With six wins out of six, Arsenal are currently the form team in the Premier League.
This is a run of form that has transformed a disconcerting, one point from six, start to the Premier League into something looks like something that could, possibly maybe, become a genuine challenge for the Premier League title.
If we can sustain this form.
The first thing to say here is that Arsenal are currently and, to seasoned Arsenal watchers, improbably, the most clinical team in the Premier League – despite Theo Walcott’s almost bloody minded refusal to score a hat trick at the weekend. With 19 goals from 79 shots at goal, the Gunners are scoring from 24.1% of their shots on goal; a divisional high.
Just to put this figure into perspective, Arsenal’s percentage of shots resulting in goals last season was 16, the year before 17.9. To give further perspective, the league champions in the last two seasons have been the team with the highest percentage of goals from their total shots.
This all sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it?
To me it does anyway.
However, if you look at these stats, then one thing seems clear – we even joked about it at Cannon towers a few weeks back – we’re bound to drop off at some point.
It is, in point of fact, almost inevitable.
Last season’s champions, Leicester scored 68 goals from 365 shots at goal (18.6%), the season before Chelsea scored 73 goals from 378 shots (19.3%).
This seems to underline the unlikeliness of Arsenal scoring at their current rate throughout the season.
I suppose the hope is that when we do suffer the inevitable regression to the mean, we do not pay a heavy price in points.
Saturday’s game came perilously close to being a textbook example of the kind of suffering I’m talking about. Whilst acknowledging that Swansea had enough chances to take a point, or even the three they have become used to, away from north London, anyone who watched that game also knows this.
Theo had enough chances to win the game on his own, twice over.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen a forward suffering with his finishing either. Obviously it’s not, but earlier this season Alexis could very easily have had a hat-trick against Basel. Instead he finished with nothing to show for his efforts. As we’re becoming used to this season, though, Theo stuck a couple of chances away to spare Alexis blushes.
Clearly, the first half of this article has concentrated on the unlikeliness of Arsenal’s firepower remaining as effective as it has been so far this season. I don’t think that’s a particularly unreasonable position to take, over and above anything else it’s guarding against disappointment in about six month’s time.
That being said, however, you all know I’m a dreamer.
What if the inevitable drop off is only a small jump off the cliff and not the landslide which buries our Premier League hopes?
What if this new model, highly clinical, Arsenal is a result of the changes we have seen to the usual match day eleven this season?
I said a while ago that the reason I loved Theo’s goal against Chelsea was the memories it evoked of the great Arsenal side which began this century. They made scoring goals like Theo’s look like the most routine thing in the world since a New York City (happy holidays, James and Lizzie!) Cop went and bought himself a coffee and a donut.
The intelligence, movement and pace that the current front four are bringing to matches, particularly at home, are allowing exactly this type of chance to be created, and fairly regularly too. It’s been brilliant to watch this season, a world away from the turgid, lamp it up to Giroud, style of football we’ve playing for a few years now.
Look at the positions, fox in the box Theo has been scoring the majority of his goals from.
One of the sticks I’ve used to beat Arsène with in the past is the way in which he has managed to make players like Cazorla, Özil and Alexis look so, not just ordinary, but clueless at times. I made this criticism as recently as the opening 60 minutes of our match against Paris St Germain.
However, the last half an hour of that game saw the Arsenal dig in and start playing the football that Arsène Wenger has got us all used to. And, by and large, we’ve been playing it ever since.
With both Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey now said to be creeping towards the edge of the first team picture, it’s going to be very interesting to see how they fit back in.
Maybe, maybe they don’t.
That seems unlikely, particularly at a club like Arsenal where you could imagine Arsène turning up to training one day and wandering around London Colney like Cillian Murphy at the start of 28 Days Later, desperate for someone – anyone – to talk to,
However, having watched Aaron Ramsey’s Bez like back and forth, back and forth style of football for the last couple of seasons…
I don’t feel Arsène will be overly exercised about rushing back him into the first team just yet. And I don’t think anyone, yet, is going to Arsenal games and saying ‘If only we had Giroud up top today’.
Well, maybe at Burnley.
In fact, you could make a case that, aside from the obvious improvement in Theo Walcott who has already scored more goals than he did in the whole of last season, the two key factors in the improvement in our chance conversion are the absent Giroud and Ramsey.
Think about that 14 game run of games Giroud failed to score in last season, the amount of times we have seen Ramsey blaze high, wide and none too handsome from almost anywhere on the pitch. Have you missed them?
By the way, I’m not writing these two off, nor saying they won’t have their uses in the future. I am saying that, at the moment, I’m enjoying watching this Arsenal team thrive in their absence.
Long may it continue.