With the 2012/13 Barclays English Premier League season now two months old and cruising into the action packed festive period, Luke Sale takes a look at what we’ve seen so far, and starts with an Arsenal review.
Following the departure of Cesc Fabregas in 2010 and last season’s top scorer Robin Van Persie to fierce rival Manchester United in the off-season, Arsenal appears to have found their new superstar.
New signing Santi Cazorla has taken to the battlefield of top-flight English football like a duck to water, coming into games and dictating the tempo of his team like he was born to play for them. Props must go to Arsene Wenger for this, though, despite seeing his stars of years past continually leave the club, his side manages to stay near the summit of the table season in, season out.
The continual worry
Their early season form suggested they have finally fixed their defensive frailties that have haunted fans’ dreams of a title since their last FA Cup victory in 2004.
Although an injury to first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and third-choice Lukas Fabianski has left their goalkeeping stocks looking thin.
A goalkeeping error was the reason behind a loss in their most recent game, 1-0 at lowly Norwich City. This followed a 1-2 home loss to London rival Chelsea, a sign that there is still a way for Arsenal to come if they are to challenge the elite this season, but as I’ve just mentioned, Wenger always seems to find that way.
Theo Walcott’s development has stalled. So much so that it seems Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the new winger of choice at the Emirates. Both are similar types of players, but for me Chamberlain has a lot more game intelligence about him and realises he needs more than pace to score a goal or get around an opponent.
New striker Lukas Podolski has came in and not attracted criticism unlike other new striker Olivier Giroud, but nor has he set the world on fire. He scored his side’s first and set up the second in an away win at Liverpool earlier in the campaign before rattling in a free kick in the next game against Southampton, while also adding two more goals in the Champions League.
Despite appearing to know how to score a goal, at times he’s looked as if he prefers playing wide on the left as he has done so fruitfully for national side Germany. Only time will tell if that is where he ends up playing under Wenger.
Giroud has almost had a complete opposite opening to his career in England; he has had many good chances to score but has sprayed a lot of his attempts. Most disappointingly for Arsenal fans in the final minute against Chelsea when he found space intelligently to round Petr Cech but missed when it was easier to score, this would have equalised the game. The relief on his face was plain to see when he scored in a 6-1 League Cup thrashing of Coventry City and then again 10 days later in a 3-1 at West Ham United. I do believe he has goals in him, but he must start putting his chances away more often if he is to win the Arsenal supporters over.
The surprise packet
Without a doubt, it has been Gervinho. Much maligned last season for his lack of form, there was a common question among Arsenal fans last season and it was ‘Why has Wenger signed him?’ He has certainly gone a long way to qualm those calls this season. Playing in a much more central role, the shackles of playing on the wing without a lot of spatial freedom have obviously been broken. He has scored goal five goals so far this season, already more than last season’s effort, and is up there with Santi Cazorla as Arsenal’s best so far.
Arsenal will certainly be up in the Champions League places come season’s end, I don’t doubt that, but when will they break free of being the ‘same old’ Arsenal. The first few games would have been promising from their fans’ point of view, defensive solidarity and scoring enough to win. But their defensive quality has dropped over recent weeks, with two losses in games they didn’t lose last season. If league place sustainability is the measure of success at Arsenal then they are doing sensationally well and will continue to do so. But the fans want success in the form of silverware, something I don’t think they will achieve in the league at least without keeping hold of their star players. And how long can Arsene keep producing a star season after season, only to see him seek what Arsenal’s fans want elsewhere?
Luke Sale is a first-year Bachelor of Sports Journalism student at La Trobe University. Get in touch with him on Twitter @LukeSale1