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Ooh To Be A League Leader

If you look at the Premier League table, Arsenal are five points clear at the top. If you look at the CL table, the Group of Death is still very much open to being conquered by our little knights. We're ten games into the PL season, we're doing well, and because of that, I want to lavish some praise down on the team like a cascading waterfall in the Artic summer with global warming, but with a hint of warning too.

I have not seen an Arsenal team as good as this in a few years. Sure, we had the period of Theo van Nasregas, but those teams were neither as defensively sound as we are now, nor capable of any way near as much consistency and effectiveness as we are now. We've scored in all ten games of the PL season so far, in fact, the only official game this season we haven't scored in had Nicklas Bendtner reverting back to his old stance of being despairingly poor and scarily lazy and the rest of the team was a makeshift side having the air choked out of them by a negative manager. So as far as being able to perform consistently, we are streets ahead of recent seasons. Our defensive side is looking strong and although individual errors still occur too often, there is a sense that conceding consolation goals, and inviting pressure on ourselves when a goal or two to the good, actually helps our style of play.

Top of the league

The tippy tappy style of rather sterile domination has gone. Instead, Arsenal now play three different ways. One is a breakneck speed of passing and interplay designed to blitz the opposition by simply being too fast, too good and too clever. The second is similarly fast, countering from one end of the pitch to the other in no time, with ridiculous accuracy of passing and clinical finishing. The final type of play resembles more Arsenal of old, a slower, meticulous approach to passing and space, gradually breaking down defences eager to get rid and allowing us in behind. In Cazorla, Ramsey, Rosicky, Arteta, Özil and Wilshere we have midfielders capable of unlocking anything, but also a couple of players of remarkably different styles, helping to add to the versatility in our play.

I haven't even had the chance to mention that three of our most direct players, who would add another dimension to a team already rife with versatility and invention, are currently missing in action, presumed dead, or possibly injured. Right now Arsenal are using a bunch of rather samey players and shoehorning them in what I like to see as a 'free for all' mayhem formation, where all players know their tasks and everyone has an innate understanding of what football really is all about.

The movement we have shown in this, on paper rather blunt, formation has been remarkable. But if you could imagine throwing on Walcott instead of Rosicky (losing some of his work effort, so as always, there is a caveat) and asking Cazorla to stay to the left a tad more, you'd see how we can change a game within seconds.


This team is thriving at the moment, winning games by virtue of midfield. But if, for some reason, we do face an opponent who might crowd out our midfield virtuosity, imagine the dagger sharpness we have to bring on. Strength in depth is apparently what is lacking in the Arsenal title challenge. In CF, DM and CB, I agree (which, to be totally fair, is a rather long list). But the most important area of the field is also our strongest, and the one where we will win games.

You can see the team is starting to believe too. I feel there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, and this cannot be ignored, we signed Mesut Özil. Twitter quips aside about how I still can't believe we signed him (and even now, two months in, I am still amazed at times that we do have him), he has been exactly what the doctor ordered. He is not Vieira or Cesc, he doesn't take the game by the scruff of the neck and dictate the play.

At least, in recent games, the play has been made more by Ramsey, Arteta and Cazorla. What he does is more ethereal, more peripheral, dare I say, better. What he does is what Bergkamp did. He uses his pure, unadulterated talent and feel for football to draw opponents in, to create space where space was not always considered possible, and he adds delightful touches to a team filled with delightful touches. He flits in and out of games, producing moments of magic before seemingly disappearing. If this sounds like a bad thing, it is not. His quality is of course not the only thing helping us. The belief amongst the players that a player of that calibre would be possible, and would want to come, can only be described as a massive boost, and his subsequent strengthening of the team must be a dream to all his team mates.

Let's also not forget that, for a player of remarkably luxuriant play, he's got some real graft too. A few times this season he's used his understanding of football to either spot a run he can make and then make it, at top speed, to reach a ball in a stunning counter, or used surprising speed to relieve the defence in moments under pressure. Much like Cazorla, he is also more tenacious and defensively capable than I could have imagined. We may not yet quite be Dortmund, whose pressing game is far more refined and drilled into them than ours is right now, but we defend from the front.

Arteta Ramsey

Another thing we have going for us is the nature of our personnel. Whereas before we had players who let their heads drop, we now seem to have a team of fighters, both individually and collectively. We also have a team of players who absolutely adore the game and play with smiles. This team emanates happiness and joy and all the players seem to care about each other and about the game they are playing. Every player seems overjoyed for Ramsey when he scores another goal, knowing what he has been through and knowing that without his tireless work they would be less good. Every player seems overjoyed when Wilshere, after a frustrating game, produces a moment of magic. The passionate side is matched with a good natured side. People like Mertesacker and Cazorla can't be seen without a smile and it is infecting their team mates. Happy 'workers' are productive workers and a team that likes each other will do better. Momentum and cohesion follow. This different mentality seems to be another key aspect as to what is different.

What should also not be forgotten (and indeed, is perhaps the most important point of all) is that this team had a full pre season together. Last year, we sold Van Persie. The year before, Fabregas and Nasri. We had no major injuries during pre season this time around. Wenger and his men (who are still some of the best around, despite a noticeable lack of credit) had the chance to fully, and without interruption, transfer their ideas and wisdom onto the players. As a result the team looks more harmonious, much more in sync, and some players have improved drastically over the course of just a few months. When questioning the ability Wenger has these days to actually set up a team and make the tactical decisions (both on the training ground and later transferred onto the pitch), take a second and think how incredibly he has done so this last summer. Then shut up.

Perhaps the most important person (and change in a person) to our new mentality is the man I like to refer to as the Spartan: he may well spend most of his time oiled up and gelling his hair (*swoon*) but he has the fight of the men of Thermopylae and has really helped our season move along. I'm talking of course about Olivier Giroud. Last season was a tough one for him. Filling the void left by a captain, who had also happened to be PFA POTY, he struggled to impose himself on matches. Too often he took on ridiculous shots in hope they would go in, and whereas nowadays he fights off the opposition like a warrior, in his first few months he would hit the deck at the slightest contact and lay there preening like Drogba would have done (albeit with far more grace, *swoon*). The ability was clearly (to me) always there: he has superb technique for a centre forward, has a knack for goal, and his movement is absolutely as good as anyone's.


The problem was he never imposed himself on matches, felt nervous and fearful of the toughest league in the world, and as such didn't get to use his strengths. But what a difference a summer makes. This season, Giroud has been amongst the best strikers in the league. His record in aerial duels and his general hold up play has been sensational, even going so far as to keep three central defenders at a time busy against both Napoli and Liverpool, allowing for the men behind him to say thank you and profit. He fights. His work rate has been phenomenal and essential to the whole style of our play.

If you look at Özil's gorgeous first goal for the club, Giroud gets the ball on the right, plays in Ramsey. By the time Özil hits his sumptuous finish, Giroud is in a position to be played through on goal by Mesut instead. He has made the exact movement he needs to make, dragging away defenders, creating space, and, in this case, he ran really fast to get there.

Perhaps the two biggest points of criticism are indeed his speed (he is not fast, even 33 year old Kolo Toure managed to outpace him versus Liverpool) and the consistency of his finishing. A truly, truly world class CF like Aguero or Cavani or Lewandowski would put away more of the chances Giroud has not. But it is becoming a fine margin every time he plays well, and he is now well and truly in that sub class of strikers just below the handful of truly world class strikers. Not bad for a man who many considered a flop. And just look at him (*swoons*).

Another much maligned man in amazing form who makes me swoon is of course Aaron Ramsey. Considering I could talk about him for 4000 words more (and that would bore you to death) I will keep this relatively short. What can we say about the man that hasn't been said, anyway? Basically, he is the pure and utter vindication of both Arsene Wenger and the Arsene Wenger way.


He always knew Ramsey was a phenomenal player, always knew he had it in him. Even his scoring streak was predicted by the great man. Ramsey has always been an exemplary player and individual, someone I am proud to support if only because they are good people (we have more of those in the team, I am happy to report). His work rate is up there with the very best and the way he works his way tirelessly between defence and attack is the very definition of the complete midfielder. Shawcross may have taken some of his progress away but Ramsey has now fully caught up and is becoming as good a midfielder as any in the world. That the press can't even ignore that he has been the runaway player of the season so far says it all. Keep it up, Aaron, you disgustingly talented boy you.

Speaking of exemplary players, I am stunned every time I see Tomas Rosicky play. Another player whose work rate, tenacity and ability all shine through in equal measure, but I can't for the life of me remember a player of his age who has that youthful exuberance about him. In the absence of Mathieu Flamini he seems to be doing a lot of running and tackling and, like with our run-in last season, he plays an active role in the defensive side of our midfield.

For a player we signed and played as the ultimate tippy, tappy, pretty, small midfielder, having him play a box to box role, hassling, harrying, is so good to see. When even such 'delicate' players (and Rosicky in the past was the ultimate delicate player, so silky smooth and talented) are becoming gritty, pressing from the front and actively contributing to a defensive side void of a destroyer, it warms my heart. No wonder Marco Reus (who himself is a big defensive help for BvB with his pressing game) is such a big fan. Rosicky may be 33, but I want him at the club for years to come. The same goes for Bacary Sagna, whose recent progression back into the monster of a RB has been nothing short of a delight, and I can see him maintaining that form for at least another two or three years. Arsene, some contracts warrant extending!

Rosicky - Bossicky!

Now, I could write this article three times longer, by also mentioning how Flamini has been an essential signing, but still hasn't managed to displace Arteta as the most important deep midfielder (the Liverpool game clearly showed that, in my opinion). I could go on and on about the qualities of Cazorla, of the incredible Kieran Gibbs and the fantastic performances of both Mertesacker and Koscielny. Needless to say, this team is doing so well at the moment, all the players deserve praise, they all deserve to be mentioned and a gushing review from me. But because I can't possibly write that many words and risk alienating everyone reading this article, I want to discuss one more person. The imperious Pole in goal.

We have all had massive hopes for Wojciech Szczesny for years. His natural talent and self belief are second to none and in his own way he commands the penalty area with an arrogant swagger which, when carrying momentum, rubs off on the rest, but which, when not exactly in a good run of form, can lead to frustrations. Since his debut for the club his form has been erratic at best, at times proving himself with save after save, at times showing an uncertain streak in both the air and in the save which made us all wonder if Almunia and Fabianski had rubbed off on him.

The decision to drop Szczesny was a bolt from beyond by Wenger, a superb piece of man management when he realised that both complacency and a lack of confidence was killing the team. Fabianski played a few good games, got injured, and Szczesny, spurred on by the pain of being dropped, adopted a professional approach which has endured since then. Only in one game this season can I say that he wasn't at the top of his game, against Villa, and that match was the sort of torrid time for the entire team that blaming only him would be unfair.

Since then however he has been superb. He dominates his penalty area with both size and confidence but his imperiousness nowadays also comes from calmness and a better understanding of the two central defenders in front of him. His distribution with his hands is top notch, constantly starting counters with quick throws after he catches, and his kicking has improved a lot since he started as first choice keeper. His routine ball to Sagna to head on has become a staple in our approach play but also Giroud has benefited from more accurate long balls in his direction. At the moment, Szczesny is up there with De Gea and Cech as the best three in the country. If he keeps this form up, we'll have a dedicated and loyal goalkeeper for another decade at least. Times they are a-changing.

Super Szczesny

And indeed they are. Arsenal are looking superb at the top of the table, confident, resilient, gritty yet pretty, with players enjoying the game and each other's company. The fact that so many of the players are likeable makes it even better. The fact that so many of the players were totally written off is even better. And then you look at the goals we score. Ramsey vs Liverpool. Both Ramsey goals vs Sunderland. Özil vs Napoli. All goals vs Norwich. Ramsey vs Fenerbahce. Both goals vs Swansea. These are well worked, well taken, beautiful pieces of football. The neutral can no longer ignore us. If we keep playing like we are, we can win the title, for real. And if we keep playing like this, we will win the title playing the best football this league has seen in years.

Now, we're only ten games in, and we might suffer a drop in form. Who knows, maybe in January you will be laughing at this article. But momentum is ours. Next weekend we face ManU, at Old Trafford, knowing our midfield will destroy theirs, and we should hope our defensive side is good enough to keep out their rather unappetising front two.

Until then I shall bask in the glory that comes with such a good run, with such good football, and such good footballers. We have not had this likeable, this talented, and this harmonious team in years. I say we enjoy it, and long may it last. Up the Arsenal, and onwards to success!

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