5 Reasons Why Arsenal are Top of the League
No. 1: Good shape
Arsenal are playing with more structure than last season, which has improved their play both defensively and offensively.
Without the ball, Arsene Wenger has been able to depend upon a solid, settled back four that has rarely been guilty of positional errors. The centre-back partnership between Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker continues to look strong, and while Arsenal were opened up down the flanks against Dortmund last night, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs have both been defending well this season.
Ahead of them, the return of Mathieu Flamini has also improved Arsenal’s midfield shape – he has protected the defence keenly, minimising space between the lines and covering in wide position, while Wenger also has the option of a double shield, with Flamini and Mikel Arteta used together.
Going forward, too, things have improved. This time last season Wenger was alternating between Olivier Giroud and Gervinho, but the Frenchman’s permanent place in the Arsenal side offers a reliable pivot for the other attackers.
Meanwhile, the presence of Mesut Ozil has meant Arsenal’s movement has been structured and cohesive. Without Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in wide positions, Arsene Wenger has often been forced to flood the pitch with central midfielders, but Ozil’s drifts out wide ensure Arsenal have retained width and balance, so they always offer a varied threat.
No. 2: Individual contributions from three players
Three star individuals have excelled so far this season. Aaron Ramsey has collected nine goals and four assists in 13 starts, and has transformed from a promising but inconsistent youngster into one of Arsenal’s key players. Even those who retained faith in the youngster must be perplexed at the player he’s become – such an all-rounder that he’s currently the Premier League’s most prolific tackler, second-top assistor and third-top goalscorer.
Giroud’s four goals and four assists from eight league starts is also been a significant improvement upon last season. The Frenchman’s goalscoring form impressed at the start of the campaign, but increasingly Arsenal are taking advantage of his excellent, one-touch link-up play with his back to goal, demonstrated by his part in Jack Wilshere’s goal against Norwich.
Ozil, too, with two goals and three assists from his five Premier League games, has started in great form. Each of the trio is, on average, recording either a goal or an assist per game – more than Wenger could have hoped for.
No. 3: Weak opposition
Arsenal have faced rather mediocre opposition in their eight Premier League matches so far: the teams they have played are currently positioned 13th, 14th, 5th, 20th, 16th, 11th, 12th and 18th. The only top half side, Spurs, were faced at a great time – just before the transfer deadline, when Andre Villas-Boas hadn’t yet got his squad in place.
Equally interestingly, Arsenal won each of these eight matches last season – 24 points from 24, so they’re currently collecting worse results compared to last season’s equivalent games against the same opposition.
Arsenal can only beat the opposition placed in front of them, of course, and they’ve managed that impressively. Still, if explaining why Arsenal are top, it’s tough to ignore. The Gunners have two points more than Chelsea, for example, but Jose Mourinho’s side have already faced tricky matches away at Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United. Once you consider that factor, the real points difference is negligible.
No. 4: Continuity
The three pre-season title favourites – Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea – were all adapting to new coaches at the start of the campaign. All have had their difficulties – David Moyes still hasn’t got things right at United, Manuel Pellegrini has struggled to organise his defence, while Jose Mourinho took time to embrace Juan Mata and David Luiz.
But Arsenal have essentially continued where they left off last season. There have been new arrivals, of course, but Ozil was always going to adapt seamlessly to Arsenal’s style of play, and Flamini knew the club already. Arsenal’s players are familiar with their tactical responsibilities.
Indeed, equally crucial was the lack of big-name departures: Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie had left in the previous two summers, leaving Arsenal without their key attacking weapon from the previous campaign. This time around, Arsenal’s attacking weapons are either familiar or an improvement upon last year’s options.
No. 5: Positivity
Arsenal have seemed something of a ‘confidence club’ over the last few seasons – when on form they appear unstoppable, but after a couple of defeats, players start to look nervous and the lack of self-belief becomes apparent. Perhaps Ramsey, booed at times last season, is the best example of a player performing well because he’s feeling confident. The likes of Theo Walcott and Giroud can also suffer from dips in confidence.
This season, the atmosphere around Arsenal feels positive. The signing of Ozil can’t be underestimated in this respect – the German is a fine player in his own right, but he also lifted the club, the players and the fans, and gave them something to get excited about.
A new signing is clearly not an end in itself, but there are few things more thrilling for football fans than a world-class new recruit, and arguably never before in Arsenal’s history have they signed a player so revered across Europe.
It is important this feeling is sustained over the course of the season – defeats will come, but fans and players feed off each other, and both must remain positive.
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November 6th, 2018 by Simon A