Arsenal opened the season with a shaky 4-3 win over Leicester, before losing in classic Arsenal style away in Stoke and then getting run over by Liverpool’s mighty attack. Three points from three games, without a single convincing display had the “Wenger Out” crowd in full throat once again, however since September started the Gunners are unbeaten. Why?
Not facing bogey teams or devastating front threes has certainly helped Arsenal’s form, but the main reason is a return of key players.
Laurent Koscielny has long been the solitary rock in the Arsenal defence, and while he was on the field for all four of Liverpool’s goals he was very much knocking the rust off in his first appearance of the season. Since then he has been the foundation of an Arsenal defence that has not conceded a Premier League goal in four games, though he was sidelined once again by injury yesterday.
Up front, Alexis Sanchez’s return has been much-needed. He was brought back slowly, seeing more minutes in the Europa League than Premier League early on, but he played 82 minutes against West Brom last week and 90 against Brighton yesterday, picking up an assist in both games and starting to create a good chemistry with Alexandre Lacazette.
New faces, bigger roles
Every new season sees player turnover, and sometimes it takes a little time for things to gel, and for new players to bed in.
Sead Kolasinac scored in the Community Shield, but he has taken a little while to gain the trust of Arsene Wenger. He seems to have it now, and has locked down the left wing-back role for the Gunners.
Speaking of trust, with the early season struggles in the midfield, Mohamed Elneny has started to put together some good play for Arsenal. With Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka looking like they had just met at the start of the season, together with ‘easy’ Europa League games on the books, Elneny has seen the full 90 minutes in four of Arsenal’s last six games.
Only one of those has been in the Premier League, but the midfielder has been giving Arsenal some steel in the middle of the park and can start to give Arsenal something that has been missing since Gilberto Silva left.
Arsenal have always been fluid and full of movement in attack, but it has left them more than a little exposed at the back and sometimes unable to break down stubborn sides.
However, they have been more rigid in their attacking work this season, which has seen them able to take apart some of the teams they have often been frustrated against. Some of that has to do with the absence of Mesut Ozil, leaving Alexis as the only ‘floating’ attacker around the powerful Lacazette. If that organisation can survive the return of the creative German we will wait and see, but for now it is wonderful to see a little more control and discipline.
The race for the top four, nevermind the title, is hotly contested this year. Arsenal still look like outsiders for the Champions League given the form the Manchester sides and Tottenham are in, but they avoid those sides until November, and if they can maintain their recent form through the three Premier League games they have until a trip to the Etihad on November 5th then who knows where they can go. There is reason for optimism at the Emirates now, though it should always be cautious optimism where Arsenal are concerned.
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