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Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Spirits of the Invincible

Regardless of how well we cope with an unthinkable new dawn the spirits of our loved ones will continue to sneak into our perspective. Arsenal fans found it impossible to relate to almost a decade of footballing inadequacy, constantly buckling under any degree of pressure, annually forced into a dangerous state of repair with the sale of their most coveted gem. With every disastrous set-piece the famous back five of the George Graham Era sat to feast like Banquo’s ghost, every unimaginative attacking performance only heightened the desire to reminisce over The Invincibles. But now the circle appears to be rounding, with the ghosts of Arsene Wenger’s earlier teams having returned, channeled through the Frenchman himself.

For nine years and counting Arsenal’s seasons have resembled the Russian folk song Kalinika, fluctuating on an almost weekly basis from scintillating performances threatening to over-whelm every challenger to tepid, resoundingly vulnerable displays. However this season, following the club’s most recent nadir of a home defeat to Aston Villa, The Gunners have found the consistency they’ve lacked in recent years. Following eight games they sit top of the league and while it’s probably premature to consider them concrete title contenders, this side does appear to possess the variety needed in attack to sustain a challenge over the course of a demanding season.

The primary reason for Arsenal’s improvement has been the recent addition of the apparition of the Non Flying Dutchman. In Mesut Ozil Wenger’s side have acquired a genuinely world class talent and arguably the best player in England. Ozil is incapable of errors, every choice he has to make on the pitch echoes perfection. The direction of his running, the weight of passing; his vision, enthusiasm and ability to find a pocket of space in the final third of the pitch is unmatched in Europe. A premier ten like Ozil is, regardless of the lazy moniker, a vintage Arsenal player. Having watched Robin van Persie soar and inspire Manchester United to the Premiership title last season Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidas knew that when a player of the German’s seemingly effortless calibre becomes available you act first and think about where he will fit later. As Brian Phillips noted, the signing was Wenger waving his middle finger to the pragmatism that suggested he could only restore his legacy in North London by shifting his emphasis to those who pick the fruits rather than those who group them into an appetising bowl.

Ozil doesn’t act alone however. Wenger has gathered a collection of attacking playmakers, allowing him to vary his tactical options going forward. The Alsatian selected a team comprised purely of intelligent ball-players against Napoli in the absence of the threat brought by the frantic and frenzied Theo Walcott. For a manager often bizarrely criticized for his lack of tactical intuition Wenger deserves full credit for handing his players the offensive liberty they have started the campaign with. On Saturday against Norwich the alchemy of the attacking trident of Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Ozil (sprinkled with a pinch of the unrecognizable Aaron Ramsey of this year) was brewed in Wenger’s raunchiest dreams.

Naturally this results in a lack of clean sheets. However that just makes this team even more compelling. You score two and we’ll score three football is what we aspire to see when we sit down to watch sports.

Wenger has persevered with much over the past decade. Financially the club was handcuffed to the goalposts, forced to watch cherished friends frolic towards pastures new. Cesc Fabregas, van Persie, even ginger stepsons like Alex Song and Emmanuel Adebayor were lured away from The Emirates’ pristine surface by artificially greener grass elsewhere. If Samir Nasri is to be believed (I know, like handing Bernie Madoff a suitcase with forty thousand pounds in it and asking him to drive to the nearest Audi dealership to pick you up a sparkling A6, just hear me out) Wenger has been forced to sell assets at the orders of Stan Kroenke. "Wenger told me that, if Cesc left, I would stay, but Kroenke wanted the money”, Nasri claimed while looking idle in Manchester.

In the midst of his most challenging seasons yet fans wanted the stubborn Frenchman to open up, admit his errors and change his ways. Ramsey was a mid-table write-off, Olivier Giroud proof of the deficiencies in the club's once admired scouting system. Both players have been integral in the opening months of the current campaign. Giroud has enjoyed torturing opposition centre-halves on a weekly basis, holding the ball up with distinction and redirecting passes to teammates when he’s been bored. It is Ramsey however who is rewarding Wenger the most. After years of average displays and shifts out wide his form has been sensational, as well as boasting a goal-return similar to Cesc Fabregas's break-out campaign in 2007/08. The Welshman protects and passes the ball similarly to Arteta, however he also provides composure in front of goal nowadays and a thrust from the centre of the pitch.

Naturally at this early stage it’s too early to claim Arsenal are the finished article, particularly having been gifted the easiest opening fixtures the league has to offer (it can’t last forever, but maybe it can last until next week’s clash with Crystal Palace). However in a league where no team at the top appears to be considerably better than another, Arsenal can claim to have as good a chance as any of their competitors. Aside from the litter of creative midfielders the squad is light on bodies , with a huge onus on Giroud as the club’s single proven striker, while Mathieu Flamini’s absence restored the uncertainty in Arsenal’s defence after his enforced substitution at the weekend. However compared to recent seasons Arsenal are enjoying a Caribbean cruise rather than a Himalayan hike.

Arsene Wenger has made mistakes in the last few years and like any romantic he will continue to do so. He knows each one and how he could have rectified them too, he’s just too stubborn to admit it. However the best thing Arsenal fans can do is to persevere with Wenger for as long as he pleases, because the longer his epoch goes on and on, the odds on his ghost looming over North London in the future get smaller and smaller. You don't know what you've got until it's gone.

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