Ok, I’m going to call ‘bloggers privilege’ with this, because I’ve asked a question to which I have absolutely no idea on what the answer is, but it’s a question I’ve been asking myself for the last 24 hours since our rout of Chelski on Saturday evening.
The performance against that lot was so convincing, that it has many wondering whether this Arsenal team is finally clicking, whether we’re finally starting to see the development of some kind of momentum. The good news – from what I’ve seen – is there aren’t too many people who are getting carried away with themselves and talking up the title. Yet. We’ve all been here before you see, so we know that this Arsenal team has disappointed as much as its ‘wowed’, so everyone is trying to keep a level head. Makes sense.
But you’re all starting to ‘what if?’ now, aren’t you? Come on, you can admit it to me, because I’m thinking it too.
What if we can keep our fitness of key players?
What if we can find the right balance of rotating, to keep players fresh?
What if we can get enough momentum that it can carry us through in to the new year?
What if Alexis does end up working as a centre forward, and we have a mobile and rotating front three, that can cause defences trouble all season?
What if this win removes the psychological shackles that have so clearly affected the team in games like Chelski?
Lots of questions, with very few answers, at this early stage in the season. But the questions are ones that have at least been built on a foundation of form for the team. We’ve lost one game of our opening eight and we play Basle on Wednesday with an opportunity to make it nine. Things are looking rosy in the Arsenal garden.
But I’m still not convinced we’ve got enough to win the league, not compared to last season, anyway. Last season United had van Gaal and we knew his limitations. Chelski were imploding with Mourinho and Pellegrini was the flawed Manchester City manager. Even at this stage last season, having only signed Cech, I still felt like we had a better chance than this season.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that not many teams are dropping points at the top. This weekend just gone we’ve seen United, Liverpool, City and the Tiny Totts all grab wins. So whilst our victory will have done the power of good for morale, from a functional point of view, we’ve essentially just tread water in comparison to our rivals.
I think this season will be more like any other season, whereby a high points total of the late 80s is going to win you the league, because already that’s looking like how the league will shape up. That means very little margin for error in games like Burnley away next weekend, or Swansea and Boro at home for the other fixtures in October. Last season, even at this early stage, I felt like you could afford more slip ups than this season. So that’s why I’m still to be convinced that we’ve got as good a chance as in 2015/16.
Still, the start we’ve had is encouraging and when you look at our next three games you’d hope we could get maximum points before we play those dirty Totts at the beginning of November. If we have picked up 12 points from Burnley, Swansea, Boro and Sunderland, then you’d think we’d be in a great position to get one over on them, which would be a lovely present for me on my birthday.
But we still don’t really know who Arsène’s best XI is, which is a strange feeling indeed, and perhaps one which is useful for us. The style of Arsenal under Wenger has always been such that you could pretty much pick his starting XI before any game. From an opposition manager perspective that’s rather handy because it allows you to plan. But with the size of the squad we have, as well as the players who all offer something slightly different, perhaps it makes us a little bit less predictable to set up against. Long may that continue, because whilst we all know the style of Arsène’s teams, mixing it up a little bit with personnel at least makes the team more unpredictable.
So how far can this team go? Well, last season taught us that if you have enough momentum and belief like Leicester did, then you can win the league. Whilst Arsenal have the squad depth and can certainly build momentum in these early stages of the season, the real test will come after our next defeat, which will happen eventually. And when it does, it will be a mark of how good this team really are when we see the reaction, either to respond to defeat or to wilt.
I hope they respond. When it happens.