Vermaelen came in for a lot of criticism towards the end of last season and rightly so. He made numerous errors and was often caught out of position as he joined attacks without being vocal enough to alert the rest of the team (or Alex Song didn’t listen which is quite likely). So far this season he has reigned in his attacking instincts, venturing to the half-way line then like a scolded child retreating back alongside Mertesacker. In fact the one occasion he did venture forward against Southampton came when the team were 5-1 up, showing a new maturity and understanding of the team from the Belgian. As you can see in the picture towards the start of this article, he has been entrusted with a lot of area to cover with Kieran Gibbs venturing forward. He has done this maginificently; winning all of his 9 tackles, making 13 interceptions and 2 last man tackles. He has only lost possession 3 times so far and with an 88% passing accuracy his use of the ball has looked a lot wiser than last season. With Wenger making Vermaelen the new captain he is effectively undroppable from the defence, but if his form and leadership of the team continue, I can see know reason why he should be.
Since signing for Arsenal, I would say every bit of work I’ve done for this site could have focused on Arteta if I didn’t consciously avoid analysing him. He’s a dream player for stat freaks, but more importantly, a dream player for this Arsenal side. His movement to deep-lying playmaker last season was a surprise enough after it was assumed he was signed to replace Fabregas, but his movement even further back to become a single pivot in the 3-man midfield has been an incredible move by Arsene so far. He’s 3rd in our top stats area for total tackles with 19, in 4 games, a remarkable statistic along with 12 interceptions. He has already proved he can provide more protection for the back four than Alex Song could and the removal of a double pivot means that an understanding isn’t required, Arteta knows his role and he will perform it, brilliantly I might add. If his defensive statistics weren’t impressive enough, his passing form from last season has continued. In 4 games he has only lost possession once and has completed 93% of his passes, coming 2nd in the top stats zone for number of passes with 378. He has been excellent at receiving the ball from the back four and distributing it to the team, completing 25/27 long balls, the same number as Paul Scholes in 3 attempts less. He has quickly become a fan favorite and one of the first names on the team sheet, demonstrated by his promotion to vice-captain after one season. The big fear for any Arsenal fan is if the Spaniard suffers an injury, no one player is capable of replacing him and we may see a change of system if that occurs.
The other Spaniard in the side, former Malaga player Santi Cazorla, adapted to life in the Premier League after 5 minutes against Sunderland and has been pulling the strings ever since. In just 4 games he has risen through the creativity charts and if we discount chances created from a set play he would be top with 14 chances created to Aaron Lennon’s 12. He creates a chance from open play every 25 minutes and has already bagged 2 assists and a goal. He isn’t all flash either, coming in the top 25 players for ground duels with 36 along with 8 tackles and 5 interceptions. With 133 final third passes and a massive accuracy of 86% for these passes, Cazorla has also made more than any other Premiership player and is third for total passes completed with 321. He has acted almost as a second striker in games so far, ensuring the striker hasn’t been left alone when the ball works its way up to him and is in charge of pressing the opposition defence. At £12 million, Cazorla will prove himself to be the signing of the summer. Listening to the crowd reaction at the Emirates every time he got the ball was magic to hear and we haven’t seen a midfield player with this ability since Fabregas. David Silva and Juan Mata both struggled after Christmas in their first seasons without a winter break so hopefully Wenger has noticed this and uses our own magic Spaniard sparingly.
It’s hard to pick a key player where goals will come from as it is taking time for Olivier Giroud to settle, but Lukas Podolski has already gone a long way to allay fears about his second move to a big club. The German is a workhorse and hopefully Wenger has realised his best position is on the left-wing, cutting inside and linking with Cazorla. With 100% passing accuracy against Southampton, it’s clear his understanding with the team is growing and hopefully he can push on and grab more goals. It looks to be a promising season for the Gunners and they look to have emerged from the shadow of Van Persie, but things can change quickly in football and a positive result against Man City would do a lot to boost the respect that this side commands. With the likes of Sagna, Koscielny and most importantly Jack Wilshere to make a return to the first team, this is the first Arsenal squad in quite a while that has serious quality in-depth and this could become a massive asset in the quest for a trophy.
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