The last time Arsene Wenger brought back the Premier League title, he did it in the most stylish manner possible – by going 38 games unbeaten. His squad’s fine mix of defensive ridgity, combined with their flair and speed upfront saw them sweep aside all competition by a fine margin as they scooped the crown at a canter.
Although Arsenal of today do not seem to possess the wit and potency of their 2004 compatriots, they are making a very strong case already that this year may be the year they finally re-capture a trophy that has eluded them for so long on a mixture of so-nearly’s and fourth place finishes.
Wenger finally answered the call for a big name signing with the £42.5 million capture of German maestro Mesut Ozil, and seems to have built a team around the former Real Madrid that has slowly but surely gelled into one of Wenger’s finest mixes of attacking talent. The £32.5 million signing of Alexis Sanchez was a Wenger masterstroke that paid instant dividends as the diminutive Chilean’s flair and sorcery, complimented hugely by Ozil’s vision and Aaron Ramsey’s tireless running saw Arsenal win back to back FA Cups and end a 9 year long trophy drought.
It has taken time, but the stability and longevity of this teams prodigious talents are there. Although Wenger’s reluctance to get the chequebook out has caused chagrin with Gunner’s supporters, his eye for a shrewd bargain and his presenting of opportunities to youth players has seen all his critics silenced.
The signing of veteran Petr Cech may prove one of his most important as the season progresses. Incorrectly, and somewhat harshly, seen as disposable by Chelsea saw Wenger swoop in with £10 million to hand to Mourinho. After a small wobble against West Ham, Cech has proved to everyone that he is still a goalkeeper of solidity and reliability. When one considered the positions of both Arsenal and Chelsea, it seems obvious that the Blue’s loss is the Gunner’s gain. Cech knows how to handle himself and the defence in front of him, and taking clean sheets away from Manchester United and Leicester shows he still has much to give.
Captained by ‘the Beast’ Per Mertesacker, and shored up on the flanks by celebrated youth graduates Keiran Gibbs and Hector Bellerin, it is a defence that can, and has been able to, cope with the celebrated attacking lineups of Europe, including Bayern Munich, who came a-cropper at the Emirates recently.
Up fromt, Theo Walcott is at last beginning to find his feet. Having been made to wait patiently while the likes of Olivier Giroud and Robin van Persie were given their turn up front, he has endured playing on the wing and playing off the bench. With seven already this season, and a few assists to boot, Walcott is beiginning a transformation into the spearhead of the Arsenal attack. Though his light frame and less than towering stature means he is oftenmost at odds with Giroud for the centre forward role, his frightening speed and ever-improving eye for goal are giving defenders a huge problem. His performance against Manchester United last month saw panic placed in the eyes of a defence who up until that point had looked reasonably sturdy, as Walcott worked tirelessly and ran relentlessly to show why his goal scoring is not the only part of his game that justifies Wenger in selecting him ahead of Frenchman Giroud.
The 4-2-3-1 system Wenger employs seems to get the best from Walcott. With the defensive gem of Francis Coquelin shoring up the opposition, it allows Santi Cazorla and Ozil a little more room for manoeuvre, meaning Walcott needn’t drop deep to receive the ball, unlike other teams who employ the formation. He is at his most dangerous when the midfield is playing a through ball option, either along the ground or airborne, Walcott’s bursts of speed will get him there quicker than the defence. Furthermore, to attack from the wings, Sanchez often uses the low ball option into the box, supplying Walcott’s feet, rather than the weaker aerial ability. Most of Walcott’s goals this season have come from just inside the box, as he drops into space there rather than cluster in with the defence and the keeper.
The whole squad is looking strong. The more they gel, the more they’ll show they can play. In the grand scheme of things, the title may look a real possibility. With Chelsea floundering spectacularly, and Manchester United still not looking up to scratch under Louis van Gaal, this season may prove to be a two horse race between the Gunners and Manchester City. With City due to visit the Emirates before the close of the year, it will prove the greatest test of how realistic Arsenal’s title charge can be.