Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Young Gunners All Grown Up


The gripe with Arsenal for years now has been the lack of veteran players and manager Arsene Wenger’s insistence on playing soccer the beautiful way. Now, the stubbornness is finally paying off, as the North London club is producing results and looking like a true title contender for the first time in years. An emphatic and surprisingly easy 3-1 win over defending champs and aging Chelsea see the Gunners right on pace with Manchester United. The title race is looking more and more like a two-three horse race each day, with the contenders being City, United, and Arsenal.

The Gunners amazing depth is one of the primary reasons their youth can perform. All but 2 players on the squad are under 30 and while some would argue that this is an issue, nearly all the players on the senior roster have received significant playing time at one point or another. Some would point to Cesc Fabregas as the catalyst for everything that moves in the midfield, but in his absence, the squad did quite well. In his 6 missing league appearances, Samir Nasri took to becoming the focal point of attack for the Gunners after many were ready to label the Frenchman a relative flop. Thomas Vermaelen has also been sidelined the majority of this campaign. Any problems? A few, but looking at the numbers, the backline has conceded fewer or just as many goals as all but 3 teams in the league (City, United, and Chelsea). Even the injuries at goalkeeper have yet to be a problem. With Manuel Almunia struggling for fitness, Łukasz Fabiański has filled in tremendously well despite his relative lack of experience. Even when Fabiański fell to injury, 20-year-old Wojciech Szczęsny filled in nicely in a huge Premier League debut versus league leaders Manchester United. The men in the Arsenal jersey finally appeared ruthless and clinical in their game against Chelsea. Folding under pressure is one of Arsenal’s trademarks of recent years but the squad looked a far cry from the out-of-sync squad which teetered to a 1-0 loss versus United two weeks prior. The Gunners had 5 legitimate chances and put 3 in the back of the net, a huge accomplishment for a squad that squanders more chances than nearly any team in the league.

Wenger has always conceded his squad is building for the future and Gunner fans may finally rejoice that the future is beginning to arrive. The addition of Marouane Chamakh has eased the pressure off of Van Persie to attain fitness with his glass-like body structure. Even with Arshavin having personal struggles, Walcott has filled in nicely when called upon. The Gunners are firing on all cylinders and will have true tests coming up to see if the squad is for real. A disaster but horribly predictable Champions League draw against Barcelona will see if the Gunners can compete with the best squad in Europe and handle the unplayable magician Messi and crew. For now, however, the squad can be content with their position. Arsenal are prime contenders for a league title again and in a table that is as wide open as I can remember in recent memory, the squad has a chance to bag a couple trophies this season. Welcome to grown up world, Young Gunners.

Written by: Chris Behrens, EPL Correspondent, soccerpro.com

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