After finally failing to qualify for the Champions League last season, Arsenal started the 2017/18 campaign with perhaps the lowest expectations in the Arsene Wenger era, and so far those lowly expectations are being met.
Results so far
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The Gunners sit fifth in the league as I write this, which is exactly where most people thought they would be at the start of the season. However, the manner they have gotten there leaves a lot to be desired.
They were lucky to escape with a 4-3 win on opening day against Leicester and then fell in classic fashion away to Stoke 1-0 before getting humiliated by the Liverpool attack in a 4-0 defeat. Three points from the first three games was a wake up call of the sharpest kind to Arsenal, who had spent the summer with rumours swirling around the future of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil seemingly distracting the entire side from preparing for the season.
Since September started though, Arsenal have turned around their fortunes. They have been confident against the lesser sides, defeating Bournemouth 3-0, breaking down West Brom for a 2-0 win, and mirroring that scoreline against Brighton last weekend. Mixed in was a very solid and organised performance at Stamford Bridge to come away with a point.
That Arsenal haven’t conceded a Premier League goal since that implosion at Anfield is a very encouraging thing that has coincided with Laurent Koscielny’s return to the side and partly with Ozil’s absence.
Arsenal have treated the Europa League much like the Carabao Cup, using it as an opportunity to play people into match fitness or simply give the bottom half of the squad minutes. Jack Wilshere and Mohamed Elneny have taken their chances, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, and Joe Willock have been given chances to show their talents too.
The only issue is that Arsenal are yet to have a clean sheet, picking up 3-1 and 4-2 wins.
Arsenal’s summer spending didn’t go far enough, but what they brought in has done well so far. Alexandre Lacazette has picked up four goals so far, looking well worth his £52.7 million transfer fee. The free transfer of Sead Kolasinac has also been a great success, with the left-back marauding with intent and freeing Nacho Monreal to be part of a more mobile back three.
Both Lacazette and Kolasinac have provided a spark to the starting XI, with Kolasinac’s power, pace, and passing helping mirror the threat of Hector Bellerin, while Lacazette has been a great pivot point for Alexis Sanchez to work off, and his quick trigger has given Arsenal a threat from range to go along with their “walk-it-in” nature.
Fan expectations change, but realities don’t
Arsenal’s rough start had fans worrying about falling out of the top six entirely. Their recent run of four games unbeaten with four clean sheets has some fans talking about Champions League and beyond. I think that is a lot of madness.
There are a lot of positives to take from Arsenal’s unbeaten September, but they are yet to take to the field against any of the Manchester sides or against Spurs, who are the best three teams in the land. They are yet to take on Burnley’s stubborn and brilliantly organised side.
This is still Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal; there is still an issue about squad depth; there is still the looming issue of Sanchez & Ozil leaving.
Arsenal are a long way from contending for the Champions League spots as things stand, and more likely to crumble than Chelsea.
There is glory to be had in the Europa League if Arsene will commit to it, and it can backdoor them into the Champions League as it did with Manchester United last year. However, for as long as Wenger is steering the ship, the worries about collapses and mental fragility will continue to hover around the Emirates.
They face Watford, Everton, and Swansea after the international break, and that should be three wins that will continue the good feeling through October, but then it should end. They start November with a trip to the Etihad and then host Spurs before going to Burnley.
That trio of games will tell us a lot about Arsenal’s fortunes this year, and I don’t think the answer will be as positive as many fans want.
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