Here’s an ominous fact, the last time Arsenal beat Southampton 6-1, they didn’t lose for another 49 games. In many ways it had seemed to be the same old story with Arsenal this summer; the best players, including a talismanic captain, leaving the club, dissatisfaction amongst the remaining players, and an eerie silence from the boardroom about the decisions they were taking. But there have been several positives so large in Arsenal’s preparation and start to the season that, and we should whisper this, they might just be a little bit tremendous this year.
The two most important additions to their club have been Santi Cazorla and Steve Bould. The outrageously talented Spaniard has brought a spark to their midfield clearly lacking since Fabregas’ departure. He has also taken over dead ball duties from van Persie, and the fact that he scored more than anyone from direct free kicks in Europe’s top leagues last season suggest they will not miss this asset of the Dutchman’s game. It’s difficult to know what exactly happens in the transfer window, but the apparent lack of competition Arsenal faced when bidding for Cazorla is baffling, as he would improve the midfield of any team in the premiership. Credit must be given to Wenger’s swiftness in making the signing, and finally living up to his claims that he is happy to spend big when the right player is available.
Whilst it can be argued Cazorla was signed a season too late, Steve Bould’s (or indeed any defensive coach’s) addition to the backroom staff is half a decade overdue. The organisation Arsenal have shown in their first three games, in a defence that has included the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson, must make them wonder why they didn’t make the move for a Bould-type figure years ago. Clean sheets away at Liverpool and Stoke are results that few teams will replicate this year, and with Sagna and possibly Koscielny to come back into the side we may see an Arsenal team build challenge on the basis of an excellent defence once again.
However this being Arsenal, there are a couple of large caveats that may block their success. The main worry had to be whether Giroud and Podoski can replace RVP’s goals. The Frenchman has been poor in the opening few games. But Podolski has sprung into life in the games against Liverpool and Southampton, the hope will be he shows this form for the rest of the year, rather than the limp displays he gave in Euro 2012 and the opening two games. The second big doubt about Arsenal is in the defensive midfield position. Abou Diaby is a very risky man to hang your hat on for a full season as he as likely to disappear from a match or get injured as he is to reproduce the performance he showed at Liverpool. Indeed he has already picked up a knock on international duty that kept him out of the Southampton match. Mikel Arteta dropping deep means they can retain position in their own half comfortably, but he will not provide the defensive shield they will need at points in the season.
There is little doubt Arsenal have gone into this season better prepared as a team than last year, and despite some reservations about their strikers, in addressing their defensive issues and bringing in quality players like Podolski and Cazorla they may have given themselves their best shot at a league title challenge for quite some time. The Gunners have been trophy-less for too long, expect that to be addressed this year.