The 2012/13 Premier League season is nearly a quarter-way through and two of the cup competitions are also well underway. Now that we have see what this team looks to be capable of, we once again appraoched our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada to give their views on the season so far.
If there is one thing we have learned as Arsenal supporters it is that things don;t necessarily happen teh way you might suspect. Sometimes it is in positive way -- a player who steps up his game exactly when we need it -- and sometimes we are left disappointed. But at the end of the day there is almost always something that leaves us taken aback.
Question: What have been the biggest surprises for Arsenal -- good or bad -- so far in 2012/13?
I, like many others I suspect, have been incredibly pleased with the performances our young full backs have been putting in consistently since the start of the season. I was not entirely sure of how Jenkinson would cope with having to fill the boots of the ever-reliable Sagna after a tumultuous start in his first season at the club but he has exceeded my expectations and is shaping up to be a composed, classy defender and fan favourite. He has certainly been my surprise and revelation of the season so far. Gibbs has also quietly impressed me every game and has quickly staked a claim to be first choice left back for both Arsenal and England. The duo's stellar performances have enabled us to cause more of a threat from the wings this season and I look forward to seeing them in Arsenal colours for years to come.
While the fullbacks have impressed me so far this season, our centre backs at times have not. Individual errors from our centre backs have led us to concede important goals so far this season. I know it may seem it a little nitpicky to point out our deficiencies in defence especially when our goals conceded tally is much better than it was at this point last season. However, it is also impossible not to mention how they were easily avoidable. This is especially the case for the crucial goals we conceded from set pieces in matches against Manchester City and Chelsea.
In addition to the Jenkinson revelation, I have been pleased with Mannone's performances so far. The keeper has done much better than I thought he would in filling in for Szczesny during his injury layoff. On a more personal level, Podolski has also surprised me. I had been guarded against getting too excited with how the German would settle in when news of the transfer first broke but he has since proven me wrong. His pace, enthusiasm, attitude and left foot have definitely won me over. More of the same please.
When we signed Santi Cazorla over the summer, I distinctly remember thinking, "Finally!" Something about our midfield for the most of last season had just not sat right with me and I felt that we were lacking somewhat in the creative department since the Fabregas and Nasri departures the summer before. As expected, Cazorla fit into the creative hole seamlessly and has worked up a formidable partnership with fellow Spaniard, Arteta.
I agree wholeheartedly with Zara's assessment of our young fullbacks. I think most of us would agree that Gibbs' talent has always been there to see, had he ever been fit for a run of games at club level. He's finally had that this season (I truly hope the thigh injury he picked up against the Hammers isn't very serious, although it seems to have ruled him out for England's international break), and he's been able to put his stamp on the left fullback position; his reading of the game, positioning and tackling all seem to have improved, and quite often he has been a big part of our attacks when they come through the left side.
Meanwhile his counterpart on the right has excelled far beyond expectations. I can't say enough about Jenkinson; his workrate is phenomenal, he's surprisingly quick, agile, and strong; he can muscle wingers off the ball and just as easily resist opposing attempts to take the ball from him (unless he's brought down with a horse-collar tackle, as at Man City). Additionally, he's a fantastic crosser of the ball -- better than Sagna right now -- which makes him a rather dangerous for opposing defenses when going forward.
Again, I'm in agreement with Zara on our central defenders as well, although I would first state that I haven't seen Mertesacker put much of a foot wrong this season. Our new captain, however, has quite frequently been found wanting. Thomas Vermaelenhas been having a difficult go of things dating back to last spring, when he strung together a number of poor performances at center back, so I don't know if his difficulties can be called a surprise, but I do think he has failed to meet expectations thus far. Vermaelen was given the captaincy, and was generally sound defensively in the first few matches, although his attacking instincts seeming to have been curbed somewhat. But he had a terrible match in the loss to Chelsea and then against Olympiakos, and was shaky against West Ham. Many have noted that both Vermaelen and Koscielny seem to play in a calmer fashion alongside Mertesacker than when paired with one another, and there's certainly something to that, but individual errors still haunt our nos. 5 and 6 even with the assuring presence of the BFG.
Up front, I think we've gotten generally what we could have expected out of Podolski and Giroud (apart from the Frenchman being absolutely snakebitten in front of goal), but the resurgence of Gervinho has been perhaps the most impressive thing. I don't know if his game has changed too much, or if Le Boss finally found the best way to deploy him, but the Ivorian's running in and around the box has terrified defenders and has resulted in a good many chances for him and for Arsenal's attacking players. He's already scored more goals than he did in his inaugural season at Arsenal and has scored with every shot he's had on target. His goal against Chelsea was a demonstration of grace and power, and was fantastic to watch.
I don't think I can add much about Santi that hasn't already been said, except just, WOW. What a spectacularly talented player. Having seen bits of him at Villareal and at Malaga last season, he's surpassed my own expectations, and I'm very, very glad that Arsène has been playing him through the middle. We have a real hub for our attacking play, one who can do everything incredibly well. I think the highest praise I've heard is from a friend of mine when discussing who our Man of the Match was: "The thing with Santi is, he's so consistently brilliant he should be Man of the Match every time, but we can't just keep giving it to him; that would be boring."
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