Arsenal Have Plenty of Reasons to be Optimistic

Following their reactions on Twitter and listening to phone ins on both BBC 606 and talkSport yesterday evening, I could feel the frustrations of Arsenal fans following their disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland to start the season.

Yes, I was expecting an Arsenal victory yesterday (their odds being below 1/2 were the only reasons I didn’t tip them), but watching the highlights on Match of the Day of the game there’s plenty of reasons for Arsenal to be positive.

I am not sure what expectations Arsenal fans had this season. With or without Robin van Persie and Alex Song they were not going to be title contenders this season. Manchester City and United are simply superior.

But a top 4 team Arsenal are. And I still believe they will be come the end of the season. Assuming Manchester City and United will occupy the top 2 places come the end of the season, Arsenal are as good or better than the rest of the field.

Chelsea kick off their season on Sunday. No doubt they potentially have the best midfield in the Premier League on paper, but they are yet to show that on the pitch. How long will it take for Eden Hazard and Oscar to settle in? How will the squad rotation work? Chelsea appear to be reliant on Fernando Torres for goals, a player who hasn’t delivered in his first 18 months at Stamford Bridge. Defensively, Chelsea have holes too. Petr Cech has his off days, John Terry lacks pace, David Luiz’s positioning leaves much to desire and there isn’t much strength in depth there.

Andre Villas-Boas is in charge at Tottenham Hotspur. Despite failing at Chelsea, the Spurs board believe he is a better man for the job than Harry Redknapp. Yesterday they were disappointing in a 2-1 defeat at Newcastle. 5’5” striker Jermain Defoe was their solo striker, and with 13 days left of the transfer window, Arsenal’s closest rivals have a lack of players backing up Defoe. Rafael van der Vaart started the game on the bench as question marks were raised over the Portuguese manager’s tactics.

I can certainly see Newcastle United being in the chase for the top 4 again this season. They have a lot of talent going forward; Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa. Defensively Fabricio Coloccini was solid last season and Steven Taylor had a good game on Saturday after a long lay off. Danny Simpson was well-disciplined not to pick up a second yellow card after picking up an early card for a foul on Gareth Bale. He’s a good defender and young goalkeeper Tim Krul is highly rated. Both Cheik Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez offer energy in midfield. They lack strength in depth which may catch up with them again.

Liverpool will not be challenging for a Champions League place this season, but I do expect them to dramatically improve from their 3-0 defeat at West Brom. Perhaps not in their next two games; hosting Manchester City and Arsenal. But they’ll be fine for a top half finish.

Arsenal maintained 70% of the ball possession in their 0-0 draw with Sunderland to start the season. From this they created 23 shots on goal. 10 were blocked, 10 were off target and 3 were saved. Notably, substitute Olivier Giroud missed a golden chance at the end.

I don’t know enough about the French striker to judge him. And unlike BBC’s Darren Fletcher, I am not going to come out with the outrageous comment he produced on 5Live’s 606 last night; “I think he [Giroud] might struggle in the Premier League from what I saw at the European Championship’s” (19:21; just before another Liverpool fans embarrasses himself with stupid comments). The French striker made 3 substitute appearances in the final 15 minutes or later, twice in a losing effort in a poor-performing French side. If this is what BBC’s commentators base their opinions on, then you can understand why I turned over to talkSport for the latter half of last season.

Olivier Giroud scored 21 goals as Montpellier became surprise Ligue 1 Champions last season. He knows where the back of the net is.

Lukas Podolski is a player I really like. He was the definition of a one-man team in the German Bundesliga last season, but even his efforts (18 goals, 7 assists) couldn’t keep FC Köln up. And that was after coach Ståle Solbakken stripped him of his captaincy and publicly criticised him. Yes, he had a disappointing Euro 2012, but play the German as a left forward and I think he’ll be very successful in the Premier League.

One player who stood out on the highlights last night was Santi Cazorla. The £15 million signing from Malaga scored 9 goals from midfield in La Liga last season. A quality playmaker, creating 7 chances for his team mates yesterday, more than any other player in the Premier League. Miscommunication with Podolski saw the Spaniard poke a left-footed shot narrowly wide when Lukas Podolski was in a better position to hit it on his stronger foot. Other than that, Cazorla looks like he’ll be involved in most good things going forward for Arsenal this season.

Arsenal also have Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and the pace of Theo Walcott to create chances. Gervinho is pretty good at getting beyond the defender to cut a ball back from the byline too. They quite simply just need someone to put the ball in the back of the net now.

Defensively I’ve not been a fan or Arsenal for a couple of seasons now, but they have started 2012/13 with a clean sheet. Based on last season’s performance, they can do better than Wojciech Szczesny in goal. But he’s young and has time to improve. Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny are good in the centre. Per Mertesacker’s reading of the game is good but he’s slow and is prone to errors. Arsenal have had problems at full-back.

I see no reason for Arsenal fans to panic at this stage. It really is just one game and there are 37 to go. They’re creating chances and once the new signings have blended in I think Arsenal will shoot up the league table. They haven’t been title contenders for a few seasons now but top 4 they will be. Feel free to come back here in May to quote me on that.