Following Arsenal’s 2-0 loss to Chelsea in the League Cup on Tuesday, we read analysis far and wide about how the Gunners title credentials had been unmasked by the result. These theories gained traction among many analysts during the course of this week, but they were laughable. Bashing Arsene Wenger has long proven to be a rite of passage in certain areas of the British press. Yet the Arsenal Manager has a side that he built with his own hands that, from where I sit, is the most complete team in England.
Arsenal, unlike most of the top sides in English football, have already been tested depth wise and come out ahead. Losing the likes of Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and Theo Walcott to injury so early in the season could have been a devastating blow to most sides. However it gave Arsene Wenger a chance to show off his club’s depth and sense of purpose this season.
The Gunners have played more progressive attacking football, combined with better defensive shape than any club in England this season. They have held the ball well in midfield despite the constant shuffling of the midfield quintet. To this point in the season, Aaron Ramsey has not only been the best player in England’s top division. He’s been the most versatile footballer, shifting seamlessly from wide on the left to a deep playing playmaker, to defensive midfielder and to attacking midfield.
The theories about Arsenal’s imminent collapse go something like this: The Gunners have not played anyone difficult except Spurs (at the Emirates) and they are beating up on the bottom feeders and they are surely going to be exposed soon. This line of reasoning avoids the simple fact that in the past several years when Arsenal has fallen from contention early in the campaign, they were dropping points to the same sorts of sides in the same types of matches they are claiming three points regularly this season.
The other line reasoning about the Gunners preordained fall from the top of the league is that without the type of squad depth of other top sides, they are sure to fall away. But in reality we have already seen Arsenal’s depth tested in a way no other top sides depth has. Minimal fitness issues have thrown both Manchester clubs, the top two clubs in the league each of the past two seasons, well off the pace the Gunners have set in the league. Equally relevant, the depth boasted by the likes of Spurs has led to a discombobulated flow in matches and a slowness in the development of understanding between all of their new signings.
Signing Mesut Özil was the big deal that Arsene Wenger needed to appease his critics. But the team was well settled and poised for greatness even before the Özil signing. The return to the Emirates of Mathieu Flamini was mocked by many in the media and Arsenal fans alike, but his signing was the perfect addition to the team. The Gunners have been lacking a real ball winning presence in midfield since Alex Song was sold to Barca. Arsenal needed a player like Flamini who also understood the club ethos and principle around being a Gunner.
The core of this Arsenal team has now been together for a number of years. They have grown up together and understand each other’s game in a way that the top starts on the other title contenders simply do not. The distinct style, attacking principles and club ideology that Wenger has drilled into the likes of Ramsey and Kieren Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Carl Jenkinson, among others, gives Arsenal an advantage over its opposition.
Wenger’s project was always going to take time much to the chagrin of impatient supporters and elements in the media that genuinely admired the Arsenal manager. But this season as has already been demonstrated, Wenger has his best team since the immortal “invincibles” and they have a better shot to win the title than any other side in English football.
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