The start to the 2017/18 Premier League campaign has certainly been a mixed bag for Arsenal. For neutral observers, the opening 4-3 win against Leicester City certainly made for thrilling viewing, as a late surge with goals from Ramsey and Giroud eventually secured all three points. The Gunners’ fighting spirit pleased most fans but the overall display left others pondering serious concerns.
Impotent dominance followed. Despite controlling over 77% of possession, the Gunners slipped to a frustrating 1-0 defeat away at Stoke City, leaving fans thinking this was going to be yet another frustrating league campaign. Those frustrations couldn’t have been any more apparent than at Anfield when Arsenal were completely dismantled and crushed 4-0 by Liverpool.
Wenger needed to shake things up. An urgent reaction was needed to turn things around. Arsenal duly delivered with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Bournemouth at the Emirates. Confidence seemingly restored and, despite falling behind in the Europa League against FC Cologne, a superb second-half display produced a 3-1 victory.
A point at Chelsea had plenty of merit, and most importantly, added another clean sheet in the league. It was something to continue building on and certainly evident in the following games after a much-changed side safely navigated their way past Doncaster in the EFL Cup.
Although there has been a level of unpredictability to Arsenal displays, an accurate preview by Oddschecker tipsters ahead of the match against West Brom, including another clean sheet at 29/20 odds, gave those backing Wenger’s side something to cheer about. A 2-0 victory and three more points in the bag.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) September 26, 2017
Undoubtedly, one of the key elements to the improved performances and results has been the more assured performances of the Arsenal defence. There have been rotations, but the key trio at the back of Monreal, Mustafi and Koscielny have kept a firm grip on their opponents, limiting rival shooting chances.
Statistically, those three players rate amongst the best five Arsenal performers over the course of the season so far. Excellent and, most importantly, consistent individual performances, which spreads increased confidence throughout the whole side. In particular, allowing Kolasinac and Bellerín to get forward down the flanks with more impact.
The Ozil Debate
One of the most interesting and widely discussed changes Wenger has made to his side, during the excellent run of recent form and results, has been relegating Mesut Ozil to the bench. On paper and since his big-money arrival from Real Madrid in 2013, the German international has been regarded as a key player, but it appears the Arsenal boss is finally losing patience.
Not being fully match-fit has played a part in some selection decisions but there is also growing evidence that Wenger may have lost confidence in the contribution Ozil can make when planning his tactics and team sheets ahead of games.
Arsenal legend Martin Keown has even weighed in with his thoughts. “I believe he’s not playing tonight because the gaffer really can’t trust him anymore,” Keown commented with conviction, whilst also leaving no doubts about his view of Ozil’s contribution. “Last year he went missing for a couple of months and I think that’s his tactic in terms of getting away from the football club,” he concluded.
On his day, Ozil can be a marvellous player and contributor to the team offensively but there have always been lingering doubts about his seeming lack of interest defensively. A passenger, rather than a protagonist; could it be that Wenger indeed views the 28-year-old as a luxury player that is no longer reliable enough? Will the player settle for playing a lesser role from the bench?
Mesut’s back! 〽️
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) September 25, 2017
Solidity and Team Unity
Alexandre Lacazette has already started making a positive contribution with his overall play and importantly, four goals in six league games following his arrival at the Emirates. Conscious that Arsenal didn’t make the best of starts, “during the month of September we have reconstructed ourselves defensively. We are working together,” he suggested with complete confidence after the win against West Brom.
Certainly, the selections of Wenger have been reinforced with not only improved individual displays by each component of the team but also a collective sense of stability and increased certainty heading into games. Defend as a team; attack as a team. The results speak for themselves.
Over the coming months and despite niggling doubts that may always remain, Arsenal do now seem to have the right ingredients towards not only keeping in touch with the front-runners but going one step further to challenge them in the scrap to reach the summit of the table. Consistency wins titles but only time will tell if Wenger’s team has what it takes to maintain their current form for the duration of the campaign.