Arsenal FC: 10 Reasons for Gunners Fans To Be Cheerful
Prior to the game against Bolton Wanderers, the Gunners faithful did not have much to cheer about. Arsenal’s performances in Europe were the only real positives to talk about with two superb wins against Udinese, which like Wenger said hasn’t got the credit it deserved, whatever the reason may be. They even performed well against Borussia Dortmund for the draw, away in Germany.
Wins over Swansea and Shrewsbury had done little to silence the critics with the loss to Blackburn, Liverpool and Manchester United affecting the team dearly. Arsenal’s performance against United was the nadir of the last few years as the Gunners crashed to a miserable defeat.
Prior to the Bolton game, with just a mere four points out of 15 gained, the critics were closing in on Wenger. The fans had remained superb throughout, never wavering in their support. Despite that there was a huge sense of frustration around the club.
The win against Bolton was a welcome turn of events and while Arsenal still have work to do, the result was a positive one.
But in my opinion that is not the only positive of the season so far. Gunners faithful should remember that these are still early days and perspective is essential when analyzing Arsenal’s recent results.
So without much ado, here is a look at the top 10 positives for the Arsenal fans so far in the season.
Mikel Arteta Proving Himself To Be a Great Buy
The departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the summer meant that the Gunners were short on players and quality in the midfield department. Signings were required and the loss to United only strengthened this belief and while the Gunners left it very late, as late as the last minute, the Gunners captured the experienced duo of Yossi Benayoun from rivals Chelsea and Everton captain Mikel Arteta.
Benayoun has made two starts and has popped with a solitary goal against League Two side Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup. It’s still too early to see how he can perform this season and like Arsene Wenger said, we might have to wait till the end of the season to see if the club makes his deal a permanent move.
Mikel Arteta, on the other hand, has got his Arsenal career off to a great start with some solid performances against Swansea, Blackburn and Bolton including his second goal at Ewood Park just this season with a neat finish.
When Arsenal announced the capture of the Spanish midfielder, there was delight among several Arsenal fans. Arteta has been one of the league’s most creative and yet underrated midfielders but most Arsenal fans knew that they had a signed a fine midfielder. Yet, it was also a well-known fact that the likes of Eden Hazard, Mario Gotze and Yann M’Vila were all first-choice targets.
Cesc-lite and “A poor man’s Fabregas” were some of the terms people used to refer to Arteta. On the basis of his first three Premier League performances at Arsenal, it is safe to make the assumption that Arteta is more than capable in filling the void left behind by Arsenal’s departing captain.
Creative, good on the ball and blessed with great vision, Arteta has fit in seamlessly into this Arsenal side and seems to have formed a good understanding with Welsh captain Aaron Ramsey.
Filling the void left by Fabregas is no easy task and while Arteta might not be on the same level as the now Barcelona player, Arteta remains more than capable of playing an integral and vital role to the Gunners.
In the first few matches, there was a lack of fluidity within the squad as the Gunners failed to penetrate teams with the precision and incisiveness with Fabregas in the team. With the addition of Arteta, Wenger has ensured that the team has a player who understands the role to perfection and is capable of playing the central midfield role to great success.
His performance against Swansea in his first start was a treat and his performance against Blackburn was only better. Despite losing the match eventually, Arteta’s distribution and passing range just showed the fans his talent and his quality. Even against Bolton he stamped his authority on the midfield with yet another assured and confident performance that highlighted his experience.
Blessed with a hardworking nature and surrounded by a talent filled team featuring the likes of van Persie, Walcott and Gervinho, Arteta has the talent around him to become an integral part of the Gunners team.
Life after Fabregas was always bound to be difficult but the ease with which Arteta has adapted will please the fans and will prove his critics wrong about his quality and talent.
Aaron Ramsey Showing Promise
Aaron Ramsey has come under criticism recently with some questioning his place in the side and some even calling him overrated. I beg to differ.
I feel that the Welshman’s form at the start of the season was indeed indifferent as he failed to scale the great heights some fans expected from him especially in wake of Fabregas’ departure.
His performances against Udinese, Newcastle and Liverpool left a lot to be desired. He did show some good touches and some fabulous vision but very often that was intermittent with sloppy passes and runs up blind alleys.
But in the last two matches there has been an improvement in his game as he has bagged two assists and played a crucial role in all three goals against Bolton.
Against Blackburn his distribution was superb and along with Arteta played a crucial role in bringing back some fluidity to the Arsenal lineup. Before the arrival of Arteta he was forced to play in a more deep-lying role that suited Rosicky, who played ahead of him.
But he has started to play in a more attacking role with the arrival of Arteta and that was clearly seen in his performance against Bolton, as he put in a solid shift and grabbed an assist. It was his pass that started the second goal and it was his pass that earned Arsenal their man advantage as it let Walcott move into acres of space before he was illegally fouled by Wheater.
Ramsey has endured a rocky career thanks to Shawcross’ tackle that ruled him out for close to a year. But since then he has made progress and while it has been slow, it has been steady nevertheless.
He has come under what I see as unfair criticism especially when you look at his performance against Bolton. With more playing time under his belt and with the return of Wilshere, which will allow him more resting time, he will improve and will fulfill his potential as one of the league’s most promising young midfielders.
A Truly Dedicated Captain
No insult meant to Cesc Fabregas, but while there is no doubting his love and passion for Arsenal, his mind also had love for Barcelona and he always harbored a desire to play for the Catalan giants in the near future. Ever since the start of the 2009-10 season when he was widely linked with a move to Barcelona, he never came out and vocally stated his commitment to the Gunners, something that most Arsenal fans expected from their captain.
So when Fabregas left for his boyhood club, Arsenal fans knew they were losing a vital cog in their midfield, arguably the Premier League’s best midfielder for the past couple of seasons. Disappointment was there no doubt, for Fabregas the player and not Fabregas the captain.
Most Arsenal fans were fairly unanimous in their choice for the next club captain and it came as no surprise when dedicated and long-serving Gunner Robin van Persie was appointed captain. His commitment and dedication towards the club has always remained exemplary and he was Arsenal’s best player in 2011 as he showed remarkable quality and consistency, traits that deserted his teammates last season.
Numerous offers have come in for the mercurial Frenchman, but each time he chose to stay at Arsenal and his acts of loyalty endeared him to the Arsenal faithful as they saw a legend in the making in the Dutchman, a man who epitomized everything they desired to see in their captain.
The captaincy doesn’t seem to have affected his performance on the pitch as he has already scored five goals with an assist as well.
Wenger chose to appoint Thomas Vermaelen as club vice-captain, another move that has been much applauded. Both these players display the kind of passion, commitment and attitude that every Arsenal fan wants to see engraved in the team and under the leadership of them, the Gunners can go far.
Two Solid Performances Against Blackburn and Bolton
Some might see the inclusion of Blackburn as a slightly contentious option but I was delighted with the attacking performance or at least buildup offered by the likes of Gervinho, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta. Arsenal’s attack has lacked cohesion early in the season, a clear sign that Fabregas and Nasri were vital to the team.
But immediately after Gervinho’s return from suspension and thanks to the capture of Arteta, Arsenal’s play immediately looked more fluid as the Gunners seemed to finally have some semblance of a link between the back and the players up front.
Arsenal’s game has been characterized by a frustrating inability to successfully bury the numerous chances created by the team and while that showed against Blackburn and even against Bolton, the team created plenty of chances and offered a real attacking threat to the opposition defense, something they had failed to do all season.
Against Bolton too the Gunners dominated possession and put in a very convincing second-half display that will bring back some much-needed confidence and will undoubtedly boost the morale of the team.
Ramsey, Walcott, Song and Arteta all had field days but it was Robin van Persie who stole the show with two goals, his 99th and 100th for the club, becoming the 17th player in the history of the club to do so.
Gervinho added a bit of directness to the team and while he does come across as selfish sometimes, some see this as a required trait in this Arsenal side that sometimes focuses on passing the ball more than the situation demands.
Arteta provides the creativity and vision while Ramsey offers energy and when played in his more comfortable role higher up the field, like Wenger did against Bolton, he tends to flourish.
While there still is some areas to improve, the attack which was letting the Gunners down is showing real promise and is slowly coming back to their best. Ruthlessness in front of goal needs to improve and if the team can indeed work on this, there is nothing to stop them from finishing in the top four.
Arsenal undoubtedly got off to a slow start in the league and this can be accounted down to a lack of signings and the departure of Nasri and more importantly Fabregas. New players will always take time to gel together and the squad is showing real promise ahead of a crucial few weeks for the club and their top-four ambitions.
Alex Song Maturing into One of the League’s Best Defensive Midfielders
From a disaster waiting to happen to an indispensable star, Alex Song has truly had a meteoric rise among the Arsenal fans as his opinion among Arsenal fans has undergone a massive transformation. A couple of seasons ago, Song was considered a deadwood, someone who had to be sold sooner rather than later.
Wenger believed otherwise and what a decision it has proved to be. From the start of the 2009-10 season, Song has delivered consistently and his absence often has a very negative effect on the team. He has grown into the defensive midfield role and like he displayed against Bolton on Saturday, he can even maraud forward to great effect. His five goals last season, most of them coming in vital moments in vital matches, show that he has added an extra dimension to his game.
Even last season he was solid but this season he seems to have added more consistency and a lot more tenacity into his game. His performance against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League was epic as he thwarted wave after wave of Borussia players with some superb tackles and great interceptions.
His reading of the game has improved tremendously and while his passing can go awry sometimes, his vision seems to have increased manifold over the summer and his assist for Gervinho’s first goal as an Arsenal player is testimony to this.
Alex Song thrives in a 4-2-3-1 formation with another deep-lying playmaker playing just ahead or along with him. This allows him far more freedom as there is someone is always there to cover up. Against Bolton with Arteta playing alongside him, he delivered a complete performance that was wrapped up with a delightful finish on the stroke of 90 minutes to open his account for the start of the season.
There are still a few rough edges in his game which I feel will only get better with time. He has shown that he has a tremendous capacity to bounce back from adversity characterized by his meteoric rise to the Arsenal team. Very often we say that the team lacks a strong mentality but Song is the perfect example of grinding your way to the top and his willingness to improve will only lead him far.
Arsenal’s Youngsters Showing Promise and Providing Good Depth
Over the past few years, the Gunners have established themselves a side blessed with some of the most talented players in the Premier League.
The same remains the case this season too with the Gunners boasting a wide range of talented youngsters including summer signings Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Added to these are the likes of Ryo Miyaichi, Francis Coquelin, Emmanuel Frimpong, Benik Afobe and Ignasi Miquel.
Arsenal fans have already Carl Jenkinson, Emmanuel Frimpong, Ignasi Miquel, Chamberlain and Coquelin in action with all of them except Miquel already having played in the Premier League with the trio of Frimpong, Coquelin and Jenkinson already having made starts.
The initial impression of all these players is positive with each one of them impressing. Chamberlain even got on the scoresheet with a well-taken goal against Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup, the same match in which he put in a man of the match performance. His big-money signing from Southampton raised a few eyebrows but his first start showed he has plenty of promise and might get to play a more important role as the season progresses with the fixtures piling up and with the African Cup of Nations also coming.
Jenkinson had a poor showing United but that was the kind of performance that was bound to happen considering the circumstances. He put in a solid shift against Liverpool and Udinese and has shown that he has the talent and potential to be the successor to Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna.
Frimpong’s arrival last season was delayed due to injury and he seems to be playing with the passion and enthusiasm that gives one the feeling that he is trying extremely hard to make up for lost time. His performance against Liverpool, despite the red card, was hugely promising and blessed with immense energy, he has ensured that unlike previous seasons, Alex Song will have an able deputy.
Talking about backups to the defensive midfield, Frimpong’s place on the bench/as backup to Song is in doubt as Coquelin who enjoyed a loan spell at Lorient last season has looked increasingly good with a superb performance against Shrewsbury as he displayed good movement and understanding of the game.
Ignasi Miquel, the Reserve team captain, filled in for Koscielny in the match against Liverpool and did admirably well alongside Vermaelen as he made his Premier League debut. Like last season, he looks a hugely promising central defender and looks prime for a place on the team next season.
While all these youngsters might not play extremely crucial roles this season, there is no doubting that they will have to come in to fill in for first-team players at some point in the season and on the basis of their performances so far, they have the potential to do well.
The Imminent Return of Thomas Vermaelen
Arsenal’s defense has been hard to predict this season. Superb against the likes of Udinese, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Newcastle but shambolic against Blackburn and Manchester United, the team has flattered to deceive far too often this season already. Arsenal’s defense has some very talented and promising personnel. Laurent Koscielny despite the common perception among the public is indeed a solid defender and Per Mertesacker, the summer recruit from Werder Bremen, has bags of quality and experience at the highest level for Germany.
But Arsenal’s best and most talented defender has to be Belgian Thomas Vermaelen. The former Ajax captain, signed in the summer of 2009, has already shown his vast quality and is a huge fan favorite—that is despite missing the whole of last season save for five games and having been injured since the second leg of the Champions League playoff this season.
He displayed his vast quality in the few matches he played this season with the picking of them being against Liverpool. The loss of Laurent Koscielny meant that Ignasi Miquel, who had played just two competitive senior-team matches, was thrown into the fray. Despite the inexperience of the Spanish youngster he performed brilliantly, thanks to the superb leadership and commanding presence of Vermaelen. The Belgian was easily the Gunners' best performer of the day and all Arsenal fans were delighted to have him back in their team considering that the team sorely missed his leadership and presence last season.
But the happiness was short-lived. He picked up another injury and hasn’t played since the match against Udinese in Italy. But Wenger recently confirmed that he is due to return after the international break meaning he will only miss the Champions League clash against Olympiacos and the derby against Tottenham.
With Koscielny and Mertesacker both in the team, Arsenal will improve tremendously with his return. Koscielny has shown time and time again that given the right pairing, he is capable of being world class and can truly become a class act. Even Mertesacker will take some time to settle into the rigors of the Premier League and while he has looked good early on, playing alongside Vermaelen will only improve his performances.
No Worries in Goal
For the first time in several years, the Gunners go into the season with a truly superb goalkeeper in Wojciech Szczesny and solid backups in Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski.
Ever since he got regular playing time thanks to Fabianski’s injury, Szczesny has taken his opportunity with both hands ensuring that even when Fabianski returned, his position as the No. 1 was not threatened. His confidence in goal and great reflexes ensure that the Gunners don’t face the same problem they faced when they had Manuel Almunia in goal, when any ball that came near the Arsenal half had a danger of being a goal especially if Almunia started going on one of his famous runs, akin to his burst against West Brom last season.
He produced several solid performances last season including against Barcelona and Manchester United. He brought the kind of consistency that Arsenal lacked since Jens Lehman’s time. It’s not that Fabianski and Almunia are horrible goalkeepers; it’s just that they lack the consistency, although Fabianski was remarkably consistent last season including a period when he saved the Gunners close to five points.
But Szczesny has proved to be one of the world’s best young goalkeepers and despite conceding 14 goals this season in the Premier League, he has hardly put a foot wrong and has indeed produced some superb saves against Bolton, Udinese, Borussia and had a man of the match performance for Poland against Germany, a game in which he single-handedly thwarted wave after wave of German attacks.
Arsenal fans can be sure that with Szczesny in goal, they will have a certain consistency and brilliance that ensures that the Gunners can build their victories from the back.
An Unspectacular Yet Solid Team
While there is no denying that the Gunners lack the firepower possessed by the two Manchester teams and London rivals Chelsea, they have a good squad that is more than capable of challenging for a top-four finish.
In goal they have the highly entertaining and equally brilliant, Wojciech Szczesny whose rise to the top has come at just the right time for the Gunners. Below him in the pecking order will be fellow Pole and one of Arsenal’s truly unlucky players, Lukasz Fabianski, who was displaced from the team after picking up an injury at the hands of Szczesny.
In defense the Gunners have the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou, all capable and talented players. Bacary Sagna occupies the right-back position and is widely considered the best right-back in the league and one of the best in the world. Left-back might be a bit of a worry with both of Arsenal’s left-backs, being attackingly strong but defensively suspect.
In midfield the Gunners have quality players in Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song, Yossi Benayoun, Tomas Rosicky and the likes of Walcott, Gervinho and Arshavin to occupy the wide roles. All this despite both Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby being out injured.
Up front they have captain Robin van Persie, who is easily one of the best in the league and is as good as any player on his day. Marouane Chamakh is a personal favorite and I actually think he is a quality player despite many thinking otherwise. Park Chu Young looks to be a good buy but I have really not seen much of him to make a call.
All in all, this is a good squad no doubt. Consistent players mixed with experience and plenty of depth means that the Gunners have a good enough squad to compete for Champions League places and with the possibility of winter signings, this squad might just get better.
Depth in the Squad
Like mentioned in the previous slide, the Gunners have a talented squad, but more importantly the Gunners have depth in squad which is extremely crucial especially as the season progresses and injuries start to mount. I can personally think of two squads the Gunners can come up with, one their first-team squad and the other a reserve first team, which I believe is not that bad at all.
First Team: Szczesny, Gibbs, Vermaelen, Koscielny/Mertesacker, Sagna, Song, Wilshere, Arteta, Gervinho, Walcott, Robin van Persie
Reserve First Team: Fabianski, Santos, Djourou, Mertesacker/Koscielny, Jenkinson, Frimpong, Diaby, Arshavin, Rosicky, Benayoun, Chamakh
Those Not Included: Mannone, Squillaci, Miquel, Park Chu Young, Chamberlain, Miyaichi, Coquelin, Almunia
All this shows that the squad has extremely good depth in the squad and this will come in handy during the business end of the season. Players like Arshavin, Rosicky and Chamakh are all heavily experienced and the Gunners can call on their experience during situations when they are searching for a goal or looking to protect a lead.