The top; It’s a pretty place to be in. It’s been a season of ups and downs. From the opening day defeat to West Ham to the glorious win over Manchester United at the Emirates, we’ve seen both sides of the team this season. With qualification to the Champions League knockout stage ensured, there’s newfound belief at the club. The injury crisis, as we’re so used to now, is at its peak again and we’ll have to be on top of our game to ensure we stay on top when the season comes to a close this May. Here are three key points that we must navigate for a successful season.
Centre of midfield
The match against Manchester City at Etihad last season was a revelation. It was the first time that we saw an Arsenal side comfortable with the ball not being in our possession. Besides that, we saw a new midfield partnership forming between Cazorla and Coquelin. The two provide a perfect balance to the middle of the park. Coquelin, with his tenacity, is a great play-stopper, while Cazorla, with his quick feet and great technique, allows Arsenal to transition into attack seamlessly.
With both of them injured with long-term injuries, the onus had fallen on Flamini and Ramsey to provide strength to the spine of the team. The Welshman is a supremely gifted player. His all-around game is punctuated with accurate passing, defense-splitting forward runs and an innate ability to find the back of the net. However, there are question marks over Flamini’s tactical intelligence. The Frenchman is a good tackler, but his positioning can be a weakness and for Arsenal to not concede important goals, it’s important for Ramsey to cover every blade of grass on the pitch. This pairing must get the job done till Coquelin comes back into action.
With the arrival of Mohammed El Neny from FC Basel, things look brighter.
The Cech effect at Arsenal
We all knew the signing of Cech was a big one. After two consecutive seasons where we signed Ozil and Sanchez, the relatively modest price of Cech is a huge understatement of the quality he offers to the team. Solid goalkeeping aside, Cech’s performance is peppered with big saves that have saved many points for Arsenal this season. The close-range save from Benteke when Liverpool visited Emirates and the stop when Martial was through to keep Arsenal’s three-goal lead against Manchester United intact are just a few instances when our goalkeeper has made a massive contribution to our season.
The defense in front of Cech remains patchy, especially during set pieces. Other defensive concerns like allowing too many shots on goal and ineffective marking are a part of the worrying canvas in front of the goal; however, having a goalkeeper like Cech in between the sticks oozes a sense of comfort and assurance that he’ll save almost everything. This is a huge boost compared to other seasons when sketchy goalkeeping has led to dropping unnecessary points.
The Ozil masterclass
The German’s form has been second to none in the team this season. With 13 assists and 52 key passes, Ozil leads the charts and rightly so. The playmaker has been criticized heavily over the last couple of seasons for his indifferent performances at times. However, the German keeps functioning like a well-oiled machine and racks up the chances he creates for his teammates. There’s a key area to Ozil’s game that’s not yet measured in all the modern ways of tracking data, his spatial awareness. His runs and ability to get defenders out of position, allowing other teammates to run into dangerous positions is a big contribution that his game provides.
If the German continues his form, with Giroud, Sanchez, and Walcott providing key firepower up front, it’s a certainty that Arsenal will get goals. Keeping Ozil fit should be Wenger’s key priority this season. They can deal with injuries at every other position but Ozil’s, he’s just such an important player for us right now. For someone who was written off as an overpriced asset after his penalty miss against Bayern Munich two seasons ago, Ozil has come a long way and established himself as Arsenal’s key component in the title charge.