It is well documented that for the past eight years Arsenal Football Club have been unable to lift any silverware often being overpowered in the latter stages of competitions.
For some time there has been a theory about Arsenal that they are a side that will pass the ball at all costs. Sometimes overdoing it in order to try and score the perfect goal but defensive they are a side teams can get at, especially physically.
However since defeat in the North London Derby back in March which left Arsenal looking as though they would not be able to reach 4th spot and gain Champions League qualification the club have embarked on an extraordinary run of form, which saw them overhaul the seven point deficit and in the new season now sees Arsene Wenger’s side sit top of the Premier League.
During this run of 22 matches Arsenal have won a staggering 19, drawn twice and lost just once, on the opening day of the season, and even though the club were on this great run the defeat at home to Aston Villa was met with a chorus of boos.
There is a sense of optimism at Arsenal these days.
Whether that be a false dawn remains to be seen, but many believe the club are in a great position, and ready to reassert themselves on the domestic front.
With Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all appointing new managers in the close season Wenger has a chance this season to prove that he is still the man to take the club forward, despite not having won silverware since 2005.
One major factor behind this great run has been a tweak in the style of play.
Last summer Steve Bould replaced Wenger’s long standing assistant manager Pat Rice and it was hoped Bould could amend Arsenal’s weak, fragile and leaky defence and it tighten up to be a platform for the club to build off.
This is exactly what has happened, although the club have not recruited a “born leader” in defence that many experts were calling out for the team, as a whole seems to have developed a great defensive understanding.
In previous years there had been huge gaps between the midfield and defence, with the club possessing many fine passers and attacking midfield players, but no real anchor something the club has missed since having the likes of Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and even Mathieu Flamini.
The latter has returned and now there is a real unity amongst the whole team, however the unity was there long before the return of Flamini, though his presence has been huge.
For much of last season Mikel Arteta was seen as the man to replace Arsenal’s previous defensive element of the midfield Alex Song, who had also been a great creator from his deep-lying midfield role and this was exactly what Arteta gave, without having the presence in midfield his predecessor had.
When Bould initial came in the club recorded back-to-back nil-nil draws and some jumped to conclusion that his work was already done, however the defence proved inadequate, highlighted in a 2-0 defeat at home to the hands of Michael Laudrup’s Swansea at the beginning of December.
It was the defeat against Tottenham though that seem to galvanise the squad and since players like Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and in the centre of defence Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have really shown their ability to step up to the level required at Arsenal Football Club.
Ramsey has been vital, especially when playing at the heart of the midfield and although he is getting wide praise this season for his goalscoring accomplishments his energy and desire have been something the Arsenal midfield have missed for a long time.
Before Flamini came back Ramsey was responsible for winning the ball back and also trying to support attacks, but with the Frenchman now having returned the Welshman himself is able to make more forward runs knowing the defence have the protection needed.
During the spells of criticism Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were heavily damned but now with the side playing as a team, no longer relying on the individual brilliance of one player like in recent years with Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie leading. They have formed an understanding which has left another talented individual in form of club captain Thomas Vermaelen unable to get a starting berth.
There are obviously still stand out players in the attacking parts of the pitch, most notably the club’s record deadline day signing Mesut Ozil but this summer was the first since 2005 the club did not lose a key player (summer of 2010 may be seen as an exception).
One player who is really thriving off the team effort is Olivier Giroud. The man bought in during the same summer van Persie left meaning he was always likely to draw comparisons, however the Frenchman, as talented as he is, is not of the same ilk as the Dutchman, but in Arsenal’s current system could become as effective.
With the club having now established a strong spine and defending impressively, despite conceding the odd goal here and there (largely consolation goals), we are now back to seeing Arsenal back to their fluid, counter-attacking best.
Wenger’s side are now happy to concede possession, even at the Emirates (most notably to Stoke), something that would normally be unheard of for Arsenal, knowing that when they hit sides on the counter they will take their chances, instead of struggling to break sides down and squandering numerous opportunities.
Of course there is still room for Arsenal to play the way we have come accustomed to, as seen in the first half against Napoli, but in the second half we saw the rigid backbone Arsenal have developed as they grinded out the victory with the result in the bag although the Italians didn’t offer too much going forward.