Ever since Arsenal lost to Tottenham (and Blackburn, Manchester United andLiverpool) journalists, bloggers and fans of a knee-jerking disposition have been quick to proclaim the death of Arsène Wenger’s side. They considered that a side shorn of its talisman (Cesc Fàbregas), one of it’s star performers from the previous season (Samir Nasri) and that had once again failed to sign any sort of defensive midfielder in possession of tactical nous might not, realistically, be in with a shout of winning the league. They further considered that conceding fourteen goals in the first five games of the season was evidence enough to back up their claims, and merrily they strode through the streets, “Wènger Out” slogans being passed among them.
For now the Gunners are showing them the error of their ways. They are the form side in the league (well, third, but Tottenham don’t count and we’ll gloss over Manchester City), sitting a mere twelve points off the top. And if Kevin Keegan can blow that kind of a lead then so can Roberto Mancini.
Having lost to anyone decent that they had faced (and Blackburn) in the opening stages of the season, they now sit as proud owners of a seven game unbeaten run. But like a man who stands, chest out alongside his new car, while everyone else sniggers at the fact that it’s a Nissan, Arsenal’s run hasn’t exactly encompassed the very best on offer.
To the sword they have put Sunderland, Stoke, West Brom, Norwich and Wigan. A veritable who’s who of Premier League talent. They claimed a creditable home draw against Fulham, and also gave Chelsea a spanking at Stamford Bridge as André Villas-Boas proved that his side as just as capable of providing comedy when David Luiz is parked on the bench.
Never mind who they have beaten though, just a look at their squad shows why it is hard to understand that so many were so eager to write off Wènger and his team. They can still field The Best Striker in the World™ (no, not that one, he’s at Sunderland, the other one) and a man, in Emmanuel Frimpong, so boundless in energy that he makes Dirk Kuyt look like Dimitar Berbatov.
In defence they have the men who managed to lose them last season’s Carling Cup and have added the most glacially slow defender in existence as back up. While at full back they sold someone talented and replaced him with someone perfectly summed up by the fact that his choice of shirt number is that of a winger. And they have squad depth, well, Francis Coquelin, meaning they can cope with the inevitable injury crisis.
Yes, we were foolish to write them off.
So let’s take a closer look at some of those players. There is no doubt that Robin van Persie is, as they say, a bit good. 32 league goals (so far) in a calendar year speaks volumes for his ability to drag Arsenal from the fire, given that the team as a whole have scored 63 in 2011. He is indeed the best striker in the world, as long as your definition of striker clings to antiquated English notions of the role which should have Duncan Ferguson as their poster boy, forgetting the fact that it is now a position which almost certainly encompasses both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
While Frimpong runs round in circles, snapping at the heels of passing midfielders and trying to make Nasri cry, the task of filling Fàbregas’ boots has been given to Jack Wilshere, or would have been were he not out for half the season. That meant they had to look longingly at Mikel Arteta, a man who is behind Thiago Alcântara, Javi Martínez, Santi Cazorla, and Jesús Navas, who are all behind Fàbregas in the running order of Spanish midfielders, to fill the void.
They also have Gervinho, more famous for his massive forehead than his goalscoring, and Theo Walcott, who gets praised every time he completes a pass, so unexpected of him is it to show any form of awareness. In defence they have Thomas Vermaelen (undeniably pretty) and Laurent Koscielny (undeniably French) as their first choice, but the aforementioned oil tanker, Per Mertesacker and the comedy genius of Sébastien Squillaci, a man who makes Luiz look positively solid, as their back up options.
With quality like that in such abundance, the haste with which people ruled them out of the title race is truly baffling. As the (nearly) form team in the league they will undoubtedly rise through the chaff, casting aside Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham on their way to chasing down Mancini’s City, a team who will be dragged into the mire by the mere presence of Nasri through the cold, hard winter months.
To those who have doubted Wènger, you have been warned. The Arsenal are coming to make a mockery of you. At least until it all falls apart in February again.
By Simon Furnivall. You can follow Simon on Twitter @SFurnivall.