Faith and Fitness: Building on Arsenal’s early season promise

Three games are hardly enough to judge a team on, yet already opinions are forming about Arsenal’s line-up for this season. After two goalless draws with Sunderland and Stoke questions around the replacement of Van Persie had already commenced. One game later, after beating Liverpool 2-0 the tide turned. Two draws became three clean sheets and an undefeated Arsenal.

Faith and Fitness: Building on Arsenal’s early season promise

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September 7th, 2012

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Clearly, the nature of the Arsenal squad is very different this season. The historical significance of the current state of the squad and changes the team have already gone through has been pointed out in my recent articles.

Questions over policy have been raised most recently by Sagna, currently out injured with a broken fibula sustained at the end of last season. Sagna told L’Equipe:

“I expected Robin’s departure…But Alex, that was a surprise. He’s 24 and had three years on his contract. When you see your two best players from last season leave, you ask yourself questions.”

This point is true, and the season prior to this we also lost two of the best performers Nasri and Fabregas. Indeed, Arsenal cannot progress as a selling club, but sometimes a clean start is required when a team has lost some of it’s self-belief.

Alex Ferguson managed to maintain a core throughout his winning sides, but in those cases players such as Giggs and Scholes never lost the faith in the team.

Wenger has been through two very difficult summers where key players have questioned his policies and left. In selling Song Wenger may have been clearing the decks, to make room for a new Arsenal. Crucially, though, it may also have been through an unwillingness to compromise or tolerate dissatisfaction or disloyalty amongst the squad. If it was clear that Song’s mind was elsewhere, the club would have had to take a stand.

No player is bigger than the club and that fact should be remembered. Of course Arsenal cannot maintain a title-winning side if they sell top players with increasing regularity.

However, the core of the previous Arsenal side had won nothing. Such a record indicates that firstly the club can improve, and secondly that there were issues with the squad. Therefore, a clear-out and rebuilding is justified.

In any case, a team will eventually break up if not united by success. Though Van Persie and Fabregas are irreplacable, the team arguably required serious work and a complete refresh in order to compete.

Arsenal continue to struggle with injuries, but still have plenty of strength and depth in midfield. As such Song is replaceable. Moreover, the additions combined with those already present provide a good base to build upon. New signings Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud all have crucial roles to play in the team this season.

Against Liverpool the displays by Arteta, Cazorla and Diaby gave some indication of the quality within the side, whilst the use of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski on the flanks provided refreshing drive and attacking consistency, not always present with either Walcott or Gervinho out wide. Only Giroud needs to break his duck, until that happens questions will remain over him.

There is also early praise for the impact of new assistant manager Steve Bould, as the defence held out for a third clean sheet at Liverpool. Although Stoke, Sunderland and Liverpool are not the most incisive sides in the league there is a vast improvement.

Last season after three games Arsenal had scored two and conceded ten, this season the figures stand at scored two, conceded zero. The partnership at the back between the combination of Vermaelen, Koscienly and Mertesacker also looks strong.

Though the team is arguably not good enough overall to directly challenge either of the Manchester clubs, as a whole the squad looks in relatively good state, and crucially is improving on some problem areas.

Returning to Sagna’s point, Alex Song is indeed replaceable in Arsenal’s midfield. One factor is that much was made of Diaby’s performance on Sunday, and according to Rafael Honigstein:

“[A very good] friend of mine had dinner with Arsene Wenger 2-3 years ago. Asked him which player he rated most highly in his squad. Answer: Diaby”

This in itself means little, regarding a player who has been spent time out injured rather frequently over the past six years. However, it is true that Diaby possesses much potential and like Van Persie he may only need one injury-free season to prove this.

As always there are other star-performers whose return to the squad will add greater impetus. Wilshere’s name is whispered around the Emirates, as his return is waited on with baited breath. No-one wants to see a player of such potential suffer any further delays to his development.

Wilshere is one of the reasons that the club can feel a little better about the departures of so many, given his talent. However, it will remain to be seen whether he can now stay injury-free and fulfil his potential after a season out.

Like Diaby and Van Persie before them, the ability to resist injury on the part of key performers such as Wilshere may make the difference this season on how well this new squad finishes.

Ultimately, there is still potential in this team to provide something special, undoubtedly the face of the squad is very different, but progress is being made slowly.

As always the club can only take each game as it comes, and up next is the challenge of returning from a problematic international break to face a Sam Allardyce side at West Ham.

Improvements must be made, five points from three games is not title-winning form, but three clean sheets and an away win do indicate promising potential. How much the judgements change after a fourth game remains to be seen.

James writes about Arsenal on where you can find many more in-depth analytical articles on tactics, statistics and players.

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