The (Christmas Period) That Was Arsenal #5

The Christmas Period. England’s most grueling, unforgiving, knackering fixture schedule across the whole season. Four games in twelve days. Home and Away. Only the strongest will survive. And to be fair, the Arsenal did alright. Instead of going by the usual format of these weekly (hah!) series that I do, I will be going over a few talking points which have risen over the festive season, breaking them down and giving my thoughts on our title winning chances. As usual, thank you so much for reading and I hope you don’t want to throw a chair at me by the time you reach the end.

Arsenal in the Big Games: After our move to The Emirates, there's no denying that bar a special result here or there, we were pretty hopeless against the top clubs. This was down to a multitude of different reasons, most of which I do not have time to go into detail, but it wasn't good. But something changed at The Etihad twelve months ago, and we have now taken 13 out of a possible 15 points from this season's top six, in addition to wins over Liverpool and Bayern Munich elsewhere in 2015. 

After our 2-1 win against Manchester City a fortnight ago, Per Mertesacker gave us some small insight into why we may be performing better in these 'big games'. 

“We are capable of doing different things sometimes and that is what makes it harder for the opponent. That is why we implement it in games sometimes but we are still dangerous on the counter-attack and that makes us a real threat.

“Last season we played at Manchester City and showed a different kind of gameplan. That is what we had in the locker already but this year we are more consistent and it makes us a bit better as a unit. That is what we are doing really well at the minute but that means a lot of concentration and work in training, and everyone is up for the challenge.

There is a new found steel in this side. There is experience in this side. There is a Plan-B in this side. There is an ability to work hard and dig deep in this side, which is now bearing fruit. We have winners in Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech who have all helped to change the mentality of the club - which now has supporters and players on the same wavelength. A wavelength which maybe hasn't been there in the past, which can only be encouraging. 

Mertesacker vs Gabriel: The BFG took a little while to adapt to the pace of the Premier League, but once he cracked it, he's been an ever present in our back four providing leadership, communication and a big aerial threat. Gabriel, on the other hand arrived in January 2015, and has a much more obvious defensive style. He's all action, aggression, with lightning pace and a killer mentality. A fantastic find. So who should start? 

Laurent Koscielny of course. But who partners him? Well I've taken to everybody's favourite statistical comparison matrix to try and answer that exact question. (Believe me, I'm no evil number wizard, this is just a very, very, very brief way of differentiating the two). 

  • Pass Completion: PM (90%) vs GP (90%)
  • Tackles Won per 90 Minutes: PM (1.2) vs GP (1.5)
  • Aerial Duels Won: PM (72.92%) vs GP (62.50%)
  • Fouls Committed per 90 Minutes: PM (0.33) vs GP (0.25)
  • Interceptions per 90 Minutes: PM (1.47) vs GP (3.25)
  • Blocks per 90 Minutes: PM (0.33) vs GP (0.12)
  • Clearances per 90 Minutes: PM (5.20) vs GP (5.25)

As you can see, despite most Arsenal fans thinking that Mertesacker is the lovechild of Sebastien Squillaci and Mikael Silvestre, there really isn't much separating the two on a very basic level. As a top club, you need three or four solid centre back options and we have that. Both have their own qualities, and will be used to suit different games, as well as for rotational purposes throughout the season. Gabriel has the ability to dovetail with either Mertesacker and Koscielny, while the gangly German brings a calm and commanding presence to our side along with Petr Cech. Enjoy them both. 

#Chambers4DM: After the injuries to Coquelin, Cazorla and Arteta, we were left down to the barest of bones in terms of our midfield options. The most obvious pairing to guide us forward until January at least was Flamini and Ramsey, which was used in five matches (five wins) throughout December. After three games in less than a week, some rotation against Bournemouth allowed Calum Chambers to come in for Flamini as the holding midfielder. to answer that exact question. 

On November 24, 2015, the boss gave an interview stating why he believed that Chambers could have a future in the middle. “He has been educated as a central midfielder. He has a big stature, good technique, good vision as well. He has played in defensive positions so I think he can develop in the future in a position like defensive midfield. He has the stamina, the power and the quality to be a central midfielder.”

Similar to Mertesacker in the fact that he isn’t the quickest player around, Chambers’ intelligent positioning throughout the game rarely forced him into making any rash or unnecessary challenges. By preferring to stay on his feet, this allowed him to use his assured reading of the game as his principal method of cutting out attacks. His three interceptions, seven ball recoveries and four blocks combined with the fact he only committed two fouls, showed how diligently he defended throughout.

Not only was the former Southampton man impressive in his defensive work, he was also tidy and composed in possession. Despite the preference to keep his distribution simple, Chambers still managed to complete 53 out of his 59 passes, exhibiting a variety of short passes and cross field diagonals, in addition to executing slick one and two touch flicks with an equal measure of comfort.

Yes, he hasn't played much of late, and yes, it was only Bournemouth, but when you consider that he’s still only 20, it's easy to share Wenger’s optimism about his future at the club. Hopefully we'll see a bit more of him in the second half of the season because there's definitely a player ready to blossom there. 

The form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: After bursting onto the scene in late 2011, Oxlade-Chamberlain has been a fan favourite at Arsenal thanks to his refreshingly direct playing style and bubbly personality best seen on the club’s social media outlets. After a few hit and miss seasons due to a mixture of inconsistent form and injuries, it was widely expected that the 22 year-old would finally nail down a position in the starting eleven for the 2015/16 season, thus allowing him to build on his undoubtedly massive potential. A cracker of a goal in our Community Shield win over Chelsea in August put substance behind the claims, but it hasn’t quite worked out for him since.

We've now sped into January, and despite a number of injuries to our attacking options, Oxlade-Chamberlain remains on the fringes with Joel Campbell the unlikely beneficiary to his recent slump in form. He knows it's not quite working for him. The manager knows it's not quite working for him. We know it's not quite working for him. So how about we litter his Twitter and Instagram feeds with abuse? My... it's.... it's... Genius! Honestly, I cannot get over how stupid people can be sometimes. 

The Ox plays for Arsenal. We, as Arsenal fans want Arsenal to do well. Abusing players breeds nervousness and a lack of confidence which doesn't help Arsenal. Supporting players breeds hard work and drive, even if things aren't going well, allowing players to play their way back into form and help Arsenal. It's simple math. There is no denying that he hasn't been at the standard required of late, and to play in this side you need to be consistently performing - which he hasn't been doing. But we've literally got two players on our doorstep in Ramsey & Coquelin who have turned it around against the odds, so just leave him and Wenger to try and do that, pretty please?

Our Title Chances: Can we win the title? Of course we can. Somebody brilliantly tweeted a little while ago that Arsenal are more of a threat to Arsenal than Manchester City or Leicester. And it's so true. After 20 games, we sit two points clear at the top of the Premier League table which is fantastic considering how we started on August 8th. I think the key for us right now, is to take each game as it comes, one by one. We have a massive January ahead with trips to Liverpool and Stoke, not to mention Chelsea at the end of the month who now look to be improving after the toxicity of Mourinho has been cleared. 

Injuries. Every team gets injuries, but the rate and severity in which ours appear is ridiculous. I said it after the window shut that I could understand Wenger not buying an outfield player this summer, and that's because our squad is talented, cohesive and stronger than others would have you believe. If we keep our injuries down to a minimum, in addition to getting our injured players back (RIP Danny Welbeck), then we can win the league. Every team has blips, and boy did we have one against Southampton, but we are generally consistent and at the end of the day that is what is rewarded.

It looks like the signing of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny from Basel will be confirmed sooner rather than later, and I'll be writing something on him later on this week so keep your eyes out. Here's a little video on him if you fancy some YouTube scouting. 

I know it was a long one today, but kudos to you if you made it this far. Till next week. 

You can follow me on Twitter here. (@CostAFC_)