As seems to be the same every season, Arsenal are set to embark on a hugely difficult set of fixtures in the coming months. With Liverpool away the first of many challenges coming at Arsene Wenger and his merry men it will be interesting to see how the squad copes.
However, for once in what feels like years I feel rather optimistic at the prospect of us overcoming these hurdles in the weeks to come. As a team we have evolved this season, we seem to have found a Plan B which has helped us grind out results when the going gets tough. Of course, there are a few blemishes on that record – Southampton in particular – but that is to be expected in the challenging environment of the modern game.
Pragmatic style at times has paid dividends
What has really impressed me at times this season has been our ability to adapt to tough surroundings. For me this adaptation algorithm was discovered early in 2015 in our 2-0 victory away at Manchester City. It was the first display which showed that in games of a significant magnitude we can afford to perhaps stray away from our usual playing style in order to maximise our reward.
This season we have used similar tactics in certain games, most notably against Bayern Munich, Olympiakos and Manchester City once again.
We sat deeper, invited pressure and then sucker punched teams on the counter, a formula we are capable of performing better than most. This system gave our defence greater cover while also frustrating the opponents and it is something I believe we will need to regularly utilise throughout this challenging period.
The rewards from those three fixtures in which the system was used were very pleasing and more of the same will be required from the difficult fixtures ahead if we are to sustain this title challenge.
It may not be the stereotypical Arsenal way or ‘Wenger-ball’ but it is a playing style which has proved hugely beneficial and I believe will need to be regularly utilised in the coming weeks.
Use of squad options has been impressive
Another positive which I have taken from recent outings is the strength of our squad. After the 1-1 draw at Norwich City things were beginning to look pretty bleak as the injuries began to mount.
Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin, our first-choice midfield partnership, were both out nursing their knees while our talismanic Chilean Alexis Sanchez’s muscles finally gave way as he limped off clutching his hamstring.
The ever opinionated Piers Morgan even tweeted that Sanchez’s absence for the crucial Champions League tie against Olympiakos would be so great that we were certain to be eliminated. It made progression to the knockout stages even sweeter knowing that he was proven wrong.
The squad was stretched thin and has been for some time but the array of options available at Wenger’s disposal have stood up and delivered when the club needed it most. Joel Campbell is the most outstanding example, with his tireless work ethic and general impressive play earning widespread acclaim since filling in out on the wing.
Kieran Gibbs has deputised admirably out on the wing at times, while Calum Chambers’ introduction to the heart of midfield has been rather successful this time around. Even Mathieu Flamini, who is regularly the subject of scepticism and criticism has performed to a reasonable level, particularly in the victory over City, further demonstrating the hunger for success in this squad.
A capable squad
For once I feel as if we have the required weapons and mentality to overcome the challenges which we are set to embark on. With many of the squad players proving their worth we should be able to rotate adequately and of course, star names will return thick and fast, further bolstering our options.
This is a new look Arsenal side, everyone seems hungry for success and above all, we seem a team prepared to adapt. We’re still entertainers, but now we look more like winners.