Arsenal promise rooted in solid foundations
Published: 12.09.12 / Written by: David Gold
They may have beaten Liverpool with a performance which had the pundits acclaiming the genius of Arsene Wenger barely weeks after he was being pillories by the very same hacks, but there was something unusual about the Arsenal win last Sunday.
The flair going forward was nothing new. Arsenal have become revered for their style and panache up front.
But so often their devotion to attack and the beautiful game has rendered them defensively vulnerable. Yet against Liverpool, as against Stoke the previous week, Arsenal rarely looked as though they might concede. In fact, it is reasonable to say that the Arsenal defence has only given a forward a clear sight of goal twice this season. Once, when James McLean fired at Wojciech Szczesny on the opening day, and then when James Walters snapped at a half chance at the Britannia Stadium.
There are mitigating factors. Sunderland and Stoke are defensive teams who do not tend to attack much anyway. But Liverpool do, and they could not break down the Arsenal rearguard.
This is largely down to the fine work done by Steve Bould since he took over from Pat Rice as Arsenal assistant. So often in recent years Arsenal have lost games and points because they have been so open and vulnerable. Typically, teams would create chance after chance, and sooner or later one would go in. Usually sooner.
This Arsenal team is very different. Not only more solid defensively, it is more experienced, and thanks to having older players, less injury prone. It means that Arsenal have perhaps more optimism than was imagined a few weeks ago. The league's top two sides, Manchester United and Manchester City, have leaked five goals apiece in three games. That 10 goals is the number Arsenal conceded in their first three games last season - now the number is a highly impressive zero.
This offers a new take on the Robin van Persie debate. The consensus was that Arsenal needed to replace his goals. Yet if Arsenal can concede fewer, they do not need to replace all of the goals he scored. Yet they have three players with the potential to get between 15 and 20 goals a season in Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott. If they can do that this season, then Arsenal could yet be the dark horse of this Premier League campaign.
Arsenal have always been good at dominating games, even against the best. Last year the champions Manchester City were forced to accept being without the ball for long periods against Arsenal at home, as well as being outplayed at the Emirates Stadium. With all of their main rivals showing vulnerability defensively, Arsenal seem the most solid of the top teams in the league at this early stage of the season - and how much would you have put on that at the start of the season? It adds up to a very promising combination indeed for Wenger, and a feeling around his camp that he may not have felt since the 2003-4 season, when the club went through the season unbeaten.
There is a reason for the mantra "in Arsene we trust." The faith goes on.