After the opening game defeat of the season at home to Liverpool, it looked like it might be the same sorry story for Arsenal and their fans. The opening stages of the season have already thrown up many questions between fans and pundits about this current group of players and their credentials of possibly winning the Barclays Premier League for the first time since 2003/04. We seem to have the same conversation about Arsenal every season when they go through spells of looking quite simply unbeatable to stages where they look uninterested and overawed. The squad is on par with the top sides who should be challenging for the Premier League crown and cannot be excused now as being inexperienced and having to settle in to their surroundings.
The recent upturn in form and performances has to be said to be massively impressive, watching Arsenal totally dismantle Chelsea was one of the best performances we have seen from an Arsene Wenger team since perhaps the days of the ‘invincibles’. Their domination of Basle in the Champions League was a performance in the Champions League that we as viewers have not seen from Arsenal in the Champions League for many a year now. It is very easy to get carried away with Arsene Wenger and his team, we do seem to go through this every year, but something does seem different within the group and pitch side when watching them this season. The decision to move Alexis Sanchez to the central striking role was a move that I had been advocating for a while, the pressing from the front approach that Sanchez brings benefits the whole team, none more so than their main man Mesut Ozil. The link now with Sanchez and Ozil is closer and with their two best attacking players playing centrally it looks to be a great decision from Wenger. Obviously there will be games that perhaps Wenger will think Giroud should play especially when they need a physical presence but right now Sanchez playing there is part of their strongest team. Alex Iwobi is another player who looks to be the next big find of Wenger and his staff, what a talent this young man is, if he could more goals to his game he has the potential to really move himself into a permanent fixture in this Arsenal strongest eleven. The form of Theo Walcott is not something we haven’t seen before but can he keep it up now for a sustained period rather than in short bursts, there are positives throughout the forward line of Arsenal right now, especially when considering they have new signing Lucas Perez waiting to really make an impact at the Emirates, the overly criticised Olivier Giroud currently sitting on a bench for the team and with Danny Welbeck still finding it hard to stay injury free.
Manchester City look like they could very well be the team to beat this season, though defeat in their previous game away to Tottenham Hotspurs will give the rest of the Premier League an approach as to how to beat Pep Guardiola’s men. The top of the league could be fascinating this season when you look at how tactically they are actually much similar, with the exception of Manchester United, and this is where they might just find it extremely difficult to break into a top four spot this season. There are four sides that play such a high intensity pressing game now, with Arsenal moving into one of these sides, simply with one change to their frontline. We all know that this is how Guardiola sets his teams up to play, with a high intensity pressing game and win the ball back as far up the pitch as possible. Tottenham play a pressing style from across the pitch rather than high up the pitch, showing that they perhaps have more trust in their backline than what Guardiola does at Man City. Liverpool have enjoyed heaps of praise at this early stage from their pressing style pretty much all over the pitch, again this would indicate that Klopp knows the team need to win the ball higher up the pitch as the Liverpool backline is not the strongest. Arsenal looks to be pressing from the front in Sanchez and the two wide men but will not push their two midfield men further on with Ozil showing that perhaps Wenger is content with teams moving onto the backline of his team, this leads on to perhaps the biggest change Arsenal has made to this Arsenal team for a number of years now.
We have all in the media and supporters of saying how much Wenger has needed to sign a top class centre half for a number of years now, and finally he has. The summer saga in pursuit of Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia is in my opinion the best signing Wenger has made to his defence since the controversial signing of Sol Campbell. The German international cost the club 35 million but will no doubt prove to be well worth the money. Mustafi is the perfect partner for French defender Laurent Koscielny and already we have seen a really promising partnership starting to develop between the two. The development of Koscielny since his arrival at the Emirates from a Ligue 2 defender to one of the top defenders across Europe is a remarkable rise, and now finally he has a partner at the back to complement each other’s game. Both look commanding figures in this Arsenal side, and from watching the opening games of Mustafi at Arsenal he looks to be already one of the leaders within the group, talking constantly with Bellerin as to when to tuck inside or not to move forward will only benefit Bellerin’s game even further, and it also takes away that old excuse for Arsenal that there is not enough leaders in the team, now they look to have four or five in their starting eleven, with Cech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Xhaka and Sanchez. For all the praise of Koscielny there is always that element of concentration to his game, the same element that Otamendi suffered from his time at Valencia and look how well the partnership of Mustafi and Otamendi worked. Both players have much of the same strengths within their game, both are whole hearted will throw themselves in areas where they could get hurt, both are very good in the air, both are quick across the ground and on the turn, both like to make a tackle and most importantly both read the game extremely well. This now looks like Arsenal have a defence capable of pushing themselves to top of the English game once again.
My belief is that both North London clubs possess the best defensive partnerships in the Premier League, Arsenal with Mustafi/Koscielny and Tottenham with Alderweireld/Vertonghen and this could play a massive factor in the Premier League destination come May. A lot of the talk early on was that the trophy would finish off in Manchester with either City or United; I will make the prediction that the trophy will end up in North London with who it is too tight to call.