After a slow start to the season, with inconsistent performances home and away, are we finally seeing the best of this Arsenal squad?
Last weekend’s 4-1 win against Liverpool was a fantastic performance – maybe the best of the season. Though the opening months of the season weren’t always great to watch, Arséne Wenger was still trying to figure out the best system for this set of players to succeed in.
It was hard to get any rhythm and consistency, which led to poor results against Swansea, Stoke and Manchester United at the Emirates in November. Since the New Year we have seen only three losses against Southampton, Tottenham and Monaco. There is no coincidence that Mesut Özil has been available again for a majority of that period: he made his return against Stoke City in early January.
One of the things that held us back in the early months of the season was our World Cup stars coming back late, after going all the way in the tournament. A limited pre-season meant that the first month or so of the season was their pre-season; the likes of Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker weren’t on full form until nearly October. Ozil especially is a massive part of the team, and was just getting back to full fitness when he injured his knee against Chelsea and missed the next three months.
Over the past few weeks Ozil has been on great form and in the process is silencing a lot of critics who had been on his back, even when he was out injured for three months.
To have such an intelligent player at the heart of everything Arsenal does is a pleasure to watch. Every touch and pass is carefully calculated, his pin point pass to Aaron Ramsey in the build to the first goal against Liverpool actually drew gasps from the crowd around me; amazed by the vision and technique to pull it off.
With one pass Ozil was able to by pass Liverpool’s midfield and expose full back Alberto Moreno to Bellerin and Ramsey.
When Ozil is not in the lineup his absence is felt heavily. In the recent game against Newcastle he was out of the squad due to illness, and although we did win the game it wasn’t as comfortable as it should’ve been after holding a 2-0 lead at halftime.
His abilities to keep hold of the ball in pressure areas relieves strain on other areas of the field; at times against Newcastle the ball was given away cheaply, heaping the pressure on the defence to hold onto the one-goal lead.
Another key to this team’s success is that last week they had a full squad in training for the first time in eight years,. This is a massive step in the right direction if this group of players is going to fulfill its incredible potential. One of the things that has held us back from a title win in the past seasons is player injuries.
I think with a couple of quality additions in the summer, this squad can certainly compete for the major prizes next season. (Sadly we have been saying the same thing for the past few summers, and yet we always seem to be left one or two players short…)
With a stable squad, and no major departures likely in the summer – (except maybe the questions hanging over the future of Theo Walcott) – everything looks to be in place for a strong campaign next year.
This bodes well for a settled squad going into next season and – more importantly – Arséne Wenger will have a full pre-season to work with the team unlike last summer’s disrupted post-World Cup preparations.
A better start to the season would have seen us close to Chelsea now, with a real chance of grabbing the Premier League title. With everything in place for a successful summer, next season could be the year we take that step up from top 4 to title challengers.