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Wenger Rewarded for Faith in Arsenal Squad

Posted: 15/09/2013 21:48

What a difference a few weeks make. After Arsenal's 3-1 home defeat by Aston Villa on the opening day of the Premier League season, the knives were being sharpened for manager Arsene Wenger. Get him out, they said; he won't spend any money, they said. But after a five-match winning run and the £42.4m acquisition of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid, the Emirates Stadium is a happy place to be again. Fine-tuning could yet prevail over lavish spending.

Football is a notoriously fickle sport, epitomised by a memorable summer of seeming procrastination at Arsenal. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis showed the club's hand in an unusually provocative manner, revealing the club had £70m to spend; Wenger subsequently pursued Liverpool forward Luis Suarez with the disillusionment of a lifetime Ford Fiesta driver forcibly exchanging his keys for those of a Ferrari. Eventually Ozil fell into the Frenchman's lap, and a good job too: the 24-year-old Turk has largely placated critics of Wenger's frugality without so much as kicking a ball. A player whom Madrid fans were loathe to see leave the Bernabeu, Ozil ostensibly represents a new dawn of ambition at Arsenal.

Except the driving forces behind Arsenal's recent excellence were already at the club, tacitly seething in the background while fans called for upgrades. Midfielder Aaron Ramsey has enjoyed a superb start to the season, scoring five goals in six matches including a crisp double in Saturday's 3-1 win at Sunderland; he has dovetailed particularly well with striker Olivier Giroud, who also has five in six this season and 22 in 53 since joining from Montpellier last summer. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, mercilessly criticised by some, has conceded just twice in five matches since the defeat to Villa. The ingredients of Arsenal's excellence are of the homegrown variety.

Indeed, the 1-0 win over local rivals Tottenham Hotspur has been viewed by many as a triumph of restraint over reckless purchasing. This, of course, is to do disservice to Spurs' head coach Andre Villas-Boas, whose myriad of foreign imports will take time to settle; it is also a somewhat formulaic way to reflect on a key date in the footballing calendar. Nevertheless, Arsenal's dominant performance, capped by a neat near-post finish from Giroud, temporarily derailed the view that spending equals success, given that the only new face to date was 20-year-old Yana Sanogo. Ramsey, signed from Cardiff City in 2008, outgunned his muscular nemeses Etienne Capoue and Moussa Dembele. Giroud was a more effective spearhead than £26m equivalent Roberto Soldado. Arsenal oozed slick teamwork while Spurs embodied the clunky inelegance of a new team trying to find a mutual identity.

It is a long season, and Spurs' new-found strength in depth gives them every chance of achieving the Champions League qualification they patently crave. But Arsenal's confident strides towards the summit of the Premier League, whilst potential title rivals stumble around them, act as a taste of vindication for Wenger. If Jack Wilshere enjoys an injury-free season, Ramsey maintains his fine start to the campaign and Giroud continues to thrive on the increasingly excellent service of Theo Walcott, there are few more dangerous attacking forces in the Premier League. This has always been the case; the difficulty has been in permanently unlocking the nascent potential bubbling beneath the surface. The even greater hardship for Wenger has been in keeping his counsel while others have pursued more expansive rebuilding strategies; akin to the stubborn teenager rebuffing peer pressure from the popular kids in the playground.

Wins over Fulham, Fenerbahce, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland do not mark a heroic vindication for Wenger in his minimalist approach to the transfer market. Indeed, it may be that Spurs muscle past their North London rivals to steal Champions League qualification, simultaneously subverting this very argument. But Arsenal's early-season confidence - some would say swagger - has assertively banished the notion that they were in desperate need of reinforcement. While Ozil steals the headlines, members of the existing cohort are showing signs of stepping up a level and justifying their manager's faith in them. If they continue to perform with their early-season panache, Wenger could be forgiven for waving two fingers at the naysayers.

 

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