Judging Arsenal On Mid-Season Form


Arsenal have fought and clawed their way to the top of the Barclays Premier League, now let’s judge how they got there and what else is to come. 

So here we are, at the cusp of a brand new year. Arsenal sit at the top of the Premier League table, tied with Leicester City but with a better goal differential. In this term Arsenal have defeated Manchester United, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and former league leaders Leicester, while drawing with Tottenham and Liverpool.

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There have been bumps in the road however. An opening day defeat to West Ham as well as a very unfortunate, and in many ways unfair, loss at Stamford Bridge still jut unfavorably in supporters memories. A loss to West Brom, a thrashing at St. Mary’s and an almost undignified departure from the Champions League could have made for a disastrous season. However Arsenal remain mostly unperturbed.

Let’s examine the Gunners current standing, shall we?

Months ago I wrote an article bemoaning Arsenal’s flagrant lack of depth. While many of my points did hold true, like Francis Coquelin’s unsurprising injury, I must adjust my previous position. Many Arsenal supporters have blamed a lack of depth for the Gunners troubles this term, but in all honesty that just is not the case. The team that roasted Manchester United is not the same team that defeated Manchester City. Therefore we have to admit that there is quality throughout the squad. Of course both of these fixtures were at the Emirates, but it is important to point out that the personnel for these matches were quite different.

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Furthermore, when you look at the team that defeated pluck upstarts Bournemouth on Monday, a larger picture comes into scope. Arsenal are currently without their first choice left winger, central midfielder and defensive midfielder and yet they were able to field a powerful team. Bournemouth might not be a conventionally glamorous opponent, but when you consider the fact that the Cherries have defeated Manchester United, Chelsea and West Ham this term, Monday’s result begins to take on new meaning.

The Gunners rested arguably the best defender in England in Lauren Koiscelny in their last fixture. Instead, the combative Brazilian Gabriel Paulista came on to give his greatest performance in an Arsenal shirt to date. Not only was the former La Liga beast effective in defense, snatching six interceptions and making all of his attempted tackles, but the Brazilian also notched his first goal for Arsenal. Gabriel was a menace from set pieces and he was unlucky not to add to his tally on the day.

Calum Chambers put in a fantastic shift for the Gunners in the middle of the park. Proving that he might have a future at the heart of midfield after all. Chambers was very solid, amassing a 91% pass accuracy while also winning two out of his three aerial duels. The young Englishman stepped up very well in place of the aging Mathieu Flamini, who is Arsenal’s second choice DM.

Then there is Theo Walcott. Theo has always been a player of great potential but now it seems that he has the work rate to go with it. On Monday Walcott may have squandered numerous chances but the important stat is the five tackles he attempted. This eye popping number proves that Theo has matured, and is now pulling his weight on all parts of the pitch. (All stats via Whoscored)

If Arsenal did not possess a deep squad then this current plague of injuries would spell the Gunners’ doom. However, even with Alexis Sanchez, Santi Carzola and Francis Coquelin sidelined, Arsenal still remain at the top of the heap. On December 29, 2014 Arsenal were outside of the top four. They were below Southampton in fifth place! Now the Gunners are the class of the Premier League with everything to play for.

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Case closed. Arsenal have depth. I was wrong.

Some Gooners will still gripe. Many will point out the misfortunes of other clubs and say that Arsenal are simply lucky for their current standing. This makes no sense to me. Is it Arsenal’s fault that City, United and Chelsea all have serious problems? No, of course not. For that reason, the fact that the Gunners are atop the league is no less valid. If anything the North London club has shown that cohesion can trump heavy spending. There is a sense of calm attributed to Arsenal that their rivals can only pray for.

Finally there is one player that has made this all possible, Mesut Ozil. Alexis Sanchez is a game-breaker. Santi Carzola is a magician. Francis Coquelin is the backbone. However Mesut Ozil is the maestro that this team so desperately needs. Over two months ago, I wrote a piece essentially telling Ozil haters to kick rocks.

Since then the German savant has done nothing but prove me right. His numbers speak for themselves and I won’t get into just how good Ozil has been. However I will say this, without Ozil the Gunners would not be where they are right now. That may be obvious, but last term Chelsea only sat three points ahead of City at New Years. The Blues went on to win the League and nothing can be taken away from the powerful position that our hated rivals found themselves at the start of 2015. Like Chelsea did last term, Arsenal currently hold all the cards.

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Will Arsenal win the League? I have no idea. Is this the best position the Gunners have been in years? Without a doubt.

Do the Gunners have the depth? Yes.

Do we have the star player to push us over the top? Yes.

Are we top of the League midway through the season? Yes.

Call me optimistic, but something feels different.

Alexis will be back soon. Mohammed Elneny is on his way to help shore up the midfield. We have some tough fixtures coming up but if we can navigate them, Arsenal might finally claim that glory we have all been waiting for.