After seven games Arsenal sit at the top of the Premier League table. At this time last season Arsenal were in seventh place - eight points back.
It's a stark difference – and one that is incredibly exciting for Arsenal supporters around the globe. But it's not immediately clear what changed – or even when. A painful opening day loss to Aston Villa was sandwiched between long unbeaten runs. For each new addition to the squad, injuries have forced more than one significant subtraction.
To find out what are the main reasons behind Arsenal's change in fortune, we turned to our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada.
Question: What has contributed the most to Arsenal's swing in form from this time last season?
Arsenal finished last season on a rather spectacular, unexpected, and extended unbeaten run to snatch an important fourth place finish, along with approximately £30 million in Champions League money. I won't say that the performances themselves were inherently spectacular; in many of these matches, we scored early and spent 80-plus agonizing, gut-churning minutes clinging to that slender advantage, albeit successfully. It was a successful run that hearkened back to the days when "Boring, Boring Arsenal" was chanted at us disdainfully by opposing fans, rather than ironically by our own fans; the club had rediscovered the defensive solidity and shape of those old Arsenal teams, but had regrettably also found the same lack of inventiveness in the opposing half.
Despite a long injury list, nearly every player Arsène Wenger has fielded this season has impressed.Brett Chase
In preseason, we saw signs of progress. Olivier Giroud seemed more willing to attack balls in the box and turn them into goals. Aaron Ramsey built from a platform of solid work in midfield in the second half of last season and showed the attacking verve that we'd glimpsed pre-Shawcross. The midfield displayed integrity and the forwards seemed eager to put away chances, and the entire team retained the commitment to keeping shape defensively, with the back four maintaining their strong showings since the ascension of the Mertescielny axis. There was promise for the new season amid growing disappointment from fans at a lack of signings to improve the squad, with only the free signings of unproven Yaya Sanogo and the returning Mathieu Flamini to show for those long summer months.
A disappointing home loss to Aston Villa, replete with questionable officiating (I should note here that these are my own views and do not reflect those of Arsenal Football Club, although interestingly the referee in charge that day spent the succeeding weeks in the lower leagues), sapped many fans' hopes for better this season. Yet, in a turnabout from previous years, the club rebounded with a series of strong showings after that disappointment. A home win in the North London Derby intimated that the Flamini signing could be a masterstroke as he broke up opposing attacks and moved the ball forward. But we still showed a tendency to bog down around the opposition's 18-yard box, lacking a keen attacking edge, an eye for the killer pass.
A day later, everything changed.
Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, one of the best attacking midfielders in the world. It was a signing suggestive of the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp in North London years ago. Fans were ecstatic, Arsène Wenger couldn't help but display a cheeky grin, and the Arsenal players, already playing at a very high level, were instilled with the confidence that only such a signing can provide. On the pitch, the young German did not disappoint, creating goals for grateful teammates immediately and regularly, and finally scoring his first goal with an immaculate finish against Napoli. Led by Ozil, the Arsenal marched up the table to reach the summit, a height not reached in years, and are top of the Champions League group as well.
It would be simplistic in the extreme to put all of the team's success on the arrival of one player, however, even one so gifted as Ozil. Aaron Ramsey has been on the form of his life, scoring more goals (eight) this season than he had in his previous five with Arsenal, and leading Europe in tackles (33) and percentage of tackles won (86.84 per cent). Olivier Giroud has bagged six goals already and improved his chance conversion rate from 10.42 per cent last season to 16per cent this season, with a shots-on-target rate jumping from 27.78 per cent in 2012-13 to 66.67 per cent this term. Mathieu Flamini has been inspirational as a midfield enforcer, organizing his teammates and putting in a shift every match since being reinstated in midfield. Szczesny has recovered from a few head-scratcher moments in the first two weeks to emerge as a confident and assured goalkeeper.
Despite a long injury list, nearly every player Arsène Wenger has fielded this season has impressed; this in itself may not be surprising for a club topping the table at this early point in the season, but it is markedly different from the inconsistency that had been a depressing hallmark of recent Arsenal teams. After the international break, Arsenal will see some of those injured players returning to the fold, and I for one have been waiting patiently (read: anxiously) to see Ozil interacting with a healthy Santi Cazorla.
The steady hand of the Premier League's longest-serving manager has allowed the existing talents to flourish and has strengthened them with additions of real quality.Brett Chase
So what has changed from one year ago to today? Well, we had just lost our captain and best player and goalscorer (you know who), as well as an influential midfielder (Song), and were attempting to bed in three new starters in Podolski, Giroud, and Cazorla, off the back of two previous seasons that began much the same way, and the upheaval was telling on the pitch. This season, those new players have gelled with a solid squad that has found its feet. The players all seem to have an understanding and an obvious comfort with one another. We've seen Flamini return to the side and pick up exactly where he left off in 2008. A star joined the ranks and began unlocking defenses as though he'd been in the side for years. Gibbs, Szczesny, and others continued their progression, and a fit-again Sagna turned back the clock.
But the change has less been a load of platitudes on how great everyone is. What we're seeing is that Arsène Wenger's unwavering belief in his players' abilities, coupled with a summer devoid of turmoil or departures of major players, as well as the introductions of some key pieces, is finally paying dividends. As we all knew at the end of last season, the seeds of success had been planted and were germinating. The steady hand of the Premier League's longest-serving manager has allowed the existing talents to flourish and has strengthened them with additions of real quality. The players are comfortable, the manager is finally seeing the fruits of his labor, and the belief in the club, from without and within, is stronger than it has been in many years. I'd put forth that the greatest difference is what has been there all along.
For me, it's actually been Wenger's willingness to change that has marked the major difference between this year and last.
Wenger dropped the captain last season after a series of poor performances which culminated in the loss to Tottenham. At the same time he shook up several other positions (namely goalkeeper) and changed the way that Arsenal play defense. At the time I thought that dropping the captain was the manager's move of last resort but in hindsight it was the right choice because it looks as if it was part of a bid to overhaul the entire defense. As it turns out, Koscielny fits better into Arsenal's new defensive scheme, which is a less adventurous defense or as people like to say "it keeps its shape."
Buying Mesut Ozil not only energized the fans, it gave the club, the team, and the manager some sparkle again. Arsenal got her groove back.Tim Bostelle
Then this summer Wenger went out and bid on several outright holding midfielders. Again, this is a major departure from the last few seasons where Arsène seemed to deploy a player as "the most defensive midfielder in a not really defensive setup". Guys like Arteta, Song, and Ramsey did their best to deputize in the role but are not nearly as feisty as players like Gustavo and Flamini.
Wenger then made the change that I think many of us felt the club really needed and went out and got a legitimate superstar in Mesut Ozil. Buying that big named player not only energized the fans, it gave the club, the team, and the manager some sparkle again. Arsenal got her groove back.
And more than just a psychological bump, Ozil has given the team a huge bump in quality and is making others around him better. Just the quality of his passes and vision alone makes Arsenal more dangerous. He picks out players from distance like no one I have ever seen play the game, and these passes thread between defenders and are to feet, not in the air. He's also now taking Arsenal's corners and free kicks and is providing the Gunners with two more legitimate threats that they didn't have before.
So, while I agree that Wenger has done well to stick to his guns in terms of Ramsey and others, the most remarkable change has been that Wenger is the proverbial old dog with new tricks.
It is pretty incredible how much things have changed in just a year. This time last season I was still reeling from the fact that the club had just lost its captain and talisman to one of our biggest rivals. It was quite possibly one of my lowest points as an Arsenal fan.
Nearly one year on, I experienced one of my highest moments. There is no describing how elated I was on transfer deadline day when I learnt we signed one of the best midfielders in the world. For the first time in years I felt like we were adding quality to an already cohesive and seasoned squad - one that had gone on an unbeaten run towards to the end of last season.
For the first time in years I felt like we were adding quality to an already cohesive and seasoned squad.Zara Bashir
Tim is right in pointing out how Arsène had changed. He has been described as stubborn and single-minded by his critics but I think in the last few seasons we have seen a different Wenger. One that is once again valuing the experience of older players by signing the likes of Flamini and Arteta and one who is not afraid to make difficult decisions like dropping an out of form captain and goalkeeper.
Most importantly, we have seen an Arsène who is willing and able to secure the services of a player of Mesut Ozil’s caliber. Nobody could have predicted the club would break its transfer record in such a manner on transfer deadline day after years of ‘pinching pennies’ to buy value for money. The fearlessness shown by the manager and the club has no doubt impacted the mood within the team and the fan base.
Hopefully it can be sustained for season ahead so that we can have something to show for it in May.
The views expressed above are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Media Group.Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 16 Oct 2013