A little less than 24 hours (as I write this), Arsenal will begin our Champions League campaign for season 2012/13. That’s 15 consecutive years in the elite European club cup competitions. We’ve come the closest in 2005/06 season by reaching the final and a semifinal appearance in the 2008/09 season. While we may not have exactly achieved much in this competition, it is still a wonderful feat to be able to compete in it almost every season in the last 2 decades.
However, the talk at the moment is about how we’ve performed in the Premier League. No real surprise since we’ve only played matches in that competition thus far. Are we doing better than we did last season? Of course we have. This season we have twice the number of points and have a positive goal difference of plus 7 which is 1 less than the negative value of that we had last season. While all that is factual, we have not played Manchester United at Old Trafford, unlike last season. So, it’s still a little too early to be talking about a title challenge.
We have to started displaying some form of consistency in our game if we are to think about any parading the league trophy around Islington in May next year. By my count, we had 3 periods of poor runs last season. 3 periods where we showed our inconsistency in delivering the results that we wanted. Every team goes through slump periods throughout a season. Either through means of injuries or suspensions or form or just pure luck, it happens. However, if we can limit it to just one period and making it as short as possible, there’s every chance for us to be up there pushing for the title come May.
What we are seeing this season mirrors that of 2007-08 season in many ways. We lost a big name that season in Thierry Henry. Before he left, Henry was the big dog in the compound. A singular name and presence that demands respect and more often than not, the ball. Every move is designed to revolve around him, which is fair enough because he was the best player at the club. The same could be said of last season. The departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left a big void in the star department (second name debatable of course) at Arsenal. Robin van Persie filled that void and slowly but surely, almost every move is centred around him.
We are more varied in our game this season so far, at least. Had it been last season, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have seen more of the ball and a lot will be on his shoulders to drive the attack down the flank. We saw little of that in the last 2 games. Partly because opposition teams are wary of his pace and dribbling skills and are less likely to give him space to operate in. Mostly because we have other options on the pitch. You could say to a certain extent that if you stop RvP last season, you stop Arsenal. This time around, there’s a few more names added to that list that needs stopping.
Most of our play this season has been very central. Not surprising when Santi Cazorla is at the hub of it. The little Spaniard oozes class every time we’ve seen him play for us. However at different times, Abou Diaby or Lukas Podolski can be the hub, with varying results. There’s much more being spread around and that speaks volume about the depth of the squad. Like I mentioned earlier, period(s) of inconsistency can sometimes be down to the lack of available fit bodies. Unless we suffer a major injury crisis to one specific area of the pitch or cumulative absences in all positions (this is the part which I classify as luck), then I do believe that we’re covered.
Looking at the predictions for the game tomorrow and the Capital One Cup line-ups, one can’t help but be happy about the way our squad has turned out. Almost every single line-up that I’ve seen, have at least one different personnel in that starting 11. Everyone has their personal opinion on the matter but it also tells us that we have a lot of players whom we can put our faith and trust on. The fact that even Vito Mannone is starting to become a keeper that we can rely on, is indicative of the strength in depth that we now possess. So much so, that Arsene Wenger had to comment that he will persist with Wojciech Szczesny as his number 1, for now.
For some, that’s not enough positivity about the team. Luckily, Arsenal are preparing one more in Jack Wilshere. Reportedly ready to rejoin full training either by the end of this week or early next week. We may have recruited some good players during the transfer window but Wilshere’s return is undeniably the best piece of news that we can have. “Like a new signing” is the adage but one that rings true with the midfielder. Recapturing his form pre injury is an unknown, so we will have to be patient with him. But I’m already eagerly awaiting to see those training pictures with him in it.
If we can remain relatively injury free for the entire course of the season, then I think us fans can strap ourselves in for one hell of a ride. A ride that won’t be good for the heart I’m sure, but one we’re all willing to sit on.