The Good and Bad Of Arsenal's Super-Start
It seems like a footballing miracle. A 6-1 demolition of Everton, a 2-0 win away at Celtic—a footballing ground where no English team has been victorious in decades. Then, a 4-1 "Invincibles" style cutting down of Portsmouth.
For the Arsenal die-hard fans, it's a spiteful battle cry in the face of harsh detractors and critics. This super-start has even been magical enough for bookmakers, a group of individuals who have an uncanny aptitude at Premiership prediction.
But for those who have the patience and ability to look through all the conflicting hype, there is a reality behind the numbers and sparkling performances, and the knowledge that awards aren't given for great starts.
So in an attempt to bring a more grounded perspective to the discussion, the bad, as well as the good, should be accurately assessed towards what clearly appears to be a superstar start for a group of young men tired of underachievement.
With results like 6-1 and 4-1, you'd expect the names on the scoresheet to be from the frontmen. That hasn't been the case with Arsenal. Of all the strikers, only Eduardo, with a typical fox-in-the-box type goal, has managed to bulge the back of the net. Robin van Persie, Andrey Arshavin, and Nicklas Bendtner, who are expected to be the consistent goal scorers to fill in for Emmanuel Adebayor, have not gotten on the scoresheet yet.
There are many reasons for this. One is simply that the frontmen, who are playing in a slightly different 4-3-3 formation, are still getting used to their new, wider positions.
Another, possibly more alarming explanation, is that the main three simply do not have the goal-scoring consistency to maintain a high premier league level. Arshavin and Van Persie are fantastic second-strikers who like to play in the whole, but they've never been consistent goal-scorers. Bendtner is a only a young man, and he is still a long way from from reaching the French phenom's level of skills (Thierry Henry, as non-worshippers like to call him).
Another problem we see, although slightly played down, is the fact that air-battles are still a bit of a height issue. No one can fault Gallas and Vermaelen for trying, but they simply do not have the height or heft of someone like Nemanja Vidic to push around opposition and beat them out in aerial battles.
The final problem, and in this writer's opinion the most serious, in the seemingly ever-present issue of injuries. Samir Nasri with a broken leg, Tomas Rosicky with another injury in a seemingly endless line of physical problems, Lukasz Fabianski out for a lengthy period, and Theo Walcott with resulting injury of attempting to carry on his back England-U21’s attack. The only way to counter-attack this issue, at least in the short term, is simply putting more quality players on the roster; but with that possibility quickly fading with a closing transfer window, the injury crisis is poised for a lengthy stay.
The midfield with Arsenal, as it should be with all great teams, is a footballing masterclass. The ease of their play, the dedication and the classy ability to find passes and play for each other is something quite special to behold, not just for youngsters, as the press likes to highlight constantly, but for any team. The improvement alone speaks volumes of what kind of team Arsenal has.
Denilson, as hard-working as ever, actually seems to be growing as a player and as a skilled part of the Arsenal attacking machine. Song, who still needs to step-up to firmly stamp his defensive presence onto every game he plays in, can now track opponents, cut off channels, and even make some solid tackles. Even Diaby, who everyone wrote off, may just be a secret weapon in the attack as opposed to his previous, more defensive role.
The second good talking point are the transfers. It’s strange to think of the transfer period as a positive point, considering the sparse nature of a necessary influx of players, but all the purchases and sales have been spot-on. Sure Adebayor is a skilled striker, but his form of 2007-2008 seems more like a transient phase than a solid starting block for the rest of a career. Plus, a 25 million pound sale isn’t too shabby considering his frankly ambivalent attitude towards Arsenal and towards football in general (but not to money of course, never to money).
Kolo Toure, although not soon to leave Arsenal hearts, was also a fantastic sale.
Not only was he sold for around 15 million pounds (a tremendous earning for Arsenal considering his initial 150,000 pound purchase), but his conflict with Gallas was threatening to tear the defensive partnership apart. In terms of who was the better defender, although Toure is a nostalgic favorite, it’s clear that Gallas had far more ability and leadership that his Ivorian partner.
It’s ironic that Toure would speak of Arsenal losing too many leaders during his time there, simply because Toure himself was never a leader. No offense to the man, who seems as kind and as courteous as players come, but he could never be confused with a Tony Adams-esque defender.
Vermaelen, a universally panned purchase because of his aforementioned height, is working like a charm beside his French elder. He has the tactics, from his blocks you can tell he can read the game along with the best of them, and he actually has a decent jump and pace to him.
But the best of the best of Arsenal is no doubt the spirit, which can best be exemplified by the captain, Cesc Fabregas. No longer is the young Spaniard lowering his head in shame at his team’s efforts, no longer is he a somewhat distraught figure on the field. The young superstar has exactly the right attitude to win games. He fights, he wins free-kicks and he never for a moment seems to doubt his abilities.
But foremost, you can tell with every breath he takes on the field that he fights with heart and conviction for a team that has given him everything since he was 18 years old. Forget the transfer flirtations with Barcelona, the young man has his eyes on the prize and his convictions for the club are nothing short of astounding.
He’s no longer the Barcelona youth-product who Arsenal snatched. He’s the North London figurehead who during the match against Celtic, kept his cool when Caldwell threatened him for going down too easily (which he most certainly did, proving his mettle to win free-kicks), so he could strike a fierce shot to aid the first goal.
Fabregas knows what he has to do to for Arsenal to win, and if that takes all of his creativity, calm, and sheer will to win at any cost, then he will push for it on all fronts.
So, for all the Arsenal fans out there swept up in the frenzy of amazing results, there are still problems clear as day in the starting line-up. However, some of the deep-lying issues that show the true character and mentality of a club have all come up positive.
What does this mean for the ensuing season? Only time, and a bevy of beautiful football, will tell.
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