This time last year I wrote a rather surprising post about my secret love of Arsenal,
It didn’t quite go viral (!); however, it certainly raised a few eyebrows amongst my friends as well as giving me confidence to follow them more obviously in public.
Twelve months on, fresh from a convincing victory over title rivals Man City, is it possible that seasons of unfulfilled promises are finally being fulfilled?
And, if they are, then why?
1. Petr Cech
A perenially unstable defence has cost Arsenal dear over the last eight years, with a series of inconsistent goalkeepers undermining and compounding the shaky confidence of those in front of him. Now, with the huge man mountain behind them, the likes of Mertesacker and Monreal are playing with great confidence, while Koscielny’s imperious defending skills are being ably supported. Cech organises, composes and reassures his defence and is, to put it simply, a winner. That’s why Gunners fans were so excited he exchanged Stamford Bridge for the Emirates in the summer. John Terry said Cech would be worth 12-15 points for Arsenal this season. That’s the difference between title winners and also-rans.
2. Mesut Ozil
He completely took me by surprise during the 2010 World Cup. A willo’the wisp kind of midfielder who glided round the pitch setting up chance after chance for his teammates. He’s well remembered for tormenting Gareth Barry when Germany pulverized England in that infamous quarter final; I more remember his critical winner against Ghana in the group stage, swept into the corner from outside the penalty area to guarantee their place as group winners. Here was a man of real talent.
Since then, he’s been the man who made a terrific Real Madrid side tick, been the leading assist maker in Europe and to top it all he’s won the World Cup. And yet, before the start of the season, many people were questioning his value to Arsenal, his price tag and his influence particularly on the biggest stage. Well, they’re certainly not now. As Arsenal’s players have been dropping like flies to injury, he has simply clicked into gear like a Rolls Royce smoothly accelerating and become the key man in this talented team. Time and time again he is at the hub of their attacking play and every week it seems he grabs himself another couple of assists. Even in his build he’s no longer a willo’the wisp character and strolls round the pitch like he owns it. In many ways, he does.
3. Tactical tweaks
Yes Arsene Wenger still loves a 4-2-3-1 formation and can be unnecessarily wedded to it. Yes he tends to pick the same players week in week out which can lead to burnout and those darn injuries. However, he has learned to play with a defensive midfielder (!), he has been able to get his players to be more disciplined in tight games eg Man City away, Bayern at home and he has inspired them to some fantastic performances. With the sheer number of personnel he’s had to find thanks to all the aforementioned injuries, it’s amazing how they’ve kept themselves not only in the hunt but right at the forefront.
4. Weaknesses of others
You can only beat the teams in front of you and when your competitors are faltering you have to take advantage. Manchester United have been poor, City completely hot and cold and there’s been enough written already about how shocking Chelsea are this season. With that in mind, Arsenal have been consistent barring the odd aberration – they’re still Arsenal after all. Leicester City are flying and have to be seriously considered when it comes to title rivals. Yet, Wenger will be confident of reeling them in and being at the front when it gets to the sharp end in May.
All things being equal then the Gunners ought to be very much in the conversation when trophies are handed out. Whether they get their hands on any depends on if they can hold their nerve, keep certain key players fit and not get thumped at the Etihad, Anfield and White Hart Lane.
Do that and at least I can point to these blogs as evidence I’m not a glory supporter!