Arséne Wenger broke his hoodoo over Jose Mourinho with his first ever victory against the Chelsea boss, and it was a refreshing change from the negativity attached to the fixture in fairness.
Coming off the back of an excellent pre-season, the Gunners were tasked with their hardest challenge yet against last season’s Premier League champions, no less. The Blues dominated for the majority of the season and were even tipped to match the illustrious Invincibles season, no matter how preposterous it sounded at the time.
The season’s curtain-raiser, was next: The Community Shield, which Arsenal clinched this time last summer with a comfortable victory over Manchester City, was up for grabs. Ridicule it all you want, it’s still a piece of silverware.
So, what did we learn from the victory at Wembley?
The Ox is coming into his element
Having had an excellent pre-season, The Ox knows he has a perfect opportunity to show he’s not just part of the furniture at the Emirates. The talented winger has been on the books for almost four years, yet he’s still only 21. Due to injuries over the past two seasons, he’s been unable to showcase his skills on a consistent basis.
He does it regularly for England when called upon, and it was evident to everyone how badly Roy Hodgson’s side were begging for someone of his quality, flair and attacking brilliance during last year’s World Cup after he was agonisingly ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.
Now, it’s his time to shine. I have no qualms about his ability, he frightens defenders with his pace and has established his reputation as a bright prospect in an ever-improving Gunners side. Perhaps bold, but this is his season.
Arsenal have ended a decade without a calming presence in goal
Cech enjoyed yet another solid performance for his new employers, and his commanding display from the back emphasised just how badly Arsenal yearned for someone of his experience and quality.
At 33, critics may suggest he’s not in his prime. However, goalkeepers especially in history have shown that age is just a number – playing regularly up until the age of 45 in some cases, and doing well too. Ospina did relatively well in his first season with the Gunners, it must be stressed. Did not make too many mistakes, slotted in when required and kept quite a few clean sheets too. He’s a good goalkeeper and deserves to be playing regularly; that was emphasised by his influential displays with his native Colombia at the Copa América where he single-handedly thwarted both Brazil and Argentina on a number of occasions. However, he’s not world-class material. Neither is Wojciech, at least, not yet.
Szczesny is a good ‘keeper, and continues to improve. Perhaps his loan move to Serie A side AS Roma will help reiterate just how good he actually is, despite the recent smoking controversies that continue to surround the Polish stopper. Cech commands both respect (for his various achievements) and also confidence from his backline, which will definitely help the team defensively as a unit.
Fàbregas’ lack of defensive quality begins to unravel Chelsea’s problems
I personally have been echoing this view ever since he joined the Blues when the question was posed – where would Cesc play? Well, he can play as a central midfielder or attacking midfielder but his preferred position is higher up the field, just behind the striker. At Chelsea though, he’s not playing there. Mourinho likes to fluctuate his formations, but he seems to partner Nemanja Matic as more of a defensive midfielder than anything else.
To be honest, Fàbregas cannot defend properly. 24 interceptions and eleven yellow cards in the league alone, says quite a lot about his defensive capabilities. Or his distinct lack of them. He’s clumsy in tackles and makes too many mistakes, plus they have the likes of Ramires, Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek who can all do better jobs in the same position. Chelsea have a few problems to be unraveled – once you begin to scratch the surface. This, is just one of them.
Remy falters, Costa really is needed after all
Speaking of their problems, the attacking options at Mourinho’s disposal isn’t as good as it seems. Now hear me out, they’ve got a talented conveyer belt full to the brim with youngsters waiting for their chance to assert themselves as first-team regulars. However, they only have one world-class striker in their ranks. Remy is not that man. At QPR, the French forward was the shining light in a rather underwhelming team.
The same could be said at Newcastle. At Chelsea, with expectations sky-high and pressure to succeed continuing to rise season-by-season, former Atlético man Costa is the king of the castle in terms of first-team credentials. His troublesome hamstrings still bring up the question whether or not they need to find a player good enough to partner and replace him, but twenty goals in your debut season in England is nothing to be laughed at.
Remy is viewed as a second-fiddle striker, even though he too is a talented forward with a knack for scoring goals. Obviously the step up from the likes of Newcastle and QPR to Chelsea – one of the biggest sides in Europe is a great one, but Loic would need opportunities to ease Mourinho’s fears about his options going forward.
Instead, he was kept relatively quiet by an instrumental Laurent Koscielny and often found himself in offside positions, frustrating to say the least from a player known to be fleet of foot.
Gunners continue to strengthen
The age old debate goes on: can Arsenal manage to sustain a decent title bid?
Chelsea won the title last term and are considered one of Europe’s super-heavyweights. Arsenal are slowly but surely gaining ground on their rivals, with the first league title since 2004 somewhere in sight.
They need a few components before they get there, though. One of them is obvious – consistency. Players have called for it, Wenger himself has already said there are no excuses, fans also feel the same way. Consistency is the key to success, and without it the balance of the team crumbles.
The Gunners are notorious for having a bad injury record. In the 2013/14 campaign, the players collectively spent 2,472 days on the sidelines. That figure was significantly less last term, although the title bid as it were was virtually over by December due to, yes, more injuries!
Chelsea have not strengthened enough, City and United need time to adapt. There is no better time now for Arsenal to sit up, take notice, and win the title.