This week Wayne Rooney joined the ranks of those downplaying Arsenal’s great start to the Premier League. While he admitted that Arsenal “are doing brilliant at the minute,” he simmered down this praise by also saying “we’ve seen before that they’ve been in the top two until February or March and then faded away.”
Victory against Liverpool has put the Gunners five points clear at the top of the table. This coupled with Arsenal’s Champions League victory against last season’s finalists Borussia Dortmund should have many considering Arsenal the favorites when they travel to Old Trafford this coming weekend.
The boos and doubts that were heard after the opening day defeat to Aston Villa are now muffled by the crow that Arsene Wenger’s critics must be getting used to having to eat every season. The one thing that has become clear in the time since Arsenal’s last piece of silverware is that the first one to tell us the Frenchman is done at Arsenal will be Arsene himself.
For the first time in the past three seasons, Arsenal hasn’t lost its best players to bigger clubs. Robin van Persie and Alex Song left for greener pastures before the 12/13 season, with Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas departing the pre-season before. For the side to lose two star players each season and still remain in the top four shows that for what the team loses, they still manage to retain or replace adequately enough to keep top flight status.
The sellers-club label, at least for the moment, seems to be shaken off with the arrival of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. The German playmaker is not the world-class striker that the supporters and experts said and still feel the club wanted, but he is proving to be something that they needed to provide better supply to their goal-threats. Having provided four assists and two goals so far this season, Ozil compliments the creativity of his fellow midfielders Santi Carzola, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and the red-hot Aaron Ramsey.
Wenger has shown that he still has the ability to keep developing youngsters into top players and that he still can buy players at a reasonable price. Ramsey’s brilliant form came after many were expecting him to have to fight to earn his first-team place and he has proven to be far more valuable than the £5 million that Cardiff were paid for him. Even the decision to bring in former Gunner Mathieu Flamini from AC Milan on a free transfer has shown that Wenger still has a keen sense of what the club needs to remain competitive.
Lined up, the Gervinhos, Bendtners, Chamakhs and Santos’es are outnumbered by the Carzolas, Artetas, Podolskis and Girouds in terms of money and the value they’ve brought to the club.
Ozil and Flamini aside, last transfer-window was not without its faults. the dithering that saw Gonzalo Higuain snatched by Napoli and the inability to secure Luis Suarez from a strong-willed Liverpool showed that Arsenal still hasn’t earned the transfer market sway it needs compete with the richer clubs in today’s game. Perhaps in January the team will be closer to that, especially if they can maintain their good form.
What’s more, it’s easy to forget that Arsenal is currently in, albeit a small, injury crisis. Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski, Abou Diaby and new arrival Yaya Sanogo have been long term absentees and will certainly add to the attacking threat of the team when they return.
Even the short-term injuries to Flamini and Wilshere seem to have done little harm to the structure of the starting eleven. The worry brought on by the two-successive home defeats to Dortmund and Chelsea has lessened after more recent victories over the Liverpool at the Emirates and Dortmund away.
Despite all this, it’s still very difficult to stick your neck out and foresee Arsenal taking the title this season. What the team has clearly earned though is a place on the list of definite contenders. It’s clear that Rooney’s comments were more to fluster ahead of the teams’ upcoming match and to draw attention away from United’s stuttering form, which along with the forms of the other contenders has shown the inherent adjustment problems that come with a new manager.
Not all of Arsenal’s problems have been corrected. The defense and goalkeeper can still be suspect and there is still arguably a need for that world-class striker to take some burden off of Giroud. But which title contender can currently claim to be perfect?
At this point in the season, Wenger has certainly shown that he is still in firm command of his side and that he is the front-runner to the vacant role of top manager that has been left vacant by Sir Alex Ferguson’s absence.
Editor’s note: For more news, analysis and opinion on the Gunners, visit our Arsenal team page.