Despite eventually finishing second in last season’s Premier League, a position that no fan would have been confident enough to use Free Super Tips with 5 or so games left to play. It’s fair to say that expectations were not that high for Arsenal this campaign. Many fans were happy with the signing of Granit Xhaka to address the timely issue of an imposing deep lying midfielder of proven ability. However, kicking off the season with a home defeat to Liverpool and a new Centre-back and striker still not signed at that time, many observers wondered if this could be a perilous season for the Gunners.
Arsene Wenger raided La Liga for attacker Lucas Perez and German international centre-back Shkodran Mustafi. The fees involved, particularly for Mustafi, raised some eyebrows and question marks over Wenger’s transfer strategy, with some critics suggesting an element of desperation. Whilst Perez has yet to make his mark at The Emirates, Mustafi has settled in well and created a solid partnership with Laurent Koscielny. Mustafi was never a stand out individual talent, but he is strong, intelligent and versatile player who has, quite importantly, struck up a good understanding with his defensive partner. In much the same way as Koscielny and Mertesacker worked well as a pair, Koscielny and Mustafi seem to complement each other well and although, individually, they may not be amongst the Premier League’s top 5 central defenders they work well together.
Xhaka meanwhile, has been eased into the Arsenal team by Wenger, though has already shown signs of the disciplinary issues he had at Borussia Mönchengladbach. Wenger’s summer outlay exceeded £90m, but was not spectacular and their form has not been spectacular either; however, they have been solid, much like Arsenal.
Perhaps unusually for Arsenal, their Premier League campaign to date has neither been in the realms of despair or headline grabbing euphoria. The opening day defeat to Liverpool threatened to be the former, but that has turned out to be their only League defeat to date as the Gunners quietly settled into the season with some encouraging displays, the highlight being the emphatic win over Chelsea. On the whole, it’s been a steady season thus far though, keeping pace at the top, whilst not garnering the media attention that Manchester City, Liverpool and, most recently, Chelsea have. That steadiness could be a good sign as this Arsenal side quietly goes about its business of winning games.
The transition of Alexis Sanchez from a wide to central attacking role has been seamless and helped the fluidity of attacking play. One beneficiary has been Theo Walcott, whose Arsenal future was beginning to look in doubt last year. That increased fluidity and pace in the attack has helped open spaces for Walcott to exploit and score goals. Emerging talent Alex Iwobi has also continued to shine as he has flourished; he still has work to do in his game off the ball and in front of goal, but he is a player of great promise after his emergence last season. A side note from the central move for Sanchez has been Olivier Giroud going from regular starter to excellent option from the bench. The French striker has his critics and although his lack of pace and sometimes erratic finishing can let him down, he is largely an under rated player who gives Wenger a genuine opportunity to change the pattern of play if required.
Mesut Özil is another player to benefit from the added pace and movement in Arsenal’s attack and not just for his incredible vision and creative play, but also in terms of his goal scoring exploits. The German already has seven goals in all competitions this term as he exhibits his growing influence on this team.
I’ve spoken mostly about individuals here for Arsenal, but the solidity, steadiness and progress so far this season for Arsenal has emanated from a more cohesive and better balance in the team, something that has to be taken as a positive for Gooners.
With a key game against Manchester United up after the international break and important fixtures away to Southampton and Everton, as well as a playing host to Manchester City all to come before Christmas, Arsenal face a test, but also an opportunity to build on their positive start to the season and perhaps make a genuine title challenge.