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After a shaky start to the season with losses to title contenders Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal F.C have been undefeated in all competitions since. Their streak of wins can easily be attributed to the tactics implemented by manager Unai Emery, but the display of strong chemistry from the squad is prevalent, especially in the 5-1 demolition against Fulham at Craven Cottage. The build-up to Aaron Ramsey’s wonder-goal was described by MOTD’s Steve Wilson as “a piece of collective genius.” The team-effort was reminiscent of a better era at Arsenal, definitely the best group effort from the club in a long time.
The international break that followed the Arsenal’s eighth Premier League game this season may have been to the detriment of the club’s momentum. Whichever way you look at it, nine wins on the bounce with the next three fixtures at home against Leicester City, away at Crystal Palace and at home to Liverpool; they have the chance to prove themselves as the top club they hoped they would become once Wenger left. With the ‘Banter Era’ at an end, the season so far has definitely been a relief for the Arsenal faithful, who have touted a possible top 4 finish this season. How has Unai Emery switched the squad from the ambitionless Wenger horror-show not able to perform away from home to a team with bags of confidence and all-round better midfield IQ?
The most effective aspect to Arsenal’s squad is interchangeability. Squad rotation in central midfield between players such as Alex Iwobi, Mesut Özil, Lucas Torreira, Mohamed Elneny, Mattéo Guendouzi and Aaron Ramsey have revitalised the Wenger-esque style. Nineteen-year-old Guendouzi bagged a throttling finish away at Qarabag, and looks to be the successor of the much-abhorred Granit Xhaka, playing more directly and passing consistently.
Lucas Torreira made six interceptions and recovered the ball eight times in the game against Fulham, which fans attending the game received almost too positively, prompting chants labelling him a worthy replacement of Golden-era Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira. Alex Iwobi has also shone in recent times, after an uninteresting run in the World Cup with Nigeria in the summer and a poor season last year. What’s immensely impressive about the game at Craven Cottage was that Arsenal’s apparent ‘best midfielder’ Mesut Özil was sat at home live-streaming Fortnite. It’s as if they don’t need to rely on him as much as they used to.
In terms of form and consistency in results, there’s no denying the sudden blooming of talent from Héctor Bellerín. An average pass accuracy in the Premier League of 85% (recording a 97.2% pass accuracy against Everton) and two assists in the Premier League, he’s definitely stepped up this season and utilised his whirlwind pace and passing ability. Admittedly, most of Arsenal’s defensive strategies have been targeting the defensive midfield and they tend to make mistakes at the back. However, many Arsenal fans have recently praised the performances of Rob Holding, whose role as centre back with Shkodran Mustafi has seen Arsenal concede only one goal in their last three games. With the upcoming league games against attacking sides, Arsenal’s defence will need to prepare for games against clubs with problematic attacking capabilities.
As for Arsenal’s attacking, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have finally picked up some goals after a slight goal drought, providing some world-class goals against Fulham. Arsenal fans have been crying out since January that the two should play side-by-side, since playing one without the other player may create a negative atmosphere and a rivalry as to who should start. Not only that, but both of them coupled together would be difficult for any defence to handle. Aubameyang and Bellerín are arguably two of the fastest players on the planet, so it’s no surprise that Arsenal have statistically been the fastest team in the Premier League so far, but also the squad have run the most in the league so far. Another imposing stat is Arsenal’s conversion rate of 25%, 8% more than City and Liverpool and the highest in the league so far.
Speaking of Liverpool, one could make the observation that Arsenal this season have the under-the-radar counter-attacking style of Liverpool after Klopp took over from Rodgers. A change in manager and mindset, and all of a sudden, the flood gates have opened. When Emery initially joined the Arsenal campaign, there were critics that deemed his style at PSG as too reliant on big-money signings such as Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappé. Surely by now, Unai has silenced the critics with already-established Arsenal players tearing up the Premier League when just last season they were laughing stocks. In his response to the game at Craven Cottage, Emery stated: “When we lost the first two matches against Manchester City and Chelsea, we were calm and when we are winning now, I think we need to be in the same way in our mentality.” The buzz words he mentioned the most in his post-match interview were “calm” and “concentration”, which encapsulates their performances so far.
The squad has some tests ahead, but I predict a top four finish and at least one piece of silverware by the end of the season. Despite the Daily Mirror rumour of Aaron Ramsey moving to Liverpool next summer when his contract at Arsenal expires, Emery’s red and white army definitely have their sights set on silverware this season, starting powerful squads and not just playing kids in the fixtures such as Brentford in the Carabao Cup and Qarabag in the Europa League. With the way in which the league is playing out right now, they could finish above rivals Tottenham Hotspurs, which would speak volumes not just on Arsenal’s success, but Spurs’ demise after an empty transfer window. Arsenal aren’t messing about this season which means two things. It isn’t just a two-horse race as we believed the league to be a few weeks ago and Arsenal Fan TV won’t be as entertaining to watch as last season.