How seriously can Arsenal be taken as title contenders?


It’s been a long time without a trophy for Arsenal, a long time indeed. In fact, the last time the Gunners earned any silverware, Man City were labouring to eighth position in the Premier League under the guidance of Stuart Pearce. Of course, City are the current champions and the intervening seven years after which Arsenal won the FA Cup, Wenger’s men haven’t won a thing. Harsh on them considering their loyal fan base and number of star players that have turned out in the famous red and white jersey.

But those things alone don’t win you trophies. Unbreakable team spirit, a strong spine and the ability to grind out games – these are the key factors which win you trophies. City demonstrated all of these last season, as did Man United and Chelsea in the three years before that.

Anyway, I’m digressing. This is a new season and, to some extent, a new Arsenal. In the summer, they lost their talisman (yet another), Robin van Persie, to rivals Man United. It was a contract saga which rumbled on throughout the summer and reached its inevitable conclusion shortly before the new season. In van Persie’s place, Arsene Wenger signed Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud. Three classy intercontinental players, each with a good eye for goal and with differing qualities. It was always going to be difficult to fill RvP’s boots but Wenger’s eye for a player and faith in his forwards meant that Arsenal fans couldn’t spend too much time crying over spilt, Dutch milk. In addition to van Persie leaving, assistant manager Pat Rice also retired after 48 years at the club and was replaced by former Highbury stalwart Steve Bould. One great Arsenal servant making way for another.

You could forgive Arsenal for an almost tentative start to the season – key change to backroom staff, losing a prolific striker – but no, they’ve proven in the short run of games we’ve encountered so far that they’re a different unit altogether this campaign. In comparison to this time last year – after only four games in 2011-12 season, the Gunners had shipped a massive 14 goals, including four at Blackburn and eight at Man United…eight. Fast-forward 12 months and you’ll find that only two league goals have been conceded so far in this campaign and that Wenger’s men have shown guile, craft and much more organisation. You can already sense the influence of Bould who must be working hard behind the scenes to try and restore the resilience and organisation of old – old Arsenal who were the masters of the clean sheet with their famous back-four comprising messrs Bould, Adams, Winterburn and Dixon.

With this season currently five games old, it’s still far too early to judge if Arsenal are quite at the level of title contenders. But even so, they’re continuously improving and, after drawing blanks in their first two games against Sunderland and Stoke City – both finishing 0-0 – they’ve since pressed on, picking up vital wins against Liverpool and Southampton, 2-0 and an emphatic 6-1. The new signings have settled in particularly well, Podolski already finding his scoring touch with two goals in his first four games and Cazorla in particular displaying a great passing range and a high degree of intelligence in the centre of the park – instrumental in all of Arsenal’s best play.

Their last match, a 1-1 draw with Man City on Sunday just, was a key pointer of how Wenger’s men are progressing. They conceded against the run of play just before half-time through Jolean Lescott but continued to probe and press, never letting the Champions get into their true rhythm and generally dictating the play. Sure enough, they were rewarded nine minutes from time with a Laurent Koscielny goal. They worked hard from back to front and when the equaliser went in you could see just how much it meant to the Arsenal faithful behind the goal.

Wenger himself will admit that they are far from the finished article but with Bould on board tightening things up at the back, Cazorla pulling the strings and Podolski on form – they could be dark horses for the title. And, lest we forget, they still have the return of one Jack Wilshere to look forward to…

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