The international week rolls on and so does the lack of Arsenal news. As I result I’m continuing the trend of using this time off as a sort of reflection of the season so far. Over the past couple of days I focused on the individual performances of the Arsenal players, grading their efforts and providing some comments for where they have done well and where they can improve.
I thought for today I’d look at the major reasons why I feel the club are where they are right now, sitting first in the league as opposed to squabbling for the final Champions League spot as was predicted by many experts before the season kicked off. So with no further adieu, I present my five reasons why Arsenal are leading the Premiership.
1. Renewed energy in the midfield
There is little doubt that last season’s middle pairing of Cesc Fabregas and Gilberto Silva were two of the best Arsenal players in 2006/2007. But there’s absolutely no doubt that since the introduction of Mathieu Flamini in the Brazilian’s holding midfield role things the energy in the midfield has gone through the roof. The young Frenchman has shown his worth to the side with a series of energetic, aggressive and skillful performances this season. As a result, the more creative players like Alexander Hleb, Tomas Rosicky and especially his partner-in-crime Fabregas have blossomed.
The original strand of thought at the end of last season was that for Arsenal to get back their dominance of the midfield of years gone by a powerful Patrick Vieira-like player was necessary. But Flamini’s incessant running and hassling coupled with the fitness and energy of the other midfielders has shown Arsenal supporters that there are more effective ways to win the midfield battle than was previously thought.
2. Improved mental and physical fitness
Along a very similar line of thinking is the incredible mental and physical fitness that has been shown by the entire team so far this season. There was a statistic that surfaced soon after the draw with Manchester United that no less than 50% of all of Arsenal’s goals up until that point had been scored in the last quarter of their matches. And while this percentage has since dropped off a little since then the point remains the same; Arsene Wenger’s side have shown time and time again that they are not only one of the fittest sides going around physically, but they have also displayed a mental toughness that many people did not expect them to show this season. It is this toughness that has stolen wins and draws when perhaps more negative results looked more likely.
3. Unpredictability in attack
In recent seasons Arsenal’s attacking play has been dominated by the presence of one man; Thierry Henry. When he was on fire this was all well and good but in the times when the Frenchman was not on song or not in the side Arsenal would often look a little out of ideas in the final third. However, some excellent recruitment by Arsene Wenger has meant that Henry’s move to Barcelona has caused few problems at all this season.
Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find a more unique group of attacking players going around in any club in Europe. Emmanuel Adebayor has height, pace and an amazing ability to stay involved in the game for 90 minutes; Eduardo da Silva brings guile and precise finishing to the side; Robin van Persie (when fit) is still arguably the club’s most talented player, exceptionally creative with the ball at his feet and possessing an amazing shot while Nicklas Bendtner has a huge frame and excellent foot skills to go with his endless confidence.
It is a combination that looks great on paper and has equated to success on the pitch. Adebayor has undoubtedly been the stand-out of the bunch but the constant rotation of the other three throughout the season has meant that Arsenal’s attack has never once become predictable. Supporters may lambaste van Persie’s consistent injuries but the great thing is that when the Dutchman does return he’s going to be something of a surprise to whoever the opposition may be. Indeed, most sides will have been researching tapes with Adebayor and Eduardo running around together up front.
4. Predictability in defence
Just as important has been Arsene Wenger’s ability to field the same back five on more occasions than not this season. A lot of football observers undervalue the importance of the same players playing together week-in, week-out, and there is no area on the pitch where this rings true than in defence. In Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, Gael Clichy and goalkeeper Manuel Almunia Arsenal have a group of defenders that know each other’s games inside and out and it has really shown this season.
There’s little doubt that each member of the back five have done well individually – Sagna and Clichy in particular have been immense – but it is collectively that Arsenal defence has really shined. Gallas has shown himself to be a terrific leader and the communication in the backline looks to be at a very high level, something that could not be said last season. Add to that Flamini’s hassling in the midfield and it’s clear that if Arsenal can maintain their defensive line-up for the best part of the rest of the campaign then they will remain a very difficult side to break down.
5. Wenger’s faith in his players
Before the start of the season when many Arsenal supporters were fearing the impact of Henry’s exit and calling for big-name signings left, right and centre Arsene Wenger had the strength of mind to ignore the hype and put faith in the core components of his young but talented squad. While Liverpool splashed millions on Fernando Torres and Manchester United brought in Owen Hargreaves, Anderson, Nani and Carlos Tevez, Wenger stuck with his side and complimented it with two seemingly odd signings in Sagna and Eduardo.
It’s wonderful to see that he has been rewarded with the faith he has shown. Rather than replacing the areas of the side that looked a little undercooked the manager put trust in his young players to step up. They have done it in some style. Virtually every member of the first-team from last season has improved this time around with Flamini and Adebayor the exceptional examples. It’s still great to know that in a football world increasingly affected by money, a lack of loyalty and the need for quick-fix solutions, Wenger is being rewarded for showing faith in his players and the Arsenal Football Club are being rewarded for showing faith in the manager’s methods.
The Arsenal Opus competition is coming…
So there you have it. I have to say I really enjoyed writing this post and I’ve enjoyed taking some time out this week to reflect on the season so far. Before things kick off again with the Premiership clash against Blackburn I’d encourage all supporters of the club to really have a think about just how much this side has achieved so far this season. Silverware or no silverware I’m absolutely thrilled with the performance of Wenger’s side and exceptionally proud to call Arsenal my club.
Just before I go I want to let everybody know that there will be a competition starting very shortly on the blog where readers will have a chance to win a copy of the Arsenal Opus. If you don’t know what the Opus is then stay tuned for more and if you know all about how great it is then be sure to check back on the blog soon to see how you can enter. To keep in touch with the blog make sure you subscribe to my daily posts. Cheers.
What do you think?
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