One year ago, if you’d have told someone that a back four of Carl Jenkinson – Per Mertesacker – Thomas Vermaelen – Kieran Gibbs would earn three consecutive clean sheets at the start of the 2012/13 season, people would have looked at you quite askant, as though you were off your head. But it happened; the one goal they conceded to Southampton yesterday was the first league goal they had let passed them all season. Had they earned another clean sheet, they would have been – statistically – one of the best Arsenal back fours of all time.
Jenkinson has received a heavy amount of criticism since he signing from Charlton over a year ago, but the right back has matured over the summer break and come back a new player. Mertesacker, too, had an uneasy season at Arsenal, but has formed a now consistent partnership with new captain Vermaelen. Kieran Gibbs has been solid as ever at left back whilst Sagna and Koscielny sit out due to injury. Gibbs is showing the form that had him knocking on the door of the national team before his own injuries last season’s seemed to pushed the young Englishman down the International pecking order behind Cole, Baines and Bertrand.
Last season, particularly after games like the 8-2 destruction by Man Utd, there were calls for Wenger to retire. Early exists from the Champions League and domestic cups seemed to signal a downfall for Arsenal, but the Frenchman has stuck by the team, managed to reach 3rd place in the league last season and begun to build further. He should be praised for his focus on youth; bringing in the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson to play alongside Jack Wilshere, Vito Mannone, Kieran Gibbs, Emmanuel Frimpong and Wojciech Szczesny – all of whom have played for Arsenal for the entirety of their senior careers.
Theo Walcott remains loyal and continues to offer alternative options up front, whilst the presence of Mikel Arteta has seen a redevelopment of the club’s midfield. And once Ramsey adjusts to this, he could play a crucial role in the team’s potential success.
I’ll admit – I’ve been rather confused by Arsenal in the past two years; up and down performances each week, hurt by the departure of their former-loyalist Robin Van Persie, they have been the victim of many jokes. But Wenger has to be admired for his dedication to the club and insistence that – this year – he’s going to put all that went wrong last year right. Once Sagna and Wilshere return from injury, it will be interesting to see how they fit into this year’s Arsenal. You’d imagine that Wilshere could perfectly compliment Arteta in the midfield, providing both a defensive and an attacking presence, – whilst Sagna will probably replace Jenkinson at RB; whether that will work yet remains to be seen, because, well… there has been a fair amount of absurdity at the club over this past year.