The State of Play: Arsenal’s season so far

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This has been the strangest Arsenal season for as long as I can remember, for a number of reasons.

First came all the changes in the off-season. Fabregas, Nasri, Eboue, Bendtner, Clichy, Denilson, Traore out (have I missed anyone?); Gervinho, Jenkinson, Arteta, Mertesacker, Santos, Benayoun, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Park in.

The revolving doors were spinning like never before at the Arsenal and all the chopping and changing hurt us badly at the start of the season. What was our worst start in 20 years became our worst in 30, 40 and then 50 years as we languished as low as 17th, recording a negative goal-difference for the first time in our history in the Premier League.

A woeful run of results was topped off with the poison cherry that was our 8-2 defeat to Manchester United, a farce of performance that was sandwiched between Fabregas and Nasri’s exits and the arrival of our super quintet of new superstars.

Our new players took time to settle and consistency was hard to find, a 4-3 defeat to Blackburn summed up our struggle to recover, and a fourth place finish looked, for some time, an impossibility.

On a personal level Arsenal’s rollercoaster start to the season was given an extra loop-the-loop by my move back from Berlin to Australia and a level of work commitment that has meant I’ve missed my fair share of games this season — around five or six — something that my year-ago self would have deemed as unlikely and perhaps even unacceptable.

I may not have written much but nevertheless I have seen enough to be positively thrilled with the way Arsené Wenger and his new-look team has turned things around.

It is no secret that Wenger has adopted a new style of play this season, based more around lighting-pace up front then tippy-tappy possession football. Nasri has been replaced by the pacey and unpredictable Gervinho, a player that causes his fair share of trouble even on a bad day, while Theo Walcott’s continued improvement has seen him emerge as an effective player down the right.

The pair have worked delightfully with the incomparable Robin van Persie, their cohesion helping to push the Dutchman into the record books with a string of goal-scoring performances. He has been absolutely superb, our new captain, but without the support from his two wingers the goals would not be flowing as freely as they are.

Any fears that Gervinho’s absence during the African Cup of Nations could prove decisive have been alleviated by the emergence of the brave, cock-sure Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Wenger has set The Ox free in fits and starts this season but the intent is surely there to have him prepared to play a starring role when Gervinho is unvailable.

In midfield Wilshere’s unfortunate injury added stress to Cesc’s unfortunate exit, but Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey have formed an excellent midfield triangle that has improved with each performance.

Song’s development into a midfield beast is almost complete — I wouldn’t trade him for any other defensive-midfielder in the country — while Arteta’s terrific technique has allowed him to become the unspectacular cog that has freed up Aaron Ramsay. The Welsh captain, who has recovered delightfully from his broken leg, has taken on the role of our most creative midfielder, combining excellent passing with a happy knack for pushing into the opposition box at the right time.

The biggest changes have come at the back though, where the arrivals of Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Carl Jenkinson have been mixed with the return of Thomas Vermaelen and shaken and stirred with injuries to Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna. It has meant oodles of different back-four combinations but nevertheless the result have been clear: a solid and steady improvement in function, cohesion and above all, goals conceded as the season has moved forward.

Vermaelen’s return has lifted the heart of every Arsenal supporter — he is a player that nobody, not even opponents, could possibly dislike — lion-hearted, brave and committed. He is a leader and the impact of his presence at the back cannot be understated.

But the supporting cast have chipped in ably too. Koscielny has developed into a superb tackling defender, combining excellent anticipation with a new-found sense of positioning while Mertesacker, who has been criticised for being too slow and reactionary, has actually been rather good. The German is a calm, organised presence at the back and his influence on the back four as a unit has outweighed his occasional lapses in one-on-one situations.

An injury to Andre Santos picked up mid-week in Greece will provide a new challenge four our versatile defenders. Vermaelen will likely slip into left back, Koscielny and Mertesacker will play through the middle and Johan Djourou, who has been understandingly unpredictable in his fractured appearances, will slot in on the right.

For the next couple of games it seems we will playing with four centre-backs across the back four, an amazing situation. But I daresay no Arsenal fans will be too concerned: this group of players have come a long way and, for the first time since the arrival of our transfer deadline day quintet, look and play like a real unit.

It has undoubtedly helped to have a goalkeeper with the quality and temperament of that man Wojciech Szczesny behind them. It is hard to believe that this time last season he was only the fourth-choice goalkeeper at Arsenal. Now he is our undisputed Number One, as important a player to us as van Persie and Vermaelen with the way that he commands his penalty area, takes the pressure of his defenders and bounces back immediately from mistakes.

I believe this group of players, and in particular our wonderful manager, deserve huge congratulations for the way they have recovered from the poor start, banded together, and produced such an excellent run of results. From hovering above the relegation places to fifth place, just two points off Chelsea in fourth, is an astonishing turnaround from the shenanigans that plagued the opening month of the season.

Not to mention our qualification as group leaders in the Champions League, a competition that may yet open up kindly for us with the exits of Manchester United and City (heh).

So I encourage you to pause for a moment, appreciate what our team has done, and enjoy what is yet to come.

Spread the Arsenal love by leaving a comment.


29 thoughts on “The State of Play: Arsenal’s season so far

  1. solid article andy.

    Its been a while. I like the prospects of Ox, and Ramsay getting more playing time in the role. He is doing well.

  2. Tanx 2 Arséne who believed in himself & the team. The same AFC that was criticised was the first English side to get a ticket for second round. We were written off but now we’ve shamed our critics. My prayer for now is that all our injured players should be fully fit & come January Wengér should recruit Three more players. ONE STRIKER, ONE LEFT (FB), & a ATTACKING (MF).

  3. What a nice trip down memory lane, my deep profound love for this team and club was brought to surface – so thanks Andy!

    Im not sure if any other club in the world could possibly withstand the copius amount of change that Arsenal does experience in its squad.

    Upolished gems they are, & I can live with that. They’ll always be a special bunch in my eyes.

  4. Good to see some familiar faces. I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much lately guys, various work has been keeping me very busy.

    Shane — I’d like to see more of The Ox, but I can see why Wenger’s delaying.

    Tommy — Of course, Vela. Shows that maybe we haven’t missed him much though…

    Darragh — I concur. Gervinho and his epic brain are two different entities. I swear any time he gets one-on-one with a keeper and delays, his brain is pondering world domination.

    Fatema — Thanks for the praise. Couldn’t have said the last sentence any better.

  5. well said, my love for arsenal grows stronger with each game that passes by. A gunner to the bone

  6. The awful start particularly the thrashing by Manu is a blessing in disguise as it prompted AW, the Chairman and other decisoin makers to take serious action without delay to rectify the situation. They should not ignore the opportunity presented by the January transfer window as the mission to perfection is not over yet.

  7. United sent packing. Gunners qualified with a game to spare. Come February Wilshere will be back. I dont know whether Vermaleen and Persie will be with us then. Otherwise will may get to the finals miraculously. There is no guarantee that City and United will have less responsibilities since they are out. They have to play Europa on Wednesdays and Thursdays implying we all have equal burdens but at different standards. If we could only get a deadly Vanpersie partner upfront,then the rest is history. @Chamakh. I hope the whole world saw what a crap this guy is. Am so afraid to say the least but he deserves mid table teams like sunderland ,Wigans,Evertons. He is not an arsenal player and neither does he identify himself with any trade mark about him. He can,t dribble and neither shoot. He cost us the game against Panathanicos as he was absolute rubbish up front.Just ship him out in January and we avoid paying him huge sums of money for rubbish performances.

  8. Play you forgot to add is Ryo Miyaichi and Frimpong. Ok, we had them last year, but Ryo couldn’t play becuse he was on loan and frimpong was on loan. Ryo maybe inj. but he’s a good prospect and Frimpong’s had some good games in the league cup and looked good against liverpool in the league. Let’s be honest, with frimpong and Song SAF would be in a lot better position cos phil jones aint as good as neither.

  9. Nice article Andy. Our position now is much better than I feared it would be a couple of months ago. My lingering fear is our depth in defense and attack. We all know how injury prone we have been and a few more to key players will cause us problems for sure. Right now we have no decent cover for keeper and Squillaci and Djorou give me nightmares. And up front Chamakh and Park will not put the fear of god into anyone should RVP be out for any length of time. But having said that the positives outweigh the negatives and I would say our first eleven are the equal or superior to all other teams in the league. It’s our next eleven where we don’t stack up. But I have really enjoyed watching us play a more direct style and hope we can keep the run going. Fingers crossed!

  10. well nice article, happy the way things have been turn around. From pit 2 palace, imagine our beloved arsenal battling relegation few months back. Cudos to d lads and able le proffessor. Much happy as d traitor nasri bounce out of CL group stage,he havn,t see anthing yet.

  11. Absolutely incredible turn around. Huge appreciation to the team. The talent was always there. My main issue with the position we found ourselves in at the start was more to do with the management at the top level – the board, and yes a bit of it with Wenger not being firm enough and acting late but I accept that sometimes you can be put in a situation which you couldn’t have predicted – aka Nasri.

    I don’t understand why the board resorts to being so naive and making schoolboy errors. And I don’t like the politics that seems to be taking place with there being two camps – one the Alisher Usmanov one and the other the Stan Kroenke one. I just hope this doesn’t end sour for us like the American Liverpool owners Gillet and Hicks.

    Buying Arteta on the last day was also painfully risky. I do get frustrated with some of the decisions made about how much to spend for a player because sometimes it seems we aren’t willing to pay even fifty quid more than we value the player. It’s borderline suicide. Look at how important Arteta has been for us. I was honestly relishing seeing Arteta in, even if it was in place of Fabregas. The added technique, strength with the weaker foot, more shooting power, more solid defensively, positional intelligence and general experience would always have been beneficial. And it has proven so. Benayoun is another player I thought would fit into Arsenal well, back in the days when he was at West Ham and then Liverpool. I was impressed. The few times he’s come on he’s got better as he’s played more minutes. He looks very mobile. Definitely good on the ball. I think at the moment he’s a better 2nd choice to Gervinho than Arshavin, for our left wing. Maybe the wing isn’t Arshavin’s best position, similar to Walcott, who nevertheless has improved. In the future though I’d rather put Ryo or Vela or Ox at the right wing. Left footed player cutting in would give us a more deadly and direct strike force. We already have fullbacks who act as wingers so I do think it could work well. Sometimes with Sagna and Walcott they’re just getting in each other’s way going forward. Which is something I was pleased to see not happen with Djourou and Koscielny, and we looked more solid defensively even. And Walcott needs to learn how to pass players, which he won’t learn if he’s always got the option of passing to his fullback.

    Been very impressed with Frimpong, Coquelin, Koscielny, Ox and Arteta other than the regulars VanPersie, Vermaelen, Szczesny, Ramsey & Song. But I get nervous when I see Santos defend. And Mertesacker is a yard of pace too slow but hopefully he can cover that with his intelligence and not get into tricky one-on-ones. I’d like to have seen more of Rosicky, Benayoun, Park and Ryo but hopefully in time we will and hopefully they’re in even better form.

    Getting worried about Arshavin, Chamakh, Squillaci, Fabianski and Mannone though. Looking forward to Wilshere, Vela, Gibbs, Ryo, and Sagna coming back into contention for a place. And not sure where Diaby stands. At this moment, with Coquelin and Frimpong I don’t think we’ll miss him too much.

    And lastly I’m sure many of us are wanting to ask Nasri how it feels to jump ship to a club which isn’t playing champions league. He’ll probably say he’s going to win the league however…

  12. Thanks mucho for the fresh posting Drew.
    The team has come along way these last two months but there is still a long,long way to go. I’m not sure we can catch Man $ity unless they have a minor meltdown but a second or third place finish in the League is there if the squad can stay healthy and relatively intact as a unit.
    For me Mertesacker,Arteta and Santos have been good value for the money. They have performed like solid,veteran professionals and their calm,confidence has spread. Ramsey has shown good improvement and I think if Song was playing for Man United he would lauded as the best holding mifielder in the Prem which in truth he is.
    However, we are thin in a couple notable spots. We are only one injury away from Squilacci starting again and of course if our #1 keeper goes down it’s a big drop off to whomever you consider #2. Last but not least if Robin gets hurt or tired we will have a huge goal hole to fill.
    Will any of these potential deficits be dealt with during the next transfer window? I wonder. It has never been AW’s way though even he will have to admit this latest group of signings has made a world of positive difference.
    Just an Obervation, but the English press doesn’t seem to think that Manchester’s two teams crashing out of the Champions League is that big of a deal. I hate to sound paranoid but if it had been us,despite being if a much tougher group it would have been potrayed as a complete disastrous failing.

  13. G’day Leftcoast. Not sure which press you have been reading but the Mancs are copping a pasting in sites I have been reading. More so for United than $ity to be fair. I couldn’t care less! How will Nasri enjoy seeing us playing in the second round (and hopefully a bit beyond that) while he sits on his comfy subs bench up there?! Looking forward to the Everton game although our lack of fullbacks makes me slightly nervous.

  14. @Terry,
    Bah Humbug!
    I see all that money couldn’t buy him a starting position OR a chin!
    serves him right. 🙂

  15. allround arsenal seems to be singing a new tune not the classic arsenal we saw that usually score and then concede, just extreme sluggish or fall down without conceding, the defending is not high class but good enough to end the season, the real test will be at the etihad stadium. We still need park to find form, one thing about koreans they are hard working and flexible a little movitation and spirit to fight will do him good. I dont know if manu is weak or just unlucky to lose but wenger thought should be is to add depth to see the champions league as a chance for silver ware, arsenal are for me third best realistic but once barc n real madrid scratch themselves out then arsenal will have more than realistic chance but everything is pointing at wenger. leftcoastgooner -okay nasri is gone and missing been in the 11 man city team but he will be touching silverware which cant be said for arsenal so that is that, our aim should be to be solid for championsleague spot and putting our best team for champion league knock outs.

  16. Great summary and op ed of the 2011-2012 campaign (so far).

    It’s never simple or easy with The Arsenal: but we have found in ourselves that degree of character/heart/mental toughness which is necessary for any winning side.

    We are able to find ways to win or at least not to lose, games which we would have given away the past couple of seasons. If I could bottle it, I’d sell it, whatever the hell it is, but it’s that more than any other factor that has lifted us from 17th to 5th before the New Year.

    Imagine what can be accomplished once Wilshere and Sagna are back in the side at full strength. Yes we are thin at striker, and now again in the back with
    Santos gone, but I really think these guys believe in themselves and that they’ll continue to find ways to progress.

    It’s an auspicious weekend with our 125th celebrations and statue unveilings and what not, and I am confident that the squad will build on the season and finds inspiration and not undue pressure. Look for RvP to continue his magic and for Arteta to score on his old team, and when it’s all over it’ll be 3-1 to the Arsenal. You read it here first.


  17. Almighty Almunia will be on the bench tomorrow. I laugh in my native language. I pray the number one keeper don’t get injured. Amen.

  18. Really missed your writing. Welcome back.
    I hope your move down under is fruitful and that you get Arsenal matches still. It has got better here in the US as more fans are getting more appreciative of the sport.
    Yes, the team has confounded all naysayers after the horrible start to the season. Even the old lady here felt my pain during that period-especially the debacle at OT.
    We have the rest of the season to look forward to.

  19. well put Andy, the eam is finally gelling well together and we can only go from strength to strength onwards. Robin van Persie’s performance are out of this world but are the end result of a team that is cohesive and beginning to understand one another… viva Gunners worldwide

  20. The good news is 3 points from a great through ball and sweet volley finish from Song to Van Persie and of course getting back in the last Champions League spot.
    Also, S***s went down to the Potters so we’re only 2 points behind them.
    The Bad news is Man$ity at Eastlands next week. And the ugly news is Andre Santos being out for Three months. We will have to find a way to it keep going.


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