It seems a long time since that disastrous 15-minute spell against Liverpool. Except for that horrific 15 minutes – not even the whole game – Arsenal have had a great start to the season. We are close 20% into the season and look fresh, consistent and cohesive. There is a quiet confidence about the team, although no one daren’t talk about winning the title just yet.
The limelight has moved to Manchester (City for the performance and Mourinho for the simmering antics) and Liverpool, which has suited us and our North London neighbors. Arsenal have amassed the points without much fuss, with some unsung heroes and developing partnerships coming to the fore. If at the start of July, we had to pick our early season heroes as Walcott, Iwobi and the central defense, we would have assumed that they were honest performances amidst a horrendous run, not defining performances, in a strong, unbeaten run.
Walcott has been at his very best, a patch unrivaled in his long stay at the club – the longest that any player has served under Wenger. Like many of his purple patches, it has been built on partnerships. If we turn the clock back a bit, his previous run of form was underlined by his partnership with Van Persie and the cover provided by Sagna. While the partnerships have been recreated with the same positions in Sanchez and Bellerin, the role played by Walcott has significantly evolved.
With Van Persie, Walcott was the wide line breaker, who would run onto through balls and cut it back for RVP which resulted in a plethora of assists. If we look at the current pattern of link up with Sanchez, the latter is actually acting as the wide line breaker with Walcott being the finisher (the 1st goal against Basel typified this). Bellerin and Walcott have a more interchangeable partnership than the latter had with Sagna. Sagna was tasked as the wide defensive cover for Walcott and the “aerial crosser” for the wing. Bellerin, on the other hand, goes narrow, when Theo goes wide, and vice versa.
We have also had some strong central defense showings this season. Rob Holding, who started the season so brightly, and Mustafi (who plays as if he has been with us all along) have given us a defensive solidity when they have played alongside Koscielny. Mustafi is a front-foot defender, whose tackles, intensity, and quickness of passes, instigate attacking moves. Koscielny has shown tremendous maturity to become the leader of the defense and has adapted to Mustafi by toning down his aggressive defending, to become the sweeper, who organizes the defense and cleans up behind his partner.
It has not been rosy through and through. Monreal has looked a bit patchy this season. He is being targeted for too many crosses (Iwobi does not help him there), while Cech didn’t have the best game against Liverpool. Up front Arsenal are without Giroud, which means if Sanchez has an off- day, the ability for the team to score goals could be a serious question. ut
Amidst all those questions, there are opportunities, as well. If Giroud comes back firing, we could have a strong option B. On a last sobering thought, we have still not got an Ozil assist yet this season. While he has been playing well, he is yet to be back to his best. Add Ramsey’s injury and Arsenal still have room to improve and be even better. It only bodes well that we have a very winnable set of fixtures in October before nervous November makes its return. Hopefully, Arsenal can build on the early momentum and enter November in form and with a good amount of points.
Written by Vikas V