Arsenal FC: 11 Reasons for Optimism at the Emirates
What a year for Arsene Wenger it has been already. All summer long, we were subject to one of the most painfully boring transfer sagas of all time. Then finally, at long last, Cesc Fabregas slinked off home to Barcelona into the arms of Gerard Pique and the rest of his "bros."
Arsenal fans could have coped with this, but Roberto Mancini had others plans and cherry-picked Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri from North London. Suddenly, the Gunners had gone from what looked like a promising season to doom, despair, end-of-the-world apocalypse and so on.
A little bit of Harry Redknapp-esque wheeling and dealing at the end of the summer saw the club draft in a defender, a central midfielder, an attacker and another talented young Southampton youth product. Any optimism was quickly drowned in cold water as the team registered a goalless draw, a defeat to Liverpool followed by that humiliation at Old Trafford.
Right now, Arsenal sit seventh in the table, three points off Champions League qualification and 12 points from Manchester City at the summit. Now I know that this surely isn't where Gunners fans envisioned themselves at the start of the season, but things are nowhere near as bad as they seem (you'll understand what I mean if you watched Liverpool's 0-0 draw with Swansea—yeech!).
Wenger may not be at the top of the table, but here are 11 reasons why Arsenal fans shouldn't consider this season a disaster. Your comments are appreciated.
Robin Van Persie Hasn't Gotten Injured Yet
Here's a theory for you. What exactly did Arsene Wenger do with the proceeds from flogging Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy? Paid some sort of witch doctor/sorcerer/mystic every cent to magically keep Robin van Persie fit this season.
If you were wise to the upward trajectory of van Persie's form coinciding with Rooney's goals trailing off, you would have made a peach of a move in your fantasy team this past week (I of course didn't).
Arsene Wenger's claims that the striker is on fire are legitimate, but I assure you readers the situation is much more serious than that.
Your average wax candle flame burns at a temperature of around 1,000°C. The Robin van Persie we're talking about right now is in an order of magnitude closer to the neutron core of a supernova, approximately 100 billion degrees Kelvin, or 9.99999997 × 10^10 Celsius. Over-the-top hyperbole, you say? Rubbish. The Dutchman should shoot no matter where he gets the ball because, frankly, you could put your house on him scoring.
Arsenal's RVP has 108 goals in 246 Arsenal appearances, roughly a goal every 2.27 games. Pretty tidy, that. The problem is simply this is 246 appearances over eight seasons at the club. Now taking away the early years when Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp still ruled the roost, the Dutchman simply can't stay fit.
When he is able to actually get on the pitch and play football, van Persie simply doesn't adhere to the concept of "form." He is ALWAYS on form. Arsenal's captain has 11 goals in 11 Premier League games this season, plus another two in four Champions League outings.
A fit van Persie gives Arsenal a complete lack of headaches in the firepower department.
*Please don't bet your house on Robin van Persie scoring—especially in this economy as you'd hardly receive appropriate market value for it*
Wojciech Szczęsny Can Not Only Take Goal Kicks, but Save Shots as Well
I'll go one step further: Wojciech Szczęsny can also claim crosses, receive back passes from his defenders, as well as yell at said players when things are not to his liking. Imagine that!
In line with this currenty fantasy world where Robin van Persie has started *gasp* all 10 of Arsenal's matches, they have a proper goalkeeper.
Since the retirement of David Seaman in 2003, Arsenal have chopped and changed with a combination (not limited to) Stuart Taylor, Jens Lehmann, Manuel Almunia and Lucasz Fabianski. Each in turn made a case for retaining his position as No. 1 with "Mad" Jens showing us all how to keep clean sheets en route to Arsenal's 2006 Champions League final appearance. All this experience went out the window within 18 minutes, but it was great while it lasted, wasn't it?
Simply put, you can't win trophies with a dodgy keeper. Liverpool's Jersey Dudek somewhat turned this theory on its head in 2005, but soon enough Pepe Reina came to our rescue.
Now you could argue until your face turned blue as to whether Szczęsny (two vowels in an eight-letter name? A record?), at the tender age of 21, will continue to improve and solve this problem for Wenger, but only time will tell.
What we CAN tell now is that, 2011 Carling Cup final aside, it looks like Tottenham now have the most unreliable netminders in North London.
Gervinho Has Brought What Andrei Arshavin Couldn't Deliver
In a typical Wenger move, Arsenal spent a relatively small amount of money on an "outside attacker" who hardly anyone had heard of when everyone was crying out in droves for the Frenchman to break the bank for Edin Hazard, Marek Hamšík, Pele, Maradona, Clint Eastwood, etc.
Lille gave up Gervinho for £10.7 million this summer, and at 24 years old, the Cote D'Ivoire international fits the profile of a Wenger signing. In 13 appearances for Arsenal this season, he has two goals, seven assists and a well-deserved spot in my fantasy team.
He isn't an orthodox winger, nor is he a central schemer, simply a little of both. I classify him as the kind of player Wenger was looking for when he signed Andrei Arshavin (£16.5 million) and Tomáš Rosický.
Granted, we are barely a quarter of the way into this season, but from the look of it, Wenger has filled his Robert Pires/Freddie Ljunberg hole at last. Gervinho isn't a heads-down single-minded goal driver, nor is he the kind of beauty-first over-passing artist that Arsenal already have too many of. He seems to straddle that divide, providing an equal amount of heads-up passing/crossing (like his two assists for van Persie against Stoke City) and early shooting when in a good position.
With the African Cup of nations this winter, we'll see how well the Gunners cope without him, but he's needed little time to settle into the Premier League and Arsenal fans should take particular heart from that.
Now of course, while I'm writing this, Wenger has seen enough of Gervinho's wasteful possession against Marseille in the Champions League and thrown on the aforementioned Russian, but you get the idea!
Nicklas Bendtner Has Been Shipped off for Steve Bruce to Deal with at Sunderland
Here's a choice selection of Nicklas Bendtner soundbites:
"The biggest thing I miss because of football is that I really, really love to go on a skiing holiday but as long as I have my career, I can't do that because of the risk of being injured." Life is hard being a high-paid footballer.
"I should start every game, I should be playing every minute of every match and always be in the team." The Danish striker thinks pretty highly of himself.
"I like to show off, to be different. There's nothing wrong with that. I think your own style choices say a lot about your personality – I tread the line between cool, unique and brave." This one is my favourite.
"If you ask me if I am one of the best strikers in the world, I say yes." Did anyone actually ask him this question?
Nicklas Bendtner's record at Arsenal: 22 goals in 99 appearances.
Arsenal Have Finally Found Some Level of Starting XI Consistency
In their past four matches in the Premier League (before the West Brom match) and Champions League (we're gonna ignore the match vs. Bolton in the Carling Cup because, let's be honest, it's Bolton and nobody cares), Arsenal have fielded the same centre-back pairing, the same central midfield pairing, the same wingers as well as the same primary striker.
Last season's clown show, Laurent Koscielny, has had a promising start to the 2011-2012 season, putting in some assured displays, and although Per Mertesacker hasn't exactly taken the Premier League by storm, he has had an impact in plugging Arsenal's defense.
Manchester United and Chelsea's dominance in the past few seasons have been built from the back forward, relying on the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, or else John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.
That being said, you can't win a game with defenders alone and Arsenal's midfield has been astonishingly similar in their recent winning run. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta are fighting the good fight in the center, flanked by the pace of an improving Theo Walcott and an impressive Gervinho.
Gone is the reliance on the woefully inconsistent Arshavin or chronically injured Rosický.
With Aaron Ramsey continuing to impress when called upon and the pending return of Jack Wilshere, could Arsenal be emerging from the injury hurricane that has blighted their previous campaigns?
Arsene Wenger Actually Has More Than 1 "Quality" Centre-Back Available
Lay back, close your eyes and try to picture a scenario in which an Arsenal centre-back who is playing quite well is left on the bench to be *gasp* rested.
It took me a few minutes to fully wrap my head around this, but after confirmation from several sources as well as eye-witness accounts, it seems that Laurent Koscielny didn't start against Marseille on Tuesday.
To an Arsenal fan in the past few seasons, this in itself is likely cause for an open-top bus parade through downtown London. After having to rely on the likes of Sébastien Squillaci, Johan Djourou or fielding Alex Song out of position, Wenger seems to now be fully stocked in the CB department.
Seeing Thomas Vermaelen run onto the pitch at the Emirates against Marseille is heartening not only because Arsenal actually have a defense again, but the Belgian is a brilliant player and was missed by neutral fans (and fantasy managers) last season.
Now all frivolity aside, with Vermaelen back in the picture, things look altogether different for this Arsenal team. His aerial ability will go some way to not only making up for Mertesacker's curious heading deficiency, but maybe even scoring some goals on set pieces.
All three of these players are genuine ball-playing centre-backs, further enabling the team to fluidly link defensive maneuvers into counter-attacks. With the experienced Sébastien Squillaci in reserve, Wenger's recent defensive nightmares may well be over.
They certainly look in better shape than Chelsea's central defensive partnership!
Wenger Can Be Patient in His Use of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
If this was a regular, run-of-the-mill Arsenal season, then young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been forced to play half of the Gunners' matches already simply due to injuries to senior squad members.
For example, Walcott has already played 125 games for Arsenal despite being an obvious unfinished product.
AOC is also a product of Southampton's youth academy, who despite constantly having their best young assets stripped, currently sit top of the Championship and could very well be visiting the Emirates next season.
He has already netted twice for the gunners, not on his debut in THAT match against Manchester United but against Shrewsbury Town in the Carling Cup, and again against Olimpiacos in the Champions League.
With the modern winger forced to pay due diligence to defensive responsibilities, it would have been to AOC and Arsenal's detriment both if Wenger was forced to rush him into the first team. Games against Blackburn and Stoke are not exactly ties that a young, pacy, skill player should necessarily be involved in when just breaking into the first team at age 18.
In the same vein, Wenger has been able to slowly test the waters with youngsters like Emmanuel Frimpong, although Carl Jenkinson's debut and subsequent injury was more in line with the Arsenal we know and love.
The Weight of Expectation Has Been Lifted
The one minuscule scrap of positivity that can be gleamed from Arsenal enduring an abysmal start to this campaign, being on the end of an absolute hiding courtesy of Manchester United and essentially bowing out of the title race: things can't really get much worse, can they?
Arsenal fans (just like us poor hurting Liverpool fans) genuinely feel that their team has a god-given right to be challenging for major honors every season. This means getting to the closing stages of the FA Cup, playing against European super-powers (and Barcelona) in the Champions League and not being 10 points behind whoever is topping the table at the beginning of November.
Yes, they may be out of the race for their first Premier League trophy since 2004, but look on the bright side. Robin van Persie is still a Gooner. You are well placed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Samir Nasri isn't in Manchester City's starting XI. Arsene Wenger, easily one of the best managers in the world, is still at the helm. The team is more in line with impending financial regulations and restrictions than the top 20 clubs in European soccer.
I understand that you Gunners fans are sick of perpetual "rebuilding," false dawns and having your captain peace out back to the sickening love-in that is Barcelona. But for the rest of this season, you can stick a finger (or two if you're British) up at the media from here until May as you've already been soundly discounted from every competition.
Arsenal are now underdogs, and can therefore play without the monumental weight of expectation that will eventually crush Manchester City (you heard it here first).
Jack Wilshere's Return to the Arsenal's Midfield Is Imminent
While Arsenal fans all over the world were biting their nails, then tearing out their hair during the Cesc Fabregas transfer saga, Wenger went about his business with great patience. When it was clear that the club's captain had his heart set (again) on turning tail and running back to Spain, there was an audible groan surrounding the capture of Mikel Arteta.
He's too old! He's too slow! He's not good enough for Arsenal! The list of gripes both reasonable and unreasonable was longer than Andy Carroll's ponytail. The Spaniard has played every minute of the Gunners' Premier League campaign so far and hasn't been incredible, but has made the lion's share of his passes.
Sitting on the sidelines, however, is a young 19-year-old who has come to symbolize the hopes and dreams of a ball-playing England team to match that of Spain. Well, sort of. Jack Wilshere joined the club at the tender age of nine and has seen many giants come and go before getting an extended run in the first team last season.
Wilshere's touch, nimble-footedness, eye for a pass and general embodiment of Arsenal's playing style is likely one of the main reasons Wenger could let Fabregas leave and not lose too much sleep. He's a few years behind the Spaniard in his development, but could emerge as a key player for the club as well as his country in the years to come.
The fact that he's Arsenal through-and-through isn't bad either.
Manchester United's 6-1 Loss Proves No One Is Invincible
Rarely in the past have any of England's "Top Clubs" been subject the the drubbing that Manchester United unleashed upon Arsenal in the 8-2 demolition job at Old Trafford.
Unfortunately for the defending champions, Manchester City were more than in the mood a few weeks later when they put six past 10-man United to register Fergie's biggest defeat in quite some time.
The United manager made an interesting remark to the press last weekend, that "It's about time we won 1-0" after his team's victory over plucky Everton. It's certainly true that the beginning of the 2011-2012 season has been an absolute goal-feast, brilliant for the neutral observer, but altogether worrying for managers, defenders and English clubs' European ambitions as well.
In seasons gone by, you'd rightfully think that after an 8-2 stonking, there's really no turning back. If a team of Arsenal's calibre can be humiliated that badly (albeit by the No. 1 team at the time), they must be crap and deserve to languish mid-table.
But if a top team beats another top team 8-2, then goes on to lose 6-1 to yet another top team, where does that leave us?
Furthermore, if said losing top team beats a fourth top team in a thrilling 5-3 encounter, should we just scrap the points system altogether and award the trophy to the team with the most goals?
Arsenal were battered yes, but anyone can be battered in this league, so the result is a loss and the Gunners can move on.
Taking a Look Around at the Other Top Clubs Gives Small Cause for Concern
Looking past the two Manchester Clubs, I would make the argument that there are few other teams who are exuding form and consistency, so in comparison, Arsenal aren't in too bad of shape.
Chelsea lost a scrappy game against QPR, then were not only downed in that thrilling encounter with the Gunners, but failed to put Genk to the sword in the Champions league and limped away with a 1-1 draw.
At the moment, Newcastle are punching above their weight but a recurrence of Djemba Ba's knee injury or loss of form for Yohan Cabaye could see them plummet down the table. Neither Liverpool nor Spurs have shown that their forwards have the cutting edge necessary to maintain a push for a Champions League spot.
Looking below the top two, the league is more wide open than it ever has been.
At the end of the day, only the most diehard (or delusional?) Arsenal supporter would have thought their club could realistically challenge for the Premier League this season. Therefore, if top European competition is their ambition, the door is wide open to grab a spot in the top four.
Manchester City await on December 18th at the Etihad Stadium, which may prove to be a defining test of whether the newly rich club have officially supplanted the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea in the elite club.
Although, if Manchester United can't beat City, who can?