It was the Friday before the start of the Premier League season and I was on a plane home. The two gentlemen next to me starting talking and the conversation soon moved to football. One of them was lamenting Southampton’s relegation into League One, he then said to his friend, “So it’s four years without a trophy now then?” The other gentleman was an Arsenal fan.
As an unabashed Arsenal fan myself, I thought it would be best to just sit back and see what he said about his team. “I really think we’re going to finish 5th behind Man City this season, I really do.” Upon hearing such blasphemy I jumped to my teams defence.
After listening to his opinion on Bendtner (“tosser”), I suggested that the Arsenal squad had the most attacking talent in the Premier League, a proposition he politely disagreed with. The next day Arsenal won 6-1 away at Everton.
Since that opening day master class, Arsenal have scored 54 goals in all competitions, a total that urges the jaw to drop. In individual matches they have scored 6 goals on two occasions, 4 goals on four occasions and 3 goals on four occasions. But the most surprising aspect of Arsenal’s goal-scoring prowess is how surprised football fans have been at Arsenal’s form.
It’s not like Arsenal’s goals have come out the blue, a basic analysis of the squad would tell you that the team is full of goals. As pundits and fans alike have realised it is Arsenal’s new formation that has finally devised a way to fully harness the attacking talent at Arsene Wenger’s disposal.
The 4-3-3 (or 4-1-2-3 if you really like your formation analysis) creates a fluidity that liberates players like Fabregas while allowing Alex Song to carry on his meteoric rise to a midfield rock and protect the back four. Because Van Persie, Arshavin, Eduardo and Bendtner can all play on the wings or as centre forwards the positions along the front line are constantly interchangeable, often leaving defenders perplexed as to just who they are supposed to be marking.
Last season, the inexperience of Song and Denilson meant that Fabregas was naturally tentative in going forward, knowing that his defensive cover was inadequate. The development of Song into a reliable, calm and collected defensive midfielder is priceless; look no further than his impact on the game against Wolves. Diaby went off with an injury and on came Song, gone was the under the kosh Arsenal soaking up waves of Wolves’ attacks and in it’s place a much more reassured and focused side.
The rapid progress of Song makes the African Cup of Nations on the horizon all the more alarming; one can only hope that Denilson, upon his return from injury can fills Song’s boots.
Arsenal’s goal glut also makes their defensive frailties (relative to the likes of Chelsea) much less of an issue. Look at Barcelona last season, they conceded 35 goals in La Liga, 11 more goals than Manchester United let in the Premier League. The clear difference being that Barcelona outscored Man United in their respective league by 37 goals.*
Arsenal are a team that are without a doubt more likely to concede than their title rivals, but they are also more likely to score more and as the Arsenal legend Herbert Chapman simply put it “The team that scores the most goals wins.” If people aren’t already taking Arsenal seriously this season, then now’s the time to sit up and pay attention.
*I am aware of the perils of comparing between leagues, but no one can argue that Barcelona weren’t a much more attacking force than Man United last season.