Wenger's Arsenal harvest finally bears fruit
21 October 2013, 18:32
London - After eight fallow years without silverware, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has seen his side reap a spectacular harvest in the first month of the English autumn.
Saturday's stylish 4-1 win over Norwich City sent the north London club two points clear at the Premier League summit and extended their unbeaten run to 12 games in all competitions ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund.
Such a sequence seemed a remote possibility in the aftermath of a shock defeat at home to Aston Villa on the season's opening day, but Arsenal were revitalised by the club-record 42.4 million ($66 million, 50 million euros) acquisition of Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline day.
The German playmaker, who scored twice against Norwich, has illuminated Arsenal's play with his vision and deftness of touch, and his artistry appears to have rubbed off on the players around him.
Jack Wilshere was initially exiled to the left wing following Ozil's arrival from Real Madrid, but he demonstrated his worth in a central role by breaking the deadlock against Norwich with a breath-taking goal that Wenger described as "one of the best" of his 17-year tenure.
Having started the move deep in his own half, Wilshere was involved in a razor-sharp passing exchange on the edge of the Norwich area that went Cazorla, Wilshere, Cazorla, Giroud, Wilshere, Giroud, Wilshere, culminating in the England midfielder volleying past goalkeeper John Ruddy from 10 yards.
It was the first time that Ozil, Wilshere and Santi Cazorla had started a league game together and their association already promises much, but no-one symbolises the Arsenal revival more strongly than Aaron Ramsey.
The Welsh midfielder's career seemed to be stuck in second gear after he sustained a double leg break in a challenge by Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross in February 2010, but he is now playing with arresting self-assurance.
His sharply taken goal against Norwich, after a slalom past two defenders, took his tally to nine in 12 games and a roulette turn shown in slow-motion on popular BBC highlights programme Match of the Day moved the pundits to liken him to Zinedine Zidane.
The adroit Olivier Giroud, meanwhile, now appears the perfect foil for the busy cluster of attacking midfielders operating behind him, who thrive on his precise lay-offs and penetrative flicks.
Although much of the media's attention has focused on the signing of Ozil, Giroud believes it was also vitally important that Arsenal did not lose any of their major players during the close season.
"We kept our best players and it's something that Arsenal hadn't done for a few years because they lost four or five of their best players," the France striker told AFP.
"The club has shown its intentions. You feel stronger next to players like Ozil. He's the player who we needed."
While the scarcity of strikers in the squad means that Giroud is assured of his starting place, Wenger has a wealth of options in midfield, with Ozil, Wilshere, Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and the injured trio of Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain jostling for only four places.
Wenger's real masterstroke, however, may have been his decision to bring French holding midfielder Mathieu Flamini back to the club on a free transfer after a four-year exile at AC Milan.
His return was decried by some fans as a sign of a lack of ambition, but his tigerish attitude and dogged determination have given Arsenal a bite in central midfield that they have not had for several seasons.
"Mathieu Flamini is just as valuable to his team right now as Mesut Ozil," wrote former Arsenal striker Alan Smith in a column for The Daily Telegraph. Giroud says that his countryman "balances everything".
Arsenal's fans have not had a trophy to celebrate since the 2005 FA Cup, but after years of managerial patience, financial restraint and the loss of a succession of cherished players, the Gunners finally seem ready to fire again.