The 2012/13 Premier League season is still very young -- only three games in -- but we have gotten a glimpse at what is in store for us between now and May. With the break in league play, we once again appraoched our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada to give their views on the season so far.
If one statistic stands out so far this season it is that Arsenal has not conceded a single goal in three games. Of course, not far behind that is the fact that Arsenal also couldn't find the back of the opponent's net until the third game.
Question: In regard to Arsenal's season so far, are you more excited by the clean sheets or more concerned about a lack of scoring?
As concerned as I am about the fact that Arsenal only scored twice in the first three games, I am more delighted with the fact that the team has kept three clean sheets. This is apparently the first time we've done so in the first three games of the season in 88 years. Furthermore, we are the only team in England's top four divisions to go into the international break with zero goals conceded. All this with our third-choice keeper at goal. At this point last season, we had already conceded TEN times! Sure, most of those goals came from that freak result all of would like to forget ever happened, I would think it is a reflection of the level of maturity and cohesiveness in way the team defends now.
Many have put this achievement down to the changes we've made in our training staff, with Steve Bould taking over from Pat Rice's reins this season but I think it is more than that. Not only have our defenders been pulling their weight, but the inspiring performances from our midfield trio of Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla (especially against Liverpool) have also enabled the team to press their opponents while not being in possession of the ball. The creative spark in the midfield that was too often missing last season is now a void filled by our new Spanish signing, Cazorla. Diaby has also looked the part of a brand new signing while the ever-reliable Arteta has seamlessly taken over defensive duties in the midfield.
I had little doubt based on the first two games that the goals will come eventually and that they did at Anfield. We are currently playing with a main striker who is still adjusting to the pace and style of English football. Giroud has done well in his positioning despite lacking in his finishing. This will surely improve with time and experience. It did take many of our previous legends more than three games before they scored their first goal in Arsenal colours.
Overall, I am quite satisfied with five points and zero goals conceded from Sunderland at home, Stoke away and Liverpool away. They have all traditionally not been the easiest of fixtures for us in recent times. I am confident that we will score three goals before conceding three and am hopeful that Giroud will find his scoring boots against Southampton like many Arsenal legends before him.
Like Zara, I am definitely more pleased with three clean sheets than I am concerned about two goals in three games. For the last five or six years Arsenal's major deficiencies have been in defense, and while I've at times been frustrated over what I feel can be a fairly one-dimensional style of attack, my fear that Arsenal will be unable to score goals has never come even close to equaling my fear that we'll let in twice as many at the other end. I think the gradual understanding between Arsenal's attacking players will come to yield three goals for before our defense gives up three goals against, although with the schedule we've got in September it's possible we may see a game where both of these occur.
As stated before, I think our improved due diligence in defense will see us not only concede fewer goals but also prevent situations where we allow teams to crawl back into games. Conversely, I like the threat our offense poses this year, not necessarily because of its depth but mainly because I believe it represents a greater diversity of individual playing styles and an increased pragmatism in attack.
You get the impression that between Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud -- not to mention the likes of the fairly straightforward Chamberlain and Rosicky -- Arsenal now has players who can use their own experience and previously-crafted attacking styles and aren't too bothered about trying to pass their way into the back of the net. Too often in the past has Arsenal's ability to score goals been stunted by their hive-mentality approach to attack, and that's where I think this particular class of new recruits will bring a much-needed ruthlessness to the team's finishing.
It's a bit hard for me to be excited by clean sheets, actually, but seeing as I have been harping on about Arsenal's tentative, uncommitted efforts in defense for the past several years, I will say I am much more pleased by the solidity at the back than I am worried about the lack of goals thus far. Granted, of the teams we've played so far, only Liverpool showed a real effort to go and get a goal, but Stoke have been a bit of bogey team for Arsenal in recent season, so to have gone up there and held them scoreless and rarely look so much as troubled even with the untested Vito Mannone in goal shows real character. The players have spoken about a renewed commitment to defending on the training ground (no doubt the influence of Steve Bould being asserted there... and in the near-post flick-ons from corners), and it's been apparent in the way we've played.
As for goals, I believe they'll come. We've assembled a very new attacking force (two new strikers in Giroud and Podolski and a new attacking midfielder in Cazorla), and with such turnover, a settling-in period is to be expected. But these three (in addition to the likes of the Ox, Walcott and others) have enough talent that once they've truly gelled, opposing keepers will spend a lot of time picking the ball out of their net.
For these two reasons I feel confident we'll see Arsenal score three in a match long before conceding three in a match, although I'm basing a lot of that confidence on the newly promoted Saints visiting the Emirates next. What can I say? Ya gotta believe.
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