With Arsenal off to their best start in the Premier League in five years coupled with strong performances thus far in the UEFA Champions League, there is definitely a different vibe around the Emirates so far this season. There is cause for long-term optimism as the quality has improved throughout all phases of Arsenal’s game. The defense has been solid all year. The midfield is one of the best in the Premier League, and the addition of Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini has made the Gunners even more explosive in the middle of the pitch. While the striking options are thin, Olivier Giroud has been impressive.
Arsenal have combined the perfect blend of personalities and playing styles. They have strength and size, along with agility and speed. Creativity and imagination are in abundance when they find themselves in passing and scoring opportunities, and they possess a steely reserve while defending to match their skill in other areas. It also helps that defending set pieces is no longer a major concern for Arsenal supporters.
Looking back over Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal, it can be broken into three phases — 1996 to 2005 (the period from when Wenger was appointed as manager), 2005 to 2011, and 2011 to present.
The period of 1996 to 2005 marked some of the finest days in the club’s recent history. The fall of 2005 through the spring of 2012 represented the barren years for the club, while the fall of 2012 through present features the building of a different type of playing style than in previous years.
The summer transfer window of 2011 marked the first time in years when Arsenal purchased quality and experience. Although at the time some fans believed the likes of Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta were panic buys, it now looks like they were retooling with more experienced players, not just players with potential or eventual overpaid deadweights. The summer window of 2012 saw Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla added to the squad. A solid base was being laid out even though there weren’t any world class signings. Best of all, Wenger was recouping some of the talent they had lost, gradually eliminating problem players, all the while allowing the promising younger ones to emerge and gain playing time.
The star power craved for by the Arsenal faithful finally arrived this year in the form of Ozil, easily the biggest name to be brought in by Arsenal in some time, if not ever. They also added Flamini, who not only brings experience; he also helps to solidify the Gunner midfield. He is accustomed to Wenger and knows what the man will want to accomplish on the pitch without having to learn the system or adjust all that much. One other benefit is that he has been at Arsenal when they were winning things and will inherently understand how to get them there again. He is almost another coach on the field it seems, as he seems to be barking out instructions for his teammates on match days. With major improvements in the transfer dealings of Arsenal Football Club, one can only hope that they continue to sign promising players, players who are quality and players who are world-class. Again, it is all about the mix.
While the established Arsenal players are for the most part younger, they are certainly not less talented. The good health of Jack Wilshere combined with the emergence of Aaron Ramsey has strengthened midfield, while an improved defense has been aided by the development of Wojciech Szczęsny, and Kieran Gibbs improving at a steady clip. These improvements from all players mentioned make for a promising future as well as aiding the current squad.
When the Gunners have to make a substitution, it’s refreshing to see the depth that’s available. Players like Mikel Arteta and Nacho Monreal coming on makes Arsenal supporters feel much easier about the outcome of a match than a Abou Diaby or a Marouane Chamakh.
Arsenal certainly has some concerns and success is never guaranteed, but they have a strong setup. The current squad has just about everything Arsenal supporters could hope to have — a solid defense, a spectacular midfield with creativity and toughness in equal parts and a clinical front line. They have a mental fortitude about them, a great work rate overall and a seemingly excellent team spirit. They have achieved what has eluded them in the past several seasons — a mix of players with varying skills and attributes who complement each other on the pitch coupled with the fact they are hungry to achieve greatness in an Arsenal shirt.