Arsenal FC Debate: Is the 2013-14 Gunners' Side Better Than the 2010-11 Team?
Arsenal are currently in excellent form, and after an emphatic victory against Italian giants Napoli in the Champions League, they are exuding confidence and have to be considered as one of the many challengers for this season's Premiership title.
Arsene Wenger, who was loudly barracked by many sections of the Emirates crowd after the 3-1 defeat on the opening day of the season, is enjoying his best time in more than three years as manager of the Gunners.
Even in the 2010-11 season, when they had excellent players such as Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri, their central defense, goalkeeper and the defensive midfielder were positions that were weak areas for the Gunners. That, along with their poor squad depth, proved to be their undoing that season, as they failed to recover from losing to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final.
Since that season, this is the first time that Arsenal could genuinely challenge for the Premiership title. In the meantime, Wenger has had to face turbulent situations mainly caused by the departures of Fabregas, van Persie and Nasri in the last two years.
However, Wenger remains one of the few managers in the world who has the ability to build different teams without the need to spend too much money, and yet again, he has proven his ability this season.
The 2013-14 team is different to the 2010-11 team in so many aspects and not just personnel, but also their style of play.
While the 2010-11 team banked on the creativity of Fabregas and Nasri to break defenses, the 2013-14 team is currently working on fine-tuning their incisive passing at great pace, thus bamboozling defenses with the speed of their movement and passing. The tempo at which Arsenal attack now is much higher than that of the 2010-11 team.
Also, this team seems to be content without possession, retreating to maintain their shape and looking to break at high speed when they win the ball. With Wenger at the helm, the one thing that has been consistent is the passing philosophy of the manager, and both the teams are capable of retaining possession playing primarily in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
So while there are similarities and differences between both sides, in the following slides is the comparison and reasons that highlight why the 2013-14 side is better.
This was one of the most problematic areas of the 2010-11 season, and it was a problem which should have been addressed by Wenger in the summer. Manuel Almunia, who had a poor 2009-10 season, was trusted to do the job in the 2010-11 season, but after a horror performance against West Bromwich Albion, where he also sustained an injury, he was dropped.
Lukasz Fabianski, who had had a terrible 2009-10 season, was given the chance to fill the void, and he excelled in several games that season against Wolves, Everton and in the Champions League against Partizan Belgrade.
However, he is still one of the most unfortunate players when it comes to injuries and was injured just as he was starting to cement a place. With Vito Mannone also injured that time, it opened the door to the young-and-upcoming Wojciech Szczesny.
Szczesny had some excellent games, but also showed why he was still not ready at this level in some games, such as the infamous 4-4 Newcastle game in which the young Pole certainly lost his composure. However, even at the time, he looked a better option than some of the other keepers at the club.
This season also saw the return of Jens Lehmann in a cameo appearance because of the extent of injuries in the goalkeeping department. He played the league game against Blackpool which Arsenal won, though the legendary goalkeeper had some nervous moments.
Since his breakthrough in 2010-11 season, Szczesny has faced many ups and downs already in his Arsenal career. Wenger has shown faith in him, and despite the possibility of Arsenal signing another first-choice keeper in the summer, the French manager has opted to only sign Emiliano Viviano, who is currently third choice at the club behind the two Polish keepers.
Szczesny had a bad start to the season against Aston Villa, but has since been excellent. Not only has he made outstanding saves, his distribution and handling have also improved, and he looks set to hold on to the No. 1 position, should he improve on his consistency. The Pole's ability is not in question, and with time on his side (he is only 23 years old), he has the chance to establish himself as one of the best in the world.
Fabianski has shed the tag of an unreliable keeper in the last two seasons and can be considered a reliable backup keeper. In the last season, Szczesny paid the price for poor performances, and Fabianski did well when given the chance. But as has been the case so many times with him, injury struck him at the wrong time, and Szczesny clawed his way back into the lineup.
Italian keeper Viviano was signed as backup on a loan deal by the Gunners, and it is yet to be seen whether he can cope with the physicality of the Premiership as well as manage the pressure of playing in a top side like Arsenal.
Options for this season look far better than the 2010-11 season with a more experienced and mature Szczesny, with increased competition from new signing Viviano and Fabianski who is desperate for a first-team place.
Gael Clichy was the established left-back, and, despite his errors, he was a good outlet for attack for the Gunners. His pace and overlapping runs gave Arsenal a decent option, though his crossing was a letdown for most of the season. He did produce one outstanding assist for Song against West Ham United.
Kieran Gibbs was his main challenger for the left-back slot, but at that time, Gibbs was just making his comeback after spending a lot of time on the treatment table during the 2009-10 season. Gibbs played a few games that season, but was, again, struck by injuries.
Clichy, as seen even now in the game against Bayern Munich, is not the best at his positioning and did struggle at times during the season. Also, he was not helped by the lack of tracking back by Andrei Arshavin, who played on the left flank for the first half of the 2010-11 season.
This is one of the stronger areas of the current team with Gibbs and Nacho Monreal fighting for the role. Until the signing of Monreal, Andre Santos was the option available, and Gibbs being injured would have been a huge blow for the Gunners. However, with the addition of Monreal, there is genuine competition for the position.
Gibbs has improved tremendously in the last two seasons and has shown his ability not only in defense but also in an attacking sense. He has, arguably, been Arsenal's most consistent defender after Per Mertesacker in the last year, and the competition from Monreal has kept him on his toes, knowing that any drop in his performance levels will open the door to the Spanish international.
Monreal was very unfortunate to miss preseason due to injury and returned only after the start of the season. With Gibbs performing superbly, he has been unable to break into the team. For now, he has to be content coming on in the last 10-20 minutes to help Gibbs in containing the opposition when Gunners have a lead.
The Gunners' current left-back choices are excellent, and though Clichy was a good player for the Gunners, the current duo of Monreal and Gibbs is one of the best in the Premiership. Having two excellent players for one position has pushed the players to perform better.
The transfer policy followed by Arsene Wenger, regarding his central defense in the summer before the 2010-11, was rather debatable, and it cost the Gunners a big chance of ending their trophy drought in that season. Arsenal let go of William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre, Philippe Senderos and Sol Campbell, all on free transfers, and only had Johan Djourou and Thomas Vermaelen as the senior defenders left at the club.
Wenger needed to sign a experienced quality defender, but instead, signed the inexperienced-and-raw Laurent Koscielny, who had a lot of potential, and Sebastien Squillaci, who was well past his peak. Koscielny, who was rather brittle in the initial games in the Premier League, was thrown in the deep end and struggled at times.
He did make some rash challenges, resulting in red cards and penalties, but there were also games in which he was brilliant, with his play against Barcelona at home the standout performance of the season. The less said about Squillaci's performances that season, the better. Whenever he played, the defense looked creaky and leaked goals.
Johan Djourou, who started the season shakily as the fourth-choice centre-back, turned out to be very important that season, and he had his best Arsenal season. However, despite being good in some matches, his partnership with Koscielny was not always the most reliable.
Thomas Vermaelen, who was expected to be the most important member of the back four, missed practically the entire season, returning only after Arsenal went out of the running for all four trophies.
Vermaelen and Koscielny are the survivors from the 2010-11 season. While Koscielny's reputation has grown immensely in the last two years, Vermaelen, despite being the club captain, has been reduced to the status of a fringe player.
Vermaelen made a number of mistakes in the 2012-13 season, and after a calamitous result against Tottenham in the league, the Belgian international was benched in favor of the combination of Mertesacker and Koscielny.
Mertesacker is the current leader of the defense and has been brilliant for the Gunners in this calendar year. The big German international provides the calm and composure that the Gunners have lacked in previous seasons.
His reading of the game is immaculate, as is his timing of tackles and interceptions. As of now, the real worry for Arsenal regarding their central defense is that they do not have a good enough backup for the German, because when both Koscielny and Vermaelen play together, they tend to make more errors.
Koscielny has also impressed since his error-prone 2010-11 season and has come a long way from being a physically weak defender. Now, not only is he physically strong, but he is one of the best tacklers in the Premiership, and the combination of Mertesacker and Koscielny is one of the best in the league.
With Djourou loaned out, the fourth-choice centre-back is currently Bacary Sagna, who has played quite a few games as the centre-back. He has looked solid when playing in that role, but he is, yet, to be seriously tested by tough opposition. He is a good option to have at centre-back, but the Gunners will hope he can keep his fitness.
The 2010-11 season's defense was one of the weakest in recent memory. Not only is this current Arsenal defense stronger than 2010-11, they are also one of the best in the league. The only worry is that injuries could leave them exposed, as they do not have too much depth in that role. Just two injuries could see them playing with a back line, consisting of Vermaelen, Sagna and Jenkinson, who have not played together.
Bacary Sagna is one of Wenger's underrated signings of the last decade because the Frenchman has been superb since joining the Gunners. He is one of the best right-backs in the world, and in the 2010-11 season, he was easily their best defender.
The Frenchman is not the best in crossing or linking up the play in attack, but when it comes to defensive duties, there are very few full-backs who are as good as him. Also in that season, he did not get injured much and was mostly reliable whenever he played.
Emmanuel Eboue was the second-choice right-back for the Gunners, and though a decent player, he could not force his way into the lineup ahead of Sagna. He was a good option to have on the bench, considering his versatility, and he was often the most enthusiastic Arsenal player in the team. At the end of the season, he left the Gunners in search of more playing time and joined Galatasaray.
Sagna suffered two separate leg breaks in the 2011-12 season and in the 2012-13 season, and he did not look as reliable and solid as he has normally been. With the Frenchman in his 30s, injuries take more of a toll, and it required more time for him to get back to full fitness. The lack of a preseason for the 2012-13 season also did not help. He had a season full of inconsistency.
However, with a full preseason, he has started brightly in the 2013-14 season and has been Arsenal's first-choice right-back. Sagna looks fitter and sharper this season. Hopefully, Wenger can persuade the Frenchman to stay at Arsenal and guide young Carl Jenkinson as well.
It is not often that a fan gets to play for the team of his dreams, but that is the reality for Jenkinson, who loves playing for Arsenal. The Englishman has improved vastly since his horror display in the 8-2 defeat against Manchester United and is now one of the most reliable backup defenders for Arsenal.
The presence of the experienced Mertesacker has also helped him, but credit should be given to the youngster for working hard and not letting his head drop.
The Bacary Sagna of 2010-11 can be considered better, but Sagna still has the ability and fitness to put in consistent performances. Jenkinson has more potential and hunger than Eboue and can be called upon to do a good job whenever required.
If every central midfielder was fit, then the first-choice pairing in midfield behind the playmaker was that of Alex Song and Jack Wilshere. Wilshere was particularly excellent in what can be considered his breakthrough season for Arsenal. The England international had just returned to Arsenal after a loan spell at Bolton, but Wenger trusted him to do a good job in central midfield alongside the more defensive Song.
Wilshere was outstanding in some games, most notably against Barcelona, and established himself in the team. Playing in a role behind captain Cesc Fabregas, he reveled in the deeper role, providing a creative spark. His defensive contribution was also good, though he could still be better in that even now.
Song is not a pure defensive midfielder, and at times, his positioning was not the best. However, he was still an important player for the Gunners, and his goals that season were also vital, with the Cameroon international scoring against Chelsea and Manchester City that season.
Still, playing in a midfield consisting of Wilshere and Fabregas, his attacking forays were risky and exposed the Gunners on the break on a number of occasions that season.
The squad players that season were Denilson and Abou Diaby, who has still been dogged by injury issues. Denilson had a poor season in which he regressed, and eventually, he was loaned out after that season.
Though it is only six league games into the season, one player who cannot be dropped is Aaron Ramsey, who has been on fire. The Welshman seems to have got his mojo back and is firing on all cylinders, scoring eight goals already in all competitions.
Apart from his goals, he has also been excellent defensively, contributing in breaking up opposition attacks on a number of occasions. Also, his creative play has improved quite a lot, as can be seen by his pass to Serge Gnabry for the goal against Swansea City.
Wenger has a dilemma regarding who is the first-choice defensive midfielder for the Gunners. Mathieu Flamini has to be considered one of the best in the business in this summer ,and the Frenchman has brought leadership to the midfield.
Also, being a naturally defensive midfielder, his instinct allows him to sit back and allow more freedom to the likes of Ramsey, Ozil and Wilshere. Also, he is excellent in organizing, always aware of the spaces where opposition could exploit and instructing his colleagues to mark those areas.
Arteta is technically superior to Flamini, but is not as aggressive or defensive-minded. Arteta brings more composure to the midfield and helps the Gunners in dictating the tempo of the game. With him in the team, he is the 'technical leader' in midfield, as he orchestrates the play, and he is also intelligent in his defending.
If he is exposed on the break, then he could suffer because of his lack of pace, but due to his good positioning, more often than not, he breaks up the play either fairly or unfairly.
Wilshere is the other main player vying for the midfield slot, with the Englishman determined to prove both form and fitness this season. He was injured for a long time after his breakthrough 2010-11 season and is yet to hit the same heights since then. However, the potential is there, and he does seem to have bulked up physically as well, which will help him hold off challenges.
Last but not least, one cannot help but feel sorry for Diaby's many injury problems which have ruled him out for a long spell, yet again, this season.
There is no question, this season, they have far more depth than during the 2010-11 season. Wilshere, in that season, was outstanding and remained fit throughout the season as well.
If Ramsey can sustain his form, and Wilshere can reach his previous levels, there is no doubt they can contribute immensely. The options of Flamini and Arteta in defensive midfield are an upgrade over Song, and they will prove to be even more important in difficult situations this season.
Central Attacking Midfield
Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal was one of the world's best midfielders, and he excelled being the creative hub of the Arsenal side. The Spaniard was trusted with the responsibility to create chances, and he regularly opened up defenses with his incisive passing.
He was also the captain of the team and built an excellent rapport with his teammates. It is still a case of what could have been had he not pulled up his hamstring against Stoke City, which ruled him out of the Carling Cup final, a game which had significant impact on their season.
When the Spaniard was not fit, it was Nasri who was deputized. He also did an excellent job playing behind the striker. However, Nasri also faded in the second half of the season, when Arsenal needed him the most, but on the whole, he had a decent season.
Also at times, Tomas Rosicky also played in the role, and as always, he was reliable when trusted with the role, but failed to create notable impact in some games like the Carling Cup final.
At the start of the season, it looked like Wenger was probably going to use Rosicky as the main attacking midfielder with Santi Cazorla playing from the left flank.
However, the signing of Mesut Özil on deadline day means that the No. 10 slot will be occupied by the German wizard whenever he is fit. Özil is an exceptional player who can create plenty of opportunities for his fellow players, as can be seen from his amazing assists record.
Also, the signing of Flamini and the impressive form of Aaron Ramsey means that it is hard for Jack Wilshere to break into the starting 11 when everyone is fit. So, the talented England international, who is also the owner of the No. 10 shirt, could be deployed in the No. 10 role when Özil is not fit.
There is also Cazorla, who is excellent in the attacking midfield role, while Rosicky has also been very good when played in the role.
Though Özil can prove to be an exceptional signing for the Gunners, it will always be difficult to have the same impact, as what Fabregas had for Arsenal because he was Arsenal's main man and the one they looked up to whenever the chips were down.
However, Özil certainly has the talent to have a even bigger impact than Fabregas with many excellent players around him, and Arsenal have more depth in the attacking midfield role than before.
Theo Walcott had a point to prove at the start of the season having being dropped for the World Cup, and he started off superbly, scoring a hat-trick against Blackpool and following it up with a goal against Blackburn.
However, injuries meant that he missed some games due to injuries, and Wenger used Nasri on the right flank with Arshavin on the left flank. Nasri was outstanding on the right flank, scoring several superb goals.
However, with the return of Walcott, Nasri moved to the left, and Wenger dropped Arshavin, who was inconsistent. Walcott improved on his end product that season and registered a double-figure goal tally for the first time in his career. However, he was still inconsistent over the course of the season, and though he improved, there was the feeling that he could have done better.
Due to injuries in the season, Nicklas Bendtner also played quite a few times on the flanks, but did not perform so well when given the chance. Let's hope that Arsenal fans do not see the Dane start wide again in 2013-14.
Theo Walcott has improved considerably in the last three seasons, and in the last season, he scored 21 goals in all competitions, which is a very respectable tally for a wide striker.
The England international has improved greatly on his variety of his movement and provides good options for the midfielders. Also, many other attributes of his game, like his first touch, passing, crossing and, importantly, decision-making has improved greatly.
Though he starts on the flank, he is allowed the freedom to come inside and get into dangerous positions. His overall technique has also improved, as can be seen from his goal against Marseille this season. He is now one of the most important players for the Gunners this season, and with creative playmakers, like Özil and Cazorla playing behind him, it is up to him to maximize his goal tally.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is Walcott's replacement on the right wing, and should Walcott suffer injuries or poor form, Chamberlain will be keen to cement his place on the right flank. Chamberlain is himself injured right now and is expected to return only in late November.
He also faces a tough fight from young Serge Gnabry, who scored his Arsenal goal against Swansea City. Gnabry has impressed when provided the chance, and Wenger will need to give him more chances now that his performances warrant it.
This position was generally occupied by either Nasri or Arshavin depending on injuries and current form. Nasri was a ever-present in this season, playing in a number of positions. Arshavin was inconsistent throughout the season, producing some superb moments (who can forget that Barcelona goal!), while also frustrating fans and teammates with his sluggish work rate.
Nasri scored some of the best goals of the Premier League in that season, with the brace against Fulham particularly memorable. He linked up well with both Fabregas and van Persie and improved a lot in that season. He had, arguably, the best season, so far, in his career and has not hit the same heights since leaving the Gunners to join Manchester City at the start of the season.
With the signing of Özil, it is certain that Cazorla will be deployed on the left flank when both creative geniuses are fit.
The Spanish midfielder is a world-class player, and though he starts on the left, he is given the license to roam inside with the ball, and he creates opportunities for his teammates regularly. The problem, at times, for the "little magician" was that he was the sole creative player, at times, last season, and it was easier to stifle him for the opposition.
But with the Özil arriving along with the amazing overall improvement of Aaron Ramsey, Cazorla will love to play in this team. The "Spanish magician" is a world-class player, and when he returns from injury after the international break, Arsenal fans will finally get to see how he links up with the German wizard.
On the left, the other major option for Arsenal is Lukas Podolski, currently recovering from a hamstring injury. The German international provides a very useful option on the left with his direct running and superb finishing ability. With the world cup in the summer, there is no need to motivate the German who will be eager to win back his place for the Gunners.
Also, Chamberlain is another very viable option for the Gunners, and he is another who will be so keen to get games ahead of the World Cup.
Marouane Chamakh was signed on a free transfer and due to Robin van Persie's injury, he started a number of games in the first half of the season.
Though he is not in the same league as that of the Dutchman, he did provide a useful option for the Gunners in that season, linking up play along with scoring some useful goals. After the return to fitness of van Persie, Chamakh was relegated to the bench, and his confidence was shattered, from which he never really recovered.
Van Persie returned to fitness in the second half of the season, and after scoring his first league goal against Birmingham City on New Year's Day, he continued his superb run of form till the end of the season. He scored 18 league goals in just 25 league appearances and provided a huge boost to the Gunners in their quest for trophies.
However, the Gunners could not win any trophies, and their best chance of winning one, the Carling Cup, was also affected when van Persie had to be substituted after sustaining an injury. Nicklas Bendtner was frustrated by the lack of opportunities in this season and opted to leave on loan at the end of this season.
This is the position where there is a notable lack of depth for the Gunners, especially with the injury of Podolski, who is an able replacement for Olivier Giroud. Giroud had a good 2012-13 season, scoring 17 goals in all competitions, but he still missed a number of clear chances in the season. Also, there were doubts as to whether he can develop into a player who can be instrumental in winning trophies.
Though it is just six games into the league season, the early evidence suggests that Giroud has improved superbly from the last season. He has already managed to score six goals and has looked more assured in front of goal this season. The most important aspect, however, is not the goals scored but his all-round link-up play which has greatly aided Arsenal.
The players around him have developed an understanding with him, and midfielders, like Ramsey, make runs beyond him. Giroud's movement is superb, and as he drags defenders away, it helps midfielders get more space and score goals.
Podolski, when fit, will also try to fit into the team as the striker when Giroud needs a rest, and the German will be keen to prove that he can be effective as well. Bendtner has been reintegrated to the squad, but as of now, Wenger will not be keen to use him if one of Walcott, Podolski or Giroud is fit.
Leadership and Experience
This is one of the major reasons why the 2013-14 side has a better chance of winning trophies compared to sides of old.
In the 2010-11 season, they did have a quality side, but the question was whether they had the mental resilience and dogged determination required to win trophies. After faltering in the Carling Cup final conceding a last minute goal, they were unable to recover and lost their confidence under-performing in several games towards the end of the season.
In the 2010-11 season, they had a rather unstable defense with only Sagna as the shining light in defense.
However, this season, they do have some very capable and vocal leaders in defense in Per Mertesacker, Bacary Sagna and even Laurent Koscielny is growing with more experience. Add to that the vocal leadership of Mathieu Flamini along with the composure and experience of Mikel Arteta, it is easy to see why Arsenal have been more mature this season.
Towards the end of the last season, they had an excellent run of form, but they struggled offensively (compared to Arsenal teams of old), and it was because of their superb defending that Arsenal were able to gain a number of points.
The other thing is the experience of the players in the team, and there is plenty of experience in every department.
In the game against Napoli in the Champions League, Arsenal had only two players below the age of 25; one was Mesut Ozil, who will be 25 soon and is vastly experienced having played for Schalke, Werder Bremen and Real Madrid, and the other was Aaron Ramsey, who has already captained Wales and made over 150 appearances for the Gunners.
The Gunners have a set of players, who are eager to step up and perform. Together with the creative calibre of the players and the leadership of the players like Arteta and Mertesacker, this season presents a great chance for the Gunners to finally end their trophy drought.
Combined Best 11 of the 2010-11 Season Side and the 2013-14 Side
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny (2013)
Left-Back: Kieran Gibbs (2013)
Left Centre-Back: Laurent Koscielny (2013)
Right Centre-Back: Per Mertesacker (2013)
Right-Back: Bacary Sagna (2010)
Defensive Midfielder: Mathieu Flamini (2013)
Central Midfielder: Jack Wilshere (2010) *
Attacking Midfielder: Cesc Fabregas (2010) **
Left Flank: Santi Cazorla (2013) ***
Right Flank: Theo Walcott (2013)
Striker: Robin van Persie (2010)
* If Aaron Ramsey can continue his form for most of this season, then he would have the same or more impact than what Wilshere had in the 2010-11 season.
** Mesut Özil has only played a few games for the Gunners. Considering this and considering Fabregas' importance to the Gunners, he gets the place in Central attacking midfield.
*** Samir Nasri had an outstanding 2010-11 season, but Santi Cazorla is a more talented player and can, overall, influence games to a greater extent.