It has been a remarkable start to the season for Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal side. Last night’s win against Napoli was just the latest in a campaign that seems to be churning victories out on a metronomic basis. Positivity has gripped the Emirates and those who bellowed for Wenger’s head in the aftermath of the opening day defeat to Aston Villa may feel a tad foolish now.
The Arsenal boss deserves a major slice of the credit for the manner in which his side have flown out of the traps. The summer was punctured with criticism of Wenger’s squad, his tactics and his seemingly stringent transfer policies. But somewhat typically, the Frenchman remained true to his own principles despite the persistent adversity. Ultimately, the longevity and stability that his ideologies promote have been a key factor in Arsenal’s excellent start.
I said back in June that Arsenal look set to be the sole constant in a whirlwind summer within the upper reaches of the Premier League, and perhaps that they could steal a march on their immediate rivals. With that in mind, it is easy to see why Wenger was reluctant to have a massive overhaul of playing staff, which many Gunners supporters were demanding of him for long spells of the off-season. Arsenal kept together a tight-knit squad that finished last season winning nine of their last ten games.
And by making it through the summer without having to relinquish any of their best players, the club had a already endured a much better off-season than their previous few. So often Arsenal’s start to a campaign has been deflated by the departures of talismanic figures likes Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.
But not this summer. They’ve just carried their form right on into this new season, with a settled, familiar and cohesive squad. All whilst the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham have had to embrace major changes and subsequently undergone stuttering starts.
Plus, backing players in his current squad instead of bringing in a host of new faces has been to Wenger’s benefit. Players like Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker, all of whom have been individually lambasted at particular points in their Arsenal career, are playing out of their skin at the moment.
The manager’s staunchness in standing by his players and his unshakeable loyalty to them seems to be paying off, and it can only fester a belief for younger stars and even those currently on the periphery of the squad, that if they put the graft in they’ll be rewarded. It is an attitude that can only promote a harmonious and hungry group of players.
Of course, the signing of Mesut Ozil has helped, and his capture represented a major, major coup. The German playmaker, as expected, has started life at the Emirates in superb fashion, as he goes about sprinkling stardust on Arsenal attacks. It was the coup de grace on a solid summer for Arsenal and a marquee signing that has seemingly given everyone associated with the club a huge lift.
But still the critics came. Whilst recognizing Ozil is a world class talent, some pointed to areas in the squad – most notably up-front and in midfield – where the funds could have been better spent.
Instead, Wenger took a leaf out of Alex Ferguson’s book. In his final season, Ferguson signed Van Persie from the Gunners and effectively bolstered the area in which United were strongest – up front.
Arsenal had a plethora of good options in that attacking midfield role before Ozil arrived, but none possess quality comparable to the elusive German. Even so, the £42 million signing of the Real Madrid man didn’t disrupt the Gunners stylistically. In earnest, they are just doing all the things they did well last season, but even more effectively.
And just as Ozil knits everything together on the pitch, everything seems to have come together for Wenger too. The season is still in it’s infancy of course, but there are already those asking just how far this Arsenal side can go in terms of challenging for major honors. They have a squad packed with quality, that’s for sure. But in terms of numbers, it doesn’t really stand up to some of the squads at the disposal of other Premier League and European juggernauts.
Even if they do make it to the final knockings of any competition with a serious chance of silverware, mentally it will be a huge test for Wenger and his team. So much has been made of this trophy drought, it begs the question as to how deep these mental scars run within the manager and players. Getting over the line could yet prove to be tricky.
But for us to even consider this, Arsenal need to put themselves right in the frame for something. So they’ve got to keep winning. For professional sportsmen, the winning feeling is infectious and Arsene Wenger must do his best to resonate that aura of invincibility around his squad for as long as he possibly can. If he can do that, Arsenal’s competitors could have a lot of catching up to do by the time they finally click into gear.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball