Arsenal: The Season So Far

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Arsenal: The Season So Far
(Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

 

You would have to be living on a different planet to not have seen some mention of Arsenal in the press this season.

 

If it wasn't the preseason gloom merchants predicting woes and worries for Arsene Wenger's team, it may have been reports of an amazing start in the Premier League. If none of this caught your eye, the Eduardo diving incident and surrounding hoo-haa must have.

 

In truth, all of this media focus is mere distraction. Out of the glare of the spotlight, Arsenal are ticking over nicely. Last season saw its share of ups and downs at the Emirates: Injuries galore, the demotion of the team captain, the battle with Aston Villa for fourth spot, and the infighting between the players, to name a few. And in spite of those reasons, Arsenal still finished fourth in the Premier League and reached the semifinals of the FA Cup and Champions League competitions.

 

As is the way at Arsenal, new signings have been few and far between. Andrei Arshavin joined in January 2009 and Tomas Vermaelen in June. Arshavin instantly became a vital first team player for the latter half of last season, putting away four against Liverpool in one game, his crowning achievement. Vermaelen has already shown his usefulness at the back with some very impressive defending so far.

 

With only two new signings since the beginning of last season, you might be forgiven for thinking that the squad wouldn't be much different from last year.

 

Adebayor and Toure both made big money moves to Manchester City. On the face of it, these transfers seem to be bad decisions on the part of Arsene Wenger, but when you take into account that the unrest in the squad last year involved both of these players, that Toures' best season was two years ago, and that Adebayor demanded and got a doubling of his wages last season only to put in his worst season at Arsenal, and top that off with the £41 million that Manchester City paid for the pair of them, things look a little clearer.

 

So, two in and two out. Not much change there. Except for Eduardo and Rosicky both coming back from long term injury and Gibbs, Wilshere, and Ramsay coming up through the ranks. As if this were not enough, Song and Denilson both matured over the course of last season and are sure to be consistent first team players this time round.

 

Almunia has had an indifferent start to the season, having only kept a single clean sheet. His No. 2, Fabianski, is out injured, so Manuel will be keeping goal most of the time, deferring to Mannone only if he gets injured.

 

The lack of clean sheets does give cause for concern, but it is still early and I am sure that this is being worked on at the training ground.

 

Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, and Clichy form the heart of Arsenals defence. Both Gallas and Vermaelen have scored goals already this season and, more importantly, they seem to be able to play together as opposed to Gallas and Toure last season who played simultaneously, but not together. Sagna and Clichy are both masters of running the wings, covering both ends of the pitch with speed and skill.

 

Fabregas is the heart of the midfield, and indeed, the team. From his central role, he commands play with his deft passing. Song, Denilson, Diaby, and Arshavin complete the ranks of the midfield. Arshavin has started this season the same way he finished the last, on top form, and Diaby is primed, just waiting for "his" season.

 

At the front, Robin van Persie leads a strike force that includes Bendtner, Eduardo, and Walcott. Carlos Vela, who will be back in about one month, is another.

 

Last and by no means least is Eboue. This man is a tireless player, covering more ground than most during a game. He is a utility player who generally starts at the back or in midfield, but will often pop up at the front and make a contribution. This is a player that Arsene Wenger obviously believes in.

 

Arsenal had an excellent preseason run of matches, winning five and losing one out of the seven matches. Jack Wilsheretruly came of age during the Emirates cup. He scored twice and picked up "Man of the Match" in both games. The loss was away at Valencia where goals from Michel and Villa undid the Gunners.

 

The Premier League season started on the 15th of August with a bang. Pundits the world over thought that Arsenal would struggle against Everton at Goodison Park, and the same pundits then decided that it was Everton's dismal performance and not Arsenal's stellar one that saw the gunners win 6-1.

 

Three days later the Champions League beckoned. An away trip to Park Head, a 2-0 victory and the stage was firmly set for the return leg the following week. Meanwhile, Portsmouth visited on the Saturday and were firmly dispatched 4-1.

 

The Celtics visit to the Emirates was a mere formality with the two-goal advantage requiring the visitors to score three to win. What ended up being a formality, with a comfortable 3-1 win for the home team, swiftly became a farce as first the match commentators, then the pundits—the SFA—and finally UEFA all threw the dummy from the pram after Eduardo's diving incident.

 

The final irony in all this played out on the 16th of September when Eduardo, having been banned for two matches and then un-banned, scored the winner against Standard Liege in Belgium in the first of the group stage matches.

 

What is obvious is that all of the press attention, and the booing at league and international matches put Arsenal off their stride. The next two league matches were both in Manchester. First United and then City put Arsenal to the sword 2-1 and 4-2 respectively.

 

Neither match was without incident but Arsenal played the better football. If luck had been on their side, both results would have been quite different.

 

The wins this season provide plenty of information about how Arsenal really play together as a team. They are slick, accurate and dedicated. The defeat at Old Trafford offers no real insight into any problems that Arsenal have because one goal was a penalty from a dive and the other was an own goal. Neither of these can be dealt with on the training ground.

 

The last two matches however do provide some pointers towards Arsenals Achilles Heel. Once a team renown for scoring on the break, this seems to be the area where they are undone. Against City and in Belgium, Arsenal looked fragile whilst defending against the breaking opposition. The defenders kept a very high line and weren't able to cope against the onrushing players.

 

So, who has been putting all of these goals in for Arsenal? Gallasand Eduardo are joint high scorers with three each. That's six out of 21—the other 15 came from Denilson, Vermaelen (2), Fabregas (2), Diaby (2), Ramsay, Eboue, Arshavin (2), van Persie, Rosicky, Bendtner, and an own goal from Celtic Gary Caldwell. That's 12 different Arsenal players.

 

So, 21 goals in seven is an average of three per match—not bad for a team whose supporters used to sing "one nil to the Arsenal." 11 have been let in as well so there is work to do at the back.

 

There is still a long way to go till the silverware is handed out this season. The FA and Carling Cups haven't even started for Arsenal yet, but the signs are promising. Even though they sometimes still look like they are trying to pass the ball into the net, its obvious that they can score goals. If they tighten up the defence just like they did last year after they suffered defeats early on, they will be contenders this year.

 

And what of the teams that Arsenal haven't played this season? Chelsea and Spurs are both going well as are Villa, Sunderland, and Stoke. Liverpool have had a patchy start learning to cope without Arbeloa and Alonso.

 

Nothing new then. There is good opposition out there, and if the rest of the season is going to be as exciting as the first few weeks then it's no wonder that the Premier League is the best in the world.

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