Saturday, November 2, 2013

Are we serious yet?

The way things have gone for Arsenal in recent years, it’s understandable that some fans don’t want to get ahead of themselves in this season’s title race. The history of the collapses, mediocre performances and fights for fourth mean that title talk is still difficult to believe for some people. For doubters before this weekend, Arsenal were yet to play a top team in their good start to the season, with critics waiting for them to be found out against a club near them in the table.
At the start of every season, Arsene Wenger always says that you can’t really judge teams by the table until 10 games into the season. Well, after Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Liverpool, we’re 10 games into the season and Arsenal are five points clear on 25 points. They can no longer be accused of only playing ‘easy’ teams either. Liverpool were second at kick off time at the Emirates on Saturday evening, and had the much heralded ‘SAS’ strike partnership that were supposed to be the best in the league were against a defence that is still regarded as shaky by some. A clean sheet should quieten a few people down.
There was the odd alarming moment for Arsenal’s back five, mainly when Szczesny played an inadvertent one-two with Daniel Sturridge, but on the whole the Gunners’ back line was superb against Liverpool. Suarez and Sturridge struggled to manoeuvre themselves space to have many clear-cut chances with Mertesacker and Koscielny playing brilliantly. Bacary Sagna continued his impressive season, whilst Kieran Gibbs was outstanding before going off with an injury that hopefully isn’t serious. Even with the creativity of Coutinho and a few changes in formation, Liverpool couldn’t break through the impressive Arsenal defence.
The clean sheet was also down to the excellent performance in holding midfield from Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard is different to the all-action style of Mathieu Flamini, but he kept everything ticking over and was very disciplined at staying in position when the game became stretched.
Whilst the Arsenal defence was good, they were able to turn to some magic from the midfield to secure the three points. Santi Cazorla had a frustrating early-season injury, but he looks to be finding his form again and gaining a better understanding with those around him. He arrived perfectly on cue in the first half to initially head the ball against the post before hammering in the rebound on the volley. It’s no coincidence that when he’s on form, Arsenal tend to win games.
However even someone with the talent of Cazorla is being usurped by Aaron Ramsey. Although to be honest, so is everyone in the Premier League. After declining a chance to shoot from outside the box moments earlier, when Aaron Ramsey got the ball Iin space 25 years out from goal in the second half, he absolutely lashed the ball past Mignolet. The shot had some dip and swerve to go perfectly over the goalkeeper and just under the cross bar. The goal capped another impressive game for Ramsey as he made Steven Gerrard look immensely average.
Following the midweek defeat to Chelsea, questions were understandably asked about squad depth. However, it’s worth pointing out that Arsenal were missing Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski on Saturday. To be able to be where they are in the league with that injury list is impressive. The squad does look thin if that list grows, but in previous seasons that number of missing players would have crippled the Arsenal squad. Not this season.
The win is a great start to a big week. Borussia Dortmund in Germany will be a completely different challenge on Wednesday, but a good result is possible for the Gunners if they play with the same intensity that they showed against Liverpool.
Whilst we might still be struggling to believe that the title is a real possibility, the players clearly believe it. They bounced back brilliantly from two disappointing home defeats and have two clean sheets in a row in the league. This Arsenal team have to be considered as serious title contenders because after ten games, they aren’t just in the pack, they are setting the pace.