Arsenal’s 2016/17 party is in full swing, we just need Mesut Ozil to join in
After the first few games, there were plenty of reasons for the Arsenal faithful to be disgruntled with their team’s stuttering start to the season.
Signs of fluidity against Watford in game week three were sadly lacking at home to Southampton and virtually non-existent away at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
However the latter two fixtures saw Arsenal collect what seemed an unlikely three points, with a last minute penalty against the Saints and an even less likely away point in the French capital against the group favourites.
The old adage suggesting that good teams prevail when playing badly would have been at the forefront of fans’ minds. But why should we not enjoy the good fortune that we have resented Manchester United and Chelsea enjoying for years?
The trick, of course, is to improve taking the positives from the below-par performances and build on the results. The greater fluidity at Hull City on Saturday and even the demolition of Nottingham Forest with a second string side must surely see the Gunners march into this weekend’s huge test at home to Chelsea with a spring in their step.
So what are the positive signs? And, how do Arsenal build on them ahead of Saturday?
The most obvious, for the majority of fans, if we are honest, is the resurgence in form of Alexis Sanchez and his development in the central role.
The Arsenal talisman of 2014/15 is beginning to look the part again in 2016/17 and the impulsive badge on the shirt recognition when running to the away support at Hull was pleasing to see.
Whether Sanchez retains his central role, when Olivier Giroud is fit, will be fascinating to see, but to see him coincide with the form and interchange with Theo Walcott and the return to the team of Alex Iwobi is impossible to ignore. I am certainly one to openly admit to much despair at Walcott’s lethargy and inconsistency in the last campaign, but the arrival of Lucas Perez and the form of Sanchez do seem to have given the England international huge impetus.
So to the young Iwobi, and I must endeavour not to go overboard with my expectation and early praise, but it is hard not to do so. His touch, close control and precision passing are a joy to behold, but it is the strength and vision that belie his inexperience at this top level.
So much so, that it is already hard to envisage him not being part of the Premier League starting eleven for years to come. Despite the fact he has missed two games through injury, he already has three assists, which speaks volumes and it may just be that Arsene Wenger’s faith in this particular young apprentice has saved us millions in the transfer market.
Despite the fact that Perez’s first two Arsenal goals have come against Championship opposition last night, they will have boosted his confidence. More importantly, if we are to play with the mobile front three of Walcott, Sanchez and Iwobi, the fact that the Spaniard can play in any of the three positions off the bench or in rotation gives the manager fabulous options.
A further reason to be cheerful is the growing influence of Granit Xhaka on the team. As the season progresses, one would hope that the two midfield berths will be selected from game-to-game and opposition-to-opposition. This is something most Arsenal fans have wished to see, but Wenger has not always rotated those positions actively.
With the fixtures coming thick and fast, I believe we will see this more and the Swiss international must be due more starts in the very near future.
It is too early to fully judge Shkodran Mustafi at this stage, but the signs are good. One thing I do know is that playing next to Laurent Koscielny must improve any player. Given his performances for France in June, plus his Gunners return at Leicester, I am struggling to think of a superior centre-back in this league.
I am delighted to see him wearing the armband and I now just wish he would be made club captain on a permanent basis.