1. The Thierry Henry Effect
Before the season started all the experts and pundits predicted an Arsenal collapse without their record goal-scorer. Most people thought that Spurs would take our 4th spot in the league - and look how that’s turned out! Even Arsenal fans familiar with Arsene’s policy of players reaching 30 had major doubts about the captain leaving but like many before him, it was the right time for Henry to leave.
Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Pires and others have left Arsenal and haven’t really reached the peaks they did with Arsenal. Of course, Henry could be the exception to the rule at Barcelona but then again maybe not.
What is clear though is that the squad as a whole has shown great strength through adversity and the future looks as bright as it has ever been. And our sights are on much more than just 4th in the league.
2. William Gallas Is The Perfect Captain
I’m just as shocked as the next guy with this one.
In the summer, reports had Gallas leaving Arsenal - especially with the departure of Titi, and he even questioned the ambition at the club.
But whether he was mis-quoted Arsene has made one of the best decisions while he has been at Arsenal. With Henry, the boss gave the captaincy to the best player and he could have easily given the honour to Cesc but instead gave it to Gallas, who is quite frankly a warrior.
We didn’t really see Willie much last season but this season he has shown he is the perfect captain. The is an awesome defender, focused and such a fantastic influence on the younger players in the team.
Depending what happens this season, Gallas could be one of the best signings Arsene has made.
3. Manuel Almunia Is Arsenal’s Number One
It’s ironic that while others have praised him in the past I’ve never really rated Almunia at his time at the club but credit where it’s due, the keeper is currently unbeaten this season and while that remains the case you just can’t drop him.
And now others are criticising him I actually think he’s worth his place now.
People point out he isn’t an international goalkeeper and all the other reasons but his record this season is nothing short of exceptional and the main thing is that he doesn’t worry the defence. Jens Lehmann is getting more unstable as the years go on, and is a liability on set-pieces and corners with opposing players. He’s had more than enough chances and Arsene is perfectly right in dropping him, although I was surprised he did to be honest as he’s been a big Lehmann fan.
The Spaniard hasn’t made a horrific mistake yet while he’s been in goal and by my count he has a few to make before he even gets close to Lehmann’s tally.
If Barcelona can win things with Victor Valdes then we can win things with Almunia!
4. Arsenal Can Actually Defend (Most Of The Time)
On the whole the Arsenal defence is looking more solid than in recent years, mainly because of the talent of Toure and Clichy, and the introduction of a fully-fit Gallas and the arrival of Sagna. All have been exceptional this season and conceding the lead throughout last season seems like a distant memory.
Too many times last season a lapse in concentration would give away the lead in football matches and give Arsenal an uphill struggle every time. We actually had the best ’second half’ record in the entire league, and it was a pity we were prone to giving away sloppy goals and chasing the game for the remaining 80 minutes. But now, with captain Gallas and Sagna added to our defence we look more determined, stronger and organised.
We still need to sort out how to make a wall from freekicks though.
5. Mathieu Flamini Has A Future In The Middle
In the summer you thought Flamini might move on, especially with Cesc and Gilberto in excellent form last season. But whether Gilberto was dropped because he needed a rest after the Copa America or not the fact is Mathieu has taken his chance to play in midfield. He might not be the most cultured footballer (yet) but his workrate is second-to-none and he has struck a brilliant partnership with Fabregas who has been allowed to express himself to devastating effect.
Arsenal play a faster game than they did last season, pushing higher up the pitch and putting teams under constant pressure. Flamini works in this system much better than Gilberto who plays deeper and has a more laid back style of play. Mathieu will get in your face and his attitude on the pitch is spot on - he is simply a winner.
6. Arsenal Can Challenge For The Title
I was careful not to say Arsenal can win the title. Challenging for the title is more appropriate since there is a long way to go, and plus I don’t want to jinx anything!
But the fact remains Arsenal have been excellent so far this season and remain unbeaten.
The problem in previous seasons was simply that we couldn’t beat the lower teams in the league. We all know the story - they would just rough us up and we’d end up losing. But now with this new-found steel in the side we can compete with every team we face. Whether that be Liverpool, Manchester United, Blackburn or Bolton Wanderers.
7. Cesc Fabregas Is Phenomenal
Okay, we all sort of knew about this one.
But did anyone predict he’d be scoring as many as he has? With only a handful of goals all last season, his shooting this season has improved ten-fold and his accuracy and power from range is scary. The kid scores all kinds of goals and is like a Vieira-Bergkamp-Beckham hybrid in the middle of the park. He has a fantastic engine, won’t be roughed up, has an exceptional range of passing, scores beautiful goals and can tackle. And the guy always shows up in the big games, rarely having a bad game for Arsenal.
His decision-making and composure for his age is mind-blowing.
He reminds me of Zinedine Zidane. He has the touch, control and ice cool temperament. His goals against Liverpool and Manchester United were moments were time stood still - he only had a split second to score but seemed to create all the time in the world for himself.
That is a special talent.
Talk about high expectation levels!
8. Arsenal Look Good Going In Xmas (And The ACN)
Arsenal will only lose Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue when the ACN kicks off in a couple of months which isn’t bad considering we could have lost Adebayor as well. Other teams like Chelsea will suffer more with their strong African contingent.
We also should have Robin Van Persie back soon, so that will give us more attacking options. At the moment Adebayor is starting to look like he’s taking a leaf out of Henry’s book by having a prolonged run of poor form. Hopefully he’ll turn it around in the coming months.
The biggest miss is obviously Kolo, although Eboue has been impressive recently too. I guess Senderos will slot in if he returns as planned by the end of November, but Arsene has Gilberto who he can also use in that position. The boss has some options which is good so we shouldn’t worry about the defence - unless he decides to play Song there of course.
9. When Arsenal Lose, They Won’t Collapse
Of course, the day will come when Arsenal will lose a football match. I know, it’s shocking isn’t it! It could be this month, next month or next year - it could be next season. But whenever it does happen, Arsenal have shown this season already that a defeat will not effect them. I said in the summer that we will have to wait and see how Arsenal do in their first ten games and the answer is they can do something and push for honours.
Whether or not they will is another question, but unlike previous seasons they have a good chance of fighting for something other than fourth place in the league.
The squad know they’ve had an excellent start to the season and a defeat won’t change that. Obviously the media will probably have a field day but we’ve heard all that rubbish all before.
10. Arsenal Are Ruthless
Apart from the tendency to give away early leads, Arsenal’s other major problem was their profligacy in front of goal. Too many times we would create clear opportunities and squander them. And with the legend and top-scorer Thierry Henry leaving things would only get worse right?
I’ve been quite surprised at how Arsenal have performed in front of goal this season. They still create a lot of chances - particularly at home - but they just take them now. I suppose seasons of missed chances after missed chances got the best of Wenger who was watching from the sidelines and he gave everyone extra shooting lessons. Van Persie has always been an excellent finisher and now we have Cesc who always looks like he will score. Adebayor is still hit and miss, although he seems to have improved this season - with vital goals against Spurs at White Hart Lane.
A huge encouragement on last season is the willingness to shoot (and score) from distance. We almost come to expect over-exaggerate play outside the box but the guys will have a go from range now which is a considerable weapon in their arsenal since teams know they just can’t setup shop outside their own penalty area anymore.