This season has arguably been Arsene Wenger, and in turn Arsenal FC's, most trying season yet.
After losing the dynamic midfield duo of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, it seemed the Gunners were on the verge of collapse, as they were set to start the new season without some of their most important stars. And though the wounds of losing players as important as the above two would never be easy to heal, the French tactician Wenger decided to look for replacements internally as opposed to diving into the transfer market.
The early results, though, turned out to be nothing short of disastrous. After an embarrassing mauling at the hands of one-time bitter title rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford—a game in which they lost 8-2—it seemed the Gunners were finally destined to finish outside the top four. Arsene Wenger's illustrious record of 14 straight UEFA Champions League qualifications was being threatened for the first legitimate time in his career.
Fast-forward the clock to the current time, and the mood now is significantly different.
After finding themselves dangerously close to the relegation zone with five games played, Arsenal have now managed to find a decent run of form, one which has propelled them to seventh place in the league. They now find themselves level on points crosstown rivals Chelsea and big summer spenders Liverpool.
But can the Gunners stay competitive and once again secure a top-four finish? Can Arsene Wenger continue his proud tradition of 14 straight continental qualifications?
Find out on this slideshow highlighting the key reasons Arsenal still have a strong chance of finishing in the top four!
After a slow and heavily criticized start to the campaign, Arsenal's Welsh playmaker, who also happens to be the youngest captain of his national team ever, seems to have finally found his feet in the league.
A player hyped up by Arsenal fans as being able to fill in the void left by Cesc Fabregas, Aaron Ramsey has been the fulcrum of the Gunners midfield when it comes to attacking plays. His vision, aided by an array of passing skill—which is now rightly drawing him comparisons with Arsenal's departed ex-captain—is one of the reasons the North London club have once again found some creative flair in the final third.
And with so much of the season still left to play, expect the Welshman to go from strength to strength and develop into a more complete all-round playmaker—a developmental phase that will undoubtedly assist in the Gunners' quest of finishing in the top four.
It's no secret one of the reasons Arsenal seem to have picked up some form is down to their stock of new summer arrivals, all of whom were uncharacteristic "Wenger buys."
With the arrival of players as experienced and seasoned as Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Bennayoun, Arsenal's fortunes were likely to pick up. More importantly, it's signaled a shift in emphasis and style at the club. For the first time since the premature dismantling of "The Invincibles," Arsenal's team look formidable, as they now not only boast a crop of some individual "silky" talents but also an experienced core with proven veterans.
Mikel Arteta added some much-needed composure and reservedness in Arsenal's midfield, while Per Mertesacker helps calm down the defense in the face of continued barrages of attacks from the opposition. It's no wonder then that the Gunners have managed to put in a string of impressive wins over the last month or so.
One of the reasons Arsenal have so far been able to pick up form is due to some uncharacteristic direct play in the final third. And though this may in part be attributed to a noticeable change in emphasis, a lot of it is down to the efforts of Theo Walcott and summer arrival Gervinho.
In Walcott and Gervinho, Arsenal have two speedy players that prefer to take on their defenders and consequently cause panic and chaos in the opposition back line. This was demonstrated quite effectively at Chelsea, where had it not been for Gervinho squandering a sitter, the two would have combined and finished off a stunning counter-attacking run.
While Walcott's main asset is his speed, Gervinho's is his dribbling prowess. Bet against him beating his man and laying one for an oncoming striker or midfielder and you're likely to be left disappointed. The Ivorian has a knack for doing just that, and despite some dire finishing, is leading the Arsenal assist charts with four to his name.
Together, the duo's running and interchangeable play is beginning to prove a handful for most defenses so far. And if their performance at Stamford Bridge is anything to judge by, it seems a trend unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Arsenal's inspirational captain and current leading goal scorer, Robin van Persie seems to finally have found some consistent fitness to complement an already-impressive goal-scoring record to be considered an elite striker.
With one of the best goal-to-game ratios in the continent for the 2011 calendar year, which has seen him score 31 times in 29 appearances, van Persie is almost single-handedly pulling Arsenal towards the top four. So far this season, the Arsenal centurion has scored 13 goals, including a memorable hat trick during the Gunners' win away at Chelsea.
"Captain vantastic," as he's affectionately called by the Arsenal faithful, if he stays fit, will arguably prove to be the difference between Arsenal clinching a UEFA Champions League spot or narrowly missing out. But with his illustrious scoring run looking likely to continue with no end in sight, it seems Arsenal not only have a proven goal scorer on their hands, but also their ticket to a top-four finish.
With all things considered, Arsenal will still need their competition to drop some points if they are to have any chance of finishing in the top four.
Though the Gunners have already played Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur once before this season, the next round promises to be more rewarding for the in-form Gunners, who may well capitalize on those games and banish the competition out of a top-four finish.
Tottenham have recently gained a reputation of starting strong but fading towards the middle, and Liverpool, despite spending an immense amount on summer transfers, have been far from convincing. Chelsea on the other hand seem in the midst of an internal revolution, as the players can't seem to adapt or at least win under Andre Villas-Boas' new playing style.
When factoring in all this, plus Arsenal's newfound confidence and run of form, it's not hard to envision Arsenal finishing within the top four once again. And with Arsene Wenger suggesting (in German though) that he might yet be interested in a January move for Borrussia Dortmund playmaker Mario Gotze, it seems the Gunners may just hit newer, more improved peaks come the latter business half of the season.
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