10 Positives Taken From the First Half of the Season
You don’t need a fortune teller to make you understand that Arsene Wenger is going through his worst season in his 16-year stint with Arsenal. After enduring a somewhat disappointing campaign last season, just scraping a third place finish after Tottenham’s slump, many had expected that the Gunners would fare better this season.
Euro 2012 provided a good distraction as the continent’s finest showcased their talent on the world stage. Arsenal had its fair share of ambassadors in the competition but only Nicklas Bendtner and Robin van Persie managed to get on the score sheet. Those aliens from Spain swept through the tourney and were clear and deserved winners.
After Euro 2012, transfer speculation was the order of the day and as expected, Arsenal was linked with a host of players from the football world. The Gunners did well to acquire three talented footballers, but the club lost two of its favored sons, Alex Song and RvP.
Alex Song arrived in the club as an unearthed gem from SC Bastia, and he was shipped to Charlton Athletic to get some much-needed match experience. He wasn’t still getting first-team action on his return to Arsenal but the quick-fire exits of Mathieu Flamini, Lassana Diarra and Gilberto Silva paved the way for Song to become synonymous with the first team.
The Cameroonian gem got better with each passing season and became Arsenal’s enforcer for years to come, we thought. In his final season with the club, he honed his attacking side to become Arsenal’s creative lynchpin despite playing as a holding midfielder and the return of 16 assists was impressive to say the least.
No one can really know why Song searched for greener pastures, but the midfielder stated that he wanted a new deal at the Emirates, but the talks were postponed. (via Daily Mail)
Van Persie on the other hand, was a player tipped for greatness at the Emirates. He arrived at Arsenal after going through a tumultuous phase in his former club, Feyernoord. Arsene Wenger took the Dutchman under his wing and molded him into one of the finest strikers in the business, as he showcased his lethal finishing ability in his last two seasons with the club, scoring 58 goals.
When everyone had thought that at van Persie’s frantic goalscoring pace, he was odds on to match Thierry Henry’s outstanding goalscoring record for the team, the little boy inside him had other plans, as he moved to Arsenal’s rivals, Manchester United.
Without the creativity of Song and firepower of van Persie, Arsenal began the season with two goalless draws against Sunderland and Stoke City before going through a rich vein of form in September. It was believed that the Gunners had a wake up call with the surprising defeat to Norwich, but the appalling performance against Schalke that followed didn’t go down well with the fans, as the club’s impregnable Champions League record against non-English opposition went with the wind.
Inconsistency has become Arsenal’s watchword this season and the draws from handsome winning positions as well as the disappointing defeats to Manchester United, Swansea, Olympiakos and of course, Bradford City put Arsene Wenger in a pretty precarious position.
Despite all the gloomy phases of the campaign thus far, Arsenal has had its fair share of positives as this season has progressed. In a chronological order, I present my top 10 positives taken from the first half of the season.
The Signings of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla
So much was made about the exits of Alex Song and Robin van Persie, but Arsenal’s acquisitions this summer have integrated themselves into the nucleus of the team and their output on the pitch has been pleasing as well.
Lukas Podolski arrived at the Emirates on the back of a very impressive record for Germany, averaging a goal in two games for his nation. This season, Podolski has contributed to his team’s cause with eight goals and his discipline on the left hand side has been a joy to watch all season long. The German has connected well with Kieran Gibbs and they have forged a telepathy that’s getting stronger with each passing game.
Olivier Giroud arrived as van Persie’s replacement and it put the French forward under a lot of pressure, which contributed directly to his much talked-about goal drought before he broke his duck against Coventry City. Giroud has gone on to score seven goals for his new team but it seems as if he has lost his place in the team to Theo Walcott, that has been craving for the center forward position for a long while. Giroud offers Arsenal a good plan B with the aerial threat he poses and I’m tipping him for great things in the second half of the season.
Santi Cazorla is undoubtedly Arsenal’s signing of the season and he has brought his magic tricks to the Emirates, wowing the fans with each passing game. Cazorla’s close-control is unbelievable and the way he gets out of tight pockets is amazing, his passing range is excellent and he has an eye for goal as well, scoring six goals for his new team, including a hat-trick against Reading.
Arsenal’s new recruits have been very impressive and you can say that Wenger has struck gold yet again.
Three Clean Sheets in a Row
It started with a clean sheet against Sunderland and was followed with another shutout in the Britannia Stadium, a ground Arsenal has conceded goals in each visit. When the Gunners capped up an impressive display at Anfield with a third clean sheet in a row, the media Vultures were buzzing and everyone attributed the success at the rearguard to the new assistant manager, Steve Bould. (via SkySports).
Unfortunately, Wojciech Szczesny’s spill against Southampton opened the floodgates at the back, as Arsenal failed to keep a clean sheet till the 1 – 0 win over QPR ten games later.
Overall, Arsenal has managed to keep only seven clean sheets thus far in the season.
Abou Diaby’s Improved Form
From the way Arsene Wenger fought to sign him from Auxerre in 2006, and with a frame no different from the great Monsieur Vieira, Diaby was tipped for greater things but Sunderland’s Dan Smith’s horror tackle in May 2006 halted a learning curve that was at a steep end. From there onwards, it was injury after injury and operation after operation.
Watching Diaby come on as a sub in Anfield (last season) only to leave the pitch after five minutes was a unpleasant sight, and I, like many Gooners out there, wanted the club to cut its losses to sell Diaby in the next available transfer window.
In the early part of the season, Diaby managed to stay fit and enjoyed a pre-season playing in the box-to-box role. He became a massively improved player at the start of the Premier League campaign, and was lauded for his virtuoso performance against Liverpool in Anfield.
Unfortunately, injury took its toll yet again and Arsenal has been robbed off Diaby’s services since he took on the pitch to play Chelsea.
Carl Jenkinson’s Rise to Glory
When Arsenal signed Carl Jenkinson from Charlton and was quick to allow Farmer Emmanuel Eboue depart to Galatasaray, many thought that it was another error in judgment from Arsene Wenger. His putrid performance against Manchester United in the humiliating 8 – 2 defeat compounded those fears that Bacary Sagna didn’t have an able deputy.
When Sagna broke his leg in the tail end of last season, Wenger granted Jenkinson a chance to stake a claim for a first team berth. After a consistent run of games, Jenko looks more assured and confident on the ball and has the experience of playing in big Premier League and Champions League games, which will put him in good stead for a long and successful career.
Now Sagna has a hungry and a more than capable young player who will have the taste for first team football and will be fighting all the way for his shirt. There is a lot of football to play this season and having two quality right backs who are fighting for one position is a great problem to have.
To crown a great campaign thus far, he has even won his first England cap and has also signed a long-term deal with the club.
Vito Mannone’s Brief Stint at Goal
After Wojciech Szczesny spilled that cross to allow Southampton to shatter Arsenal’s impressive clean sheet record, it was believed that he had suffered an ankle injury and with Lukasz Fabianski out of action as well, Wenger gave Vito Mannone another chance to fight for the No. 1 jersey.
Mannone had kept clean sheets against Stoke and Liverpool and many felt that it was unfair for Wenger to draft Szczesny almost immediately, but the Pole’s ankle injury allowed Mannone to get a decent run-out in the first team, and he did pretty well in my honest opinion.
Mannone hasn’t still convinced everyone that he has what it takes to be Arsenal’s custodian between the sticks for years to come, but he’s an able deputy in my opinion.
Jack Wilshere’s Long-Awaited Return from Injury
After a very long wait that seemed to last all eternity, Jack Wilshere played for 70 minutes in Arsenal’s fortunate 1 – 0 victory over Queens Park Rangers. Wilshere’s potential was very massive at such a very young age and he rose through the ranks before making his Arsenal debut at the age of 16 beating Cesc Fabregas’ record in the process.
While he was out for the best part of 14 months, his influence on the pitch was sorely missed, as Arsenal lacked any player that could match his grit, drive, passion and of course determination. In a team full of football technicians, Wilshere showed his worth as he blended straight into the team, despite being out of action for a considerable chunk of time.
Wilshere has done well and got better as he got more games under his belt. He’s going to be very influential for the Gunners in 2013.
The North London Derby
Coming into the North London derby, the Gunners weren’t in the best of form, as they had began the month with an impotent display against Manchester United before following it up with disappointing draws to Fulham and Schalke 04 – games where they gave up handsome 2 – 0 leads to end up drawing.
AVB brought his Tottenham team to the Emirates and the visitors began brightly as ex-Gunner, Emmanuel Adebayor, opened the scoring for Arsenal’s fierce rivals. Per Mertesacker picked the best game to open his Arsenal goalscoring account with an inch-perfect header that went past Hugo Lloris in goal.
Arsenal’s new recruits, Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla got in on the act as well before the world’s best left-footed chimpanzee, Gareth Bale, pulled one back for the visitors. A late goal from Theo Walcott put the game beyond doubt.
Olivier Giroud’s Purple Patch of Goalscoring Form
Prior to November, Olivier Giroud had found the back of the net in the convincing 6 – 1 victory over Coventry, the 3 – 1 away win at Upton Park and the entertaining, enthralling and epic encounter against Reading in the Capital One Cup.
In November, Giroud was in red-hot form with five goals in four games for both club and country. The Frenchman scored in Arsenal’s 2 – 2 away draw with Schalke before scoring a brace with his head against Fulham. A week later, Giroud got himself a North London derby goal, much to the delight of his admirers.
Giroud has failed to replicate that form in December and has had his fair share of injuries as well.
Qualification for the Champions League Knockout Phase
When Arsenal was paired in the same group with Olympiakos, Schalke and Montpellier, everyone expected the Gunners to sweep through the group with consummate ease. The Gunners began their Champions League campaign with victories over Montpellier and Olympiakos but the two-legged affair against Schalke changed the final outcome of the group, as the Germans usurped the Gunners to claim first place.
While Schalke has been rewarded for winning the group with a clash against Turkish giants, Galatasaray, Arsenal will face a very daunting task against last season’s finalists, Bayern Munich.
New Deals for Five British Young Guns
While Theo Walcott and Arsenal continue to hit a brick wall over the forwards contractual issues, the club secured new long-term deals for the British quintet of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arsenal’s gaffer, Arsene Wenger, expressed his delight in tying down these youngsters for years to come,
“We are delighted that these five young players have all signed new long-term contracts. The plan is to build a team around a strong basis of young players, in order to get them to develop their talent at the club.
“Jack is certainly the best known, the leader of this group – but the other four players are exceptional footballers, and we’re very happy that we could conclude their new deals at the same time.
“I’m a strong believer in stability and I believe when you have a core of British players, it’s always easier to keep them together and that’s what we’ll try to achieve going forward.”
Judging from this season alone, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson have proven that they can stand up and be counted well called upon and are willing to give their all on the pitch for the team. Gibbs is currently Arsenal’s first-choice left back and Jenko is pushing Sagna to the wall.
Aaron Ramsey and the Ox haven’t started firing on all cylinders yet but Arsene Wenger clearly has faith in their abilities and is never afraid to give them game time to prove their worth on the field of play.
Jack Wilshere is in a world of his own and many see him as Arsenal’s captain in the foreseeable future.
I just shared my top 10 positives in a chronological order and I’m pretty sure that you’ll agree with some, if not all. Feel free to share yours as well.
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