After the disappointment of the opening day defeat to Aston Villa, Arsenal have done well to subdue, for now, the vociferous criticism directed towards them from the fans. Victories over Fenerbahce and Fulham were both comfortable and convincing; six goals scored and just one conceded with positives to be taken all over the pitch.
The Fenerbahce game was an important result, not only in terms of (virtual) Champions League qualification, but also as a confidence boost ahead of the game at Craven Cottage. It certainly did the trick. Against Fulham, victory never seemed in doubt, with Martin Jol’s team unable to contain the counterattacking prowess of the Gunners. The speed of the transition from defence to attack was one of the highlights, and was reminiscent of the Invincibles.
Most significantly, the players that needed to prove a point, both to the fans and the manager, did so emphatically, which is testament to their professionalism. Amidst a whirlwind of transfer speculation, the likes of Wojciech Szczesny, Aaron Ramsey, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud – all players who have been criticized and that are in positions under scrutiny - have kept their heads down and demonstrated their worth to the team.
Szczesny’s shot stopping and decision making was superb both in Istanbul and South West London, while Ramsey is living up to his considerable potential after a difficult two years. Undoubtedly, he has been Arsenal’s best player this season.
Lukas Podolski was heavily linked with a loan move back to Germany during the week, after it was reported he’d become disillusioned by his lack of game time. However, he showed his commitment to the cause with a clinical double against Fulham, which demonstrated what he’s all about; power, hard work and goals. The German is the most natural finisher at the club. This brings me onto Giroud, a player who divides opinion among the Arsenal faithful. After a prolific pre-season, the striker has scored three goals in as many games; perhaps rumours of a new forward on the way have provided him with added motivation to impress.
Moreover, one should not forget Bacary Sagna. The 30 year old has seamlessly shuffled across to centre back as a replacement for the injured and suspended Laurent Koscielny. After the Fenerbahce game, Wenger said: “you have to travel a long way to find a better one (centre half) than Bacary Sagna, no matter how much money you put in”, and judging by his last two performances, it’s difficult to argue against this view.
Arsenal have shown in the past two seasons especially, that when their backs are against the wall, they respond and duly deliver. The final stretch of last year epitomises this, when they won 12 of their last 16 matches – the form of champions – to secure 4th place from a seemingly hopeless position. Evidently, this mental toughness has carried into this season, with the players responding to the media’s portrayal of a “crisis club” in a classy and professional manner.
Having said that, the North London derby this Sunday will be a true measure of the mettle of these Arsenal players. While the past two games have been impressive, in terms of attitude and performances, both opponents were average. Spurs will be considerably stronger, one would expect, and there is no doubt Arsenal will have to raise their game – a prospect I’m sure the players are relishing.
See more from Reuben Lewis @rlewisafc