Arsenal are showing signs that this season could be something special as following a slow start, Arsène Wenger’s side are now in imperious form.
Despite the signing of Granit Xhaka early in the summer transfer season, the Frenchman came under sustained criticism from fans and former players as the weeks passed without any further big name additions to the squad.
It wasn’t until a late flurry of activity and the spending of over £50 million that saw new arrivals in the form of defender Shkodran Mustafi and striker Lucas Perez.
Instead of being pleased however, fans became skeptics, claiming the veteran manager panicked and either overspent and/or bought whatever was available.
A slow start to the season that saw the Gunners drop five points in the Premier League’s opening two games did little to convince fans of anything other than another disappointing season ahead.
Since September 13th, however, the night they escaped from Paris with a 1-1 Champions League draw against PSG, Wenger’s side is nearly unrecognisable compared to the stuttering and incoherent team that greeted fans in August.
Eight goals in two games has seen a new wave of positivity wash over the Emirates, with much of plaudits for the new optimistic outlook going to Wenger’s three big name summer signings.
Mustafi has been a revelation since his arrival. Rock solid and assured at the back, Arsenal’s porous defence is now a far more difficult unit to breach.
In fact, such has been the impact of the Germany international, that when held up to the experienced members of the side, he is comparable and in many cases, statistically better than his peers.
Perez arrived from Deportivo La Coruna in the last days of the transfer window and took a couple of matches to settle in, only featuring in two of the Gunners’ five League outings to date.
Appearing on Tuesday’s League Cup encounter with Nottingham Forest, the 28-year-oldgave fans a glimpse of his potential, scoring an emphatic brace and turning provider for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
So while his league statistics currently lag behind the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott, you might well expect these to catch up quickly.
Wenger’s first signing of the summer, the 23-year-old midfielder came with a £30 million price tag and immediately fans were eager to see him perform during Arsenal’s pre-season schedule.
However, it wasn’t until last weekend, in Arsenal’s clash with Hull City, that fans got a true appreciation of Xhaka’s skills. Out of nowhere, he delivered a 30-yard thunderbolt into the back of net, thus announcing himself to fans as the genuine article. As if to emphasise the point, against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, he did it again – another 30-yard screamer, duly sending fans into raptures.
Comparing Xhaka to his midfield peers, it is already becoming clear that the Switzerland international is holding his own and has become a key member of Wenger’s match day squad.
So what does all this mean? In simple terms, despite the criticism and perceived periods of inactivity during the summer, it is now becoming clear that Arsène Wenger has hit the jackpot regarding his signings.
As Manchester United made all the headlines regarding the hunt for Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wenger, in true Wenger fashion, went about his business in a quietly calculated manner.
Now as United so publicly flounder, Wenger’s Arsenal have steadily built a talented and focused squad, with the results now becoming scarily apparent.
This season it now looks like Arsenal will finally be in a position to mount a sustained and season-long challenge for the title and, based on current form, there are not many who would bet against them.
As for Wenger, even the critics can’t deny him that smug smile of his.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena