics and even suffered an ankle injury that cut his season short and threatened his place in the German National team in Euro 2012.
Last season, Mertesacker found his feet and became a mainstay in the squad as he complemented both Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny. After some more erratic performances from the skipper, Arsene Wenger felt he had seen enough and he displaced him with Koscielny.
Since then, these lads have successfully displaced the captain from the team and their partnership inspires confidence as the Gunners tend to always get positive results when they play together.
The Resurrection of Nicklas Bendtner’s Dwindling Career
There was a point in time when Bendtner’s relationship with Arsenal had reached an all-time low and he wanted to do everything in his power to leave the club. Loan moves to Sunderland and Juventus followed but the Dane didn’t do enough to make the clubs retain his services.
After eating a humble pie the size of a sumo wrestler’s tummy, Bendtner decided to put his head down and fight for his place again, and the ever-forgiving Arsene Wenger handed him a start in the Capital One Cup encounter against West Brom, where he scored a penalty in the ensuing shootout.
Since then, Bendtner has had a couple of substitute appearances and scored his first Arsenal goal in two years with a neat header from a Carl Jenkinson cross in his start against Hull City. When the Gunners struggled for goals against Cardiff, Bendtner was summoned yet again and he scored a vital goal before suffering an ankle injury that would sideline him for a while.
It’s fair to say that Bendtner’s dwindling career at Arsenal has been resurrected and the fans are ready to sing his songs again.
When Arsene Wenger played Manchester United at Old Trafford on that ill-fated day in August 2011, all he had on his bench were some Carling Cup kids that could never have an influence on the game. Fast forward to Saturday’s FA Cup clash against Tottenham and Arsene Wenger could afford to rest Wojciech Szczesny, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker, while there were injuries to Kieran Gibbs, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey.
Arsenal’s squad is really large and Arsene Wenger can field a team that would still do a good job in the wake of any injury crisis.
Competition for First-Team Places
This season, Arsene Wenger has had a team that he prefers to be his starting XI but there are some players within the squad that give him headaches as they try to stake their claims for a first-team berth.
At left-back, the stiff competition between Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs has been an interesting contest all season long, and we can see how hard Thomas Vermaelen is trying to win his place back in the team.
Mathieu Flamini always tries to give Mikel Arteta a run for his money and we know how Serge Gnabry is on the prowl waiting for his chance to shine.
Such competition for places in the team will be beneficial in the long run.
The Club’s Current Position in the Premier League
When Arsenal lost their first Premier League game of the campaign to Aston Villa, the "Wenger Out" brigade made their voices heard and things looked really bleak. We are at the halfway point of the campaign and the Gunners are on top of the table with Manchester City and Chelsea still applying a lot of pressure.
There have been some epic performances from Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Wojciech Szczesny, the Mertesielny defensive combo and many others but Arsenal have done really well in their Premier League campaign up to this point. I hope they could be the ones on the podium come May.