I’m not convinced that the last week saw us learn anything about Arsenal we didn’t already know.
Okay, so the battering we took at Southampton ruined Boxing Day for Gooners everywhere, but we recovered less than 48 hours later to beat Bournemouth and take top spot in the Premier League. We remain on top of the pile due to Leicester City’s 0-0 draw with Manchester City and our superior goal difference.
At first glance, then, Christmas really did have something for everyone. For those who believe that Arsenal are better off with a new man in charge, we saw how fallible Arsène’s Arsenal can be when faced with a team defensively organised and capable of pressing us when in possession. And doesn’t Ronald Koeman appear to have Arsène’s number? For those of us who prefer to look ahead to the next five months, well… nineteen games gone, and we’re top of the pile.
As we all know, and as I mentioned last week, things are going to get a little bit tricky in the next few months with trips to Stoke, Everton, Spurs, Liverpool* and both Manchester clubs all to come. Two of those fixtures in particular – yes, just the two – I think are cause for concern. Until Arsenal prove that they can go to the Britannia Stadium and mix it with a Stoke team who now have some real flair to go with their characteristic toughness, I will always be concerned about them there. And Spurs away, I hate to admit, is always a tough one for us. Who knows, though? Perhaps their lofty position in the league will see them treat this fixture as less of a cup final than they usually do.
Aw, heck, who am I kidding?
The bottom line is, though, you either believe in the squad of players who have got us into this position, or you don’t. And the flip side of all these tricky away games to come is that our home games should, emphasise “should”, be relatively straightforward. If there is such a thing as straightforward in a title race…
Whilst I do understand scepticism around the capabilities of this squad to negotiate the second half of the season, I don’t understand the level of vitriol and negativity aimed at both players and the manager. This season, Arsenal have beaten, and beaten well, both Manchester clubs. They have thrashed Leicester City away from home, with only Liverpool able to join Arsenal in taking three points from the Foxes. They have also taken more Premier League points than any other team in 2015. More to the point, this time a year ago we were fifth in the Premier League and about to replace Wojciech Szczesny with David Ospina. Less Dumb and Dumber, more Dumb and Bumbler.
A year later, we are first in the league and have Petr Cech in goal, but no, we definitely haven’t made any improvement over the last year. Yeah, right and Mesut Özil still needs to toughen up. Of course he does.
As it happens, Arsène Wenger has quite openly stated that he will not be relying on the increasingly threadbare squad which has lifted us to first in the table and expects to be “busy” in the transfer market. Rumours abound of a deal done for FC Basel’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny. However, with Mikel Arteta about as reliable as a moody Rolex and the first choice midfield struck down with a plague of injuries, I find myself wondering whether we might actually see two or three signings come in. Particularly as it seems that the search for Welbeck and Wilshere may be about to be called off for this season. Then you factor in the fact that Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky may be off to the great gig in the sky, at least as far as Arsenal is concerned, this summer.
On a pure numbers basis, it is obvious that we need players in. Mesut Özil, in addition to being constantly brilliant, has been a constant this season. But there have been rumours around his fitness for the last three weeks. If he goes down now, then what? Aaron Ramsey is back in his favoured central midfield role but I think you have to be wary of putting too much pressure on his body too. Which leaves us, currently, with Mathieu Flamini and Calum Chambers. Four bodies for three central roles. One of whom has played central midfield for Arsenal twice.**
I wonder how likely Arsenal are to find available the kind of central midfielders who are legitimately able to assist a title challenge? It feels like our season depends on this transfer window. I guess that’s a reason for the unease. We’ve all experienced countless transfer windows with obvious requirements staying unaddressed and the team suffering for it. This seems different though. The manager is talking up his transfer activity before the window is even open, there is money available and, with two home games ahead of us, we have the chance to consolidate top spot in the Premier League.
It feels like the door is beginning to creak open, just a tiny bit. Let’s hope we can make the most of it over the coming weeks.
*What have we done to the fixture computer to deserve trips to Stoke and Liverpool in the space of four days?
**There is the Ox too, but would you trust him centrally? He’s also needed wide.